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Future doctors train in wilderness medicine, learning to think on their feet

This pioneering program teaches them to think outside the box, using only the supplies around them
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 4:23 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 18, 2021 at 6:01 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The success of a pilot program for medical school students in Northeast Wisconsin will now pave the way for future doctors to train themselves to think outside the box and treat people with simply the supplies around them.

It’s part of a new Wilderness Medicine course created to help future physicians improve the way they treat patients anywhere.

“We’re used to being in the hospital with anything and everything we can have, and Dr. Medich and everyone else thought we needed to have a way to put our skills to the test in a low resource area,” says Trevor Cooper, a U.W. School of Medicine and Public Health student.

Cooper and nearly two dozen other medical school students from programs across the state are participating in the new three-day class only administered in Green Bay as part of a test program.

They’re using a big, open field just outside Aurora BayCare Medical Center, where students are broken into small groups for hands-on learning.

At first glance, it looks as though they’re triaging real and serious injuries.

Instead, they’re training, acting as if they’re in the middle of the woods, mountains or anywhere far away from a hospital.

“It kind of gets them to think outside the box and how they can be resourceful and make something work until they have the equipment that they need,” says Dr. Michael Medich, director for medical education for Aurora BayCare Medical Center and BayCare Clinic.

The students rotate through different scenarios, putting classroom instruction into action.

“We can make a case, for example, of a patient fallen from a rock cliff, lying unconscious. What are you going to do? You’ve got four buddies with backpacks. You’re on,” explains Dr. Medich, describing how students start one of the scenarios.

Medich is leading a team of emergency department physicians, along with paramedics from De Pere Fire/Rescue, to help teach the students who are in their final year of medical school.

The students are also part of the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine and plan to become general practice medical providers in smaller, rural communities.

They hope these scenarios, testing their skills and ability to think on their feet, will help them in future practice.

In these scenarios, they can use only the supplies around them to figure out how to treat a person in a medical emergency.

“It’s totally different! You’ll see we’re using sticks, clothing, anything you would pack, whereas in an emergency department we have EKGs to test the heart,” explains Cooper. “Here, we’re pretty much going off whatever they can tell us.”

“What they did was called a burrito wrap, where they made a litter for the patient out of a piece of rope, a tarp, a couple of sleeping bags. They wrapped the patient up securely, and the four of them were able to carry the patient out,” explains Dr. Medich, detailing what’s happening during another scenario.

Students also practice how they’d help someone with hypothermia who’d been pulled from an icy river or a person having an appendicitis attack while camping.

It’s not the specific kind of trauma that’s important, but it’s getting them to listen to their patients and be resourceful that could help them treat people more effectively whether they’re in a hospital setting or not.

“Even if there’s a shortage of supplies, especially now, and being able to think on our feet, it helps a lot and helps us almost triage better and seeing who needs to get help first versus who can wait a little bit,” says Cooper.

The course is expected to become a requirement for medical students next year.

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