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Wilderness Medicine Series draws huge interest

A packed house. People interested in the outdoors – as well as staying safe when they venture into the wild – showed up in force for the launch of a Wilderness Medicine Series at the Liniger Building at CU South Denver.

Wilderness Medicine launch at CU South Denver

A large crowd turned out for the Wilderness Medicine Series launch event at CU South Denver.

In front of a crowd of 200, Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine in the CU School of Medicine, and wilderness medicine instructor Todd Miner, Ed.D., recently gave a snapshot of the innovative series that starts this spring. The program includes three courses at CU South Denver, as well as evening film events and educational travel experiences.

‘Energy and enthusiasm’

Wilderness Medicine program at CU South Denver

Participants in the Wilderness Medicine Series will learn important skills on how to stay safe when venturing into remote areas.

“There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” said Lemery, who is also section chief of of the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Section (WEM) in the SOM’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “It was clear we hit the right demographic group. Now it’s a matter of building a successful program.”

Natural fit for wilderness programming

The Liniger Building at CU South Denver houses a unique wildlife museum, and the architectural design and materials used in the building enhance and support a sense of the great outdoors.

The location is perfect for wilderness medicine programming. “You walk in that building and outdoors stewardship and education is all over the place,” said Jay Lemery, MD, CU School of Medicine. “The stuff we do is very accessible to the public, and it fits with the Liniger Building’s theme (of outdoor education), so it was a natural fit. We’re there to run a great series of courses and to think what else could work there.”

The community events portion of the Wilderness Medicine Series features two film screenings, each with featured speakers. The films are “Tales from a High Altitude Doctor” on March 15, and “Climate Change & Human Health” on May 4. For more information, click here. For information about the adventure/educational trips being offered, click here.

“The launch of the Wilderness Medicine Series,” said Joann Brennan, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at CU South Denver, “points to the possibility that CU South Denver could be a location that propels educational innovation and collaboration – contributing in a unique way to the excellence of CU.”

Already, there is a class for almost everyone – both healthcare professionals looking to better apply their skills in the backcountry, or people wanting to learn winter survival basics and first aid, or seeking a primer on safe practices in remote places and developing nations.

Miner, education director for WEM, said programs like this bring the medical world to the outdoors in an evidence-based way. “Whether it’s a family going camping in the Rockies or somebody doing an expedition in the Himalayas, we’re excited about making the bridge between medicine and wilderness,” Miner said.

The non-degree Wilderness Medicine Series:

In each class, students will receive a SOM certificate and, in the case of Advanced Wilderness Life Support, they will also earn continuing medical education (CME) credit hours accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. All classes take place over three days and are taught by expert medical faculty from the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

“We picked courses we thought were good for all learners,” Lemery said. “They’re a way to learn how to mitigate risk in the outdoors, and they’re fun.”

Also, a Polar & Mountain Medicine course is going to be run at 11,000 feet on Chicago Ridge, outside of Leadville.

‘Practice pure medicine’

Lemery and Miner have always gravitated to the outdoors – a place they get to combine two of their biggest passions. “I call it the art and science of taking care of people in remote and austere places,” Lemery said. “I’ve always thought it’s a very exciting way to be true to medicine.”

While health care in the United States has become technology dependent, Lemery said, most places across the globe don’t have access to similar levels of technology. “Wilderness medicine gives us a way to practice pure medicine – the way it’s done in the majority of the world. Also, it’s an outstanding vehicle for education. It has its hands in wilderness, global health and disaster response. It’s very creative. You have to teach people to think beyond the algorithm, outside the box.”

Creative collaboration

WEM at CU Anschutz offers destination trips

The Wilderness & Environmental Section in the Department of Emergency Medicine offers adventure trips to some of the planet’s most spectacular destinations.

Joann Brennan, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at CU South Denver, said the student-centered program emerged from a creative collaboration between Lemery and Miner’s team and CU South Denver. “The program was designed for learners of all ages and skill sets, with multiple entry points – courses, community events, and travel study experiences,” she said. “In addition, we wanted to leverage the unique assets of the Liniger Building – outdoor spaces, classrooms and movie theatre – into program offerings.”

Lemery said the Wilderness Medicine Series will help measure demand in South Denver for new programming as well as cross-promote wilderness medicine and educational travel opportunities already offered by WEM. WEM currently offers CME trips for all comers looking to combine medical education with travel to some of the planet’s most spectacular destinations – including Costa Rica, Patagonia, the Colorado Rockies and Greenland. The latter, the site of an Introduction to Polar Medicine course this August, is one of its newest offerings, the result of WEM being awarded a prestigious subcontract grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to provide field health care services in Greenland.

The collaboration will continue as Lemery and Miner’s team works with the CU South Denver team to develop a K-12 wilderness and environmental medicine curriculum that could integrate into the outdoor and K-12 educational programs currently offered at the Liniger Building. This kind of programming is a perfect fit for CU South Denver, as the Liniger Building is a four-campus location that provides educational opportunities for the entire learning lifecycle.

“It just goes to show how outdoor-oriented Coloradans are,” Miner said of the excitement generated by the Wilderness Medicine Series. “They recognize these are important skills. If you’re going to play outside, you want to have the ability to take care of yourself and family so you can come back in one piece and go out and do it again.”

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CU brings medical expertise to extreme outpost

Big House and Green House at Summit Station in Greenland

The Big House and the Green House (science laboratory) at Summit Station, Greenland. Photo by Ed Stockard.

The Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Section (WEM) in the CU School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine is taking its expertise in wilderness and austere medical care to one of the most extreme and remote places on Earth.

In December, WEM won a subcontract grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to provide field health care services at Summit Station in Greenland. Summit Station is a global research facility perched at 10,500 feet atop the Greenland ice sheet.

Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine and section chief of WEM, said providing medical services at Summit Station allows WEM to “think outside the box” in an unpredictable environment.

“It’s basically the art and science of taking care of people in remote and extreme environments,” he said. “It forces us to think in very creative ways. How do we take 21st century medicine and apply what we know to these places where you don’t have the technological tools to do what we do on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus?”

Researcher at Summit Station

A researcher releases a weather balloon at Summit Station. Photo by Kevin Hammonds.

WEM honed its expertise in remote medical services by holding the EMS medical directorship for the U.S. Antarctic Program for two years. In Greenland, the CU WEM bid was selected over various applicants, including private industry, for the subcontract, which lasts for a year with an option for renewal. Support at Summit Station is provided by CH2M HILL Polar Services, under contract to NSF.

Four services for Summit Station

In Greenland, WEM will be in charge of four phases of service:

  • Remote medical support services and supplies for Summit Station;
  • 24/7 telemedicine services;
  • First aid medical support services; and
  • Training in arctic first aid and wilderness first responder/aid.

Lemery said people are more frequently venturing to extreme places across the globe, and the expertise of WEM faculty – in altitude sickness, frostbite, hypothermia, trauma treatment and other wilderness care – uniquely positions WEM to serve these travelers, as well as advance remote-setting health care.

“We have that niche in the health-care world,” Lemery said. “Greenland is a robust place to test best practices in medicine – to see what works, what doesn’t work. We’re also training people to be outstanding clinicians anywhere in the world. Most of the planet doesn’t have the medical tools like we have at CU Anschutz. These are important lessons to bring home to our students and residents.”

David Twillman, RN, University of Colorado Hospital, will staff Summit Station during the high season of roughly April to August. During the winter months, WEM will provide medical services via telemedicine.

‘Quite a bit of altitude sickness’

Christopher Davis, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, led WEM’s application for the Greenland subcontract and will serve as medical director for the operation. He said adjusting to high altitude is the most common health complaint of the researchers, who spend weeks to months at a time at Summit Station. “Most researchers are coming from sea level and they fly directly to 11,000 feet, so you see quite a bit of altitude illness,” Davis said.

Davis, who is also medical director of Altitude and Mountain Medicine Consultants, a branch of the Travel, Expedition and Altitude Medicine Clinic, plans to visit the Summit Station this spring to ensure that the medical equipment is up to date. During the summer high season, about 50 researchers live and work at the station. In the winter, fewer than 10 people live at the facility, according to Davis. Much of the research conducted at the facility focuses on climate and weather.

The Big House at Summit Station Greenland

The Big House at Summit Station, Greenland. Photo by Ed Stockard.

Greenland’s polar environment and growing medical needs made Summit Station a perfect fit for WEM’s service-oriented approach to health care.

“Our department chair, Richard Zane, MD, has been very supportive of us being entrepreneurial and extending the reach of our medical expertise to far afield,” Davis said. “This is also in line with the university’s research mandate.”

Although no specific CU SOM Greenland-based research has yet been approved, Davis said, “there will be the opportunity for us to study altitude and also study health care systems and how and whether telemedicine support is effective in this type of extreme environment.”

Unprecedented course

Another opportunity that Summit Station provides: Teaching an unprecedented course in one of the most dramatic locations on the planet. Lemery and Davis together will teach “Introduction to Polar Medicine” over a week in August. Students will receive three hours of credit for the accredited course, as well as a Wilderness First Aid certificate.

“We’ll talk about climate change and health and provide wilderness medicine education,” said Lemery, who co-edited the book, “Global Climate Change and Human Health.” “It’s pretty unorthodox – nobody’s really done anything else like this.”

The course is designed for pre-health students and will take place in the town of Ilulissat, Greenland. “We think it’s going to be an awesome opportunity for students,” Lemery said. The deadline to register is March 15, 2016; click here to register or for more information.

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