Wilderness medicine
Synonymsexpedition medicine, austere medicine, remote medicine
SubdivisionsExpedition medicine

Military medicine

Diving medicine

Aviation medicine
Significant diseasesAltitude sickness

dysbarism envenomation heat related illnesses hypothermia

major trauma
Significant testsPoint of care; Ultrasound, blood tests
SpecialistWilderness Medicine Physician/Clinician

Wilderness medicine is a medical specialty concerned with medical care in remote, wilderness and expedition environments. The specialty includes prior planning, public health issues, a number of sub-specialties as well as responding to emergencies. One modern definition of wilderness medicine is "medical care delivered in those areas where fixed or transient geographic challenges reduce the availability of, or alter requirements for, medical or patient movement resources".[1][2][3]

This rapidly evolving field is of increasing importance as more people engage in outdoor activities, with more participants coming from the extremes of age, and with more people engaging in high risk activities.[4]

The exact aegis of wilderness medicine as a specialty is in constant flux to match the requirements of patients underlying wilderness or remote activities. While wilderness medicine is the preferred terminology for this medical speciality in the United States, terminology such as extreme medicine, remote medicine or expedition medicine, are used internationally.

Wilderness medicine overlaps with a number of other medical specialties in terms of knowledge base and scope of practice, these most notable include; Pre-hospital emergency medicine, Military medicine, Humanitarian aid, Disaster medicine and Public health. The future of extreme, expedition, and wilderness medicine will be defined by both recipients and practitioners, and empirical observations will be transformed by evidence-based practice.[5]

Unlike wilderness first aid which is focussed on the provision of immediate care to the sick and injured in a wilderness setting, wilderness medicine has a far broader approach. These include but are not limited to:


Wilderness medicine is a varied sub-specialty, encompassing skills and knowledge from many other specialties. The specific curricula will vary but an example can be seen in the curriculum[9][10] for Fellowship in the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM):

Scope of Practice
Diving and hyperbaric medicine
  • Physics and physiology of depth
  • Dive medicine
  • Dysbarisms and barotrauma
Tropical and travel medicine
High-altitude and mountaineering medicine
Expedition medicine
  • Basic (emergency) field dentistry
  • Expedition planning, pre- and post-expedition responsibilities
  • Camp safety and layout
Survival, field craft and equipment
  • Survival techniques and equipment
  • Water procurement
  • Food procurement
  • Hiking and trekking
  • Foot gear and care of the feet
  • Clothing selection for wilderness survival
  • Land navigation
Search and Rescue
Sports Medicine
  • rock climbing
  • ultramarathons
  • endurance sports
  • kayaking / sailing etc.
Preventive medicine, field sanitation and hygiene
  • Field sanitation and hygiene measures
  • Vector control and barriers
  • Water purification methods
Environmental Medicine
Improvised Medicine
  • Improvised field wound management
  • Improvisational medical techniques in the wilderness
Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance
  • Triage
  • Field hospital provision
  • Malnutrition therapy
Wilderness Emergencies and Trauma Care
  • Pre-hospital patient assessment
  • Pain management in the wilderness setting
  • Emergency airway management
  • Psychological response to injury and stress
  • Management of trauma and injuries
  • Prolonged Field Care (PFC)


The epidemiology of wilderness medicine is as broad as the patient groups, geography and activities in question. Common risks to many of these are gastointestinal upset, and minor injuries (ankle sprains, fractures, scrapes and lacerations) as well as the rarer and more serious disorders such as major trauma, heat related illnesses and cardiovascular disease (e.g. cardiac arrest).[11] There are also a number of specific wilderness medical emergencies.

Austere environments interdisciplinary interface

Insights from the field of Military Combat Tactical Care (TCCC) interact with wilderness medical practice and protocol development. Moreover, new products and technologies tested in combat are adopted by wilderness medical personnel and vice versa.[12] Experts in wilderness medicine come from various professional groups and specialist backgrounds including the military. More recently, advances in the development of Prolonged Field Care (PFC) guidelines has led to the development of military and civilian PFC courses,[13] such as the international Austere Emergency Care course.[14][15]

Casualty extrication by road

Notable Individuals


Portable hyperbaric chamber used in altitude sickness

Few countries provide formal medical accreditation for specialists in wilderness medicine. The credentialing that exists is mostly drawn from professional organisations run for and by wilderness medicine clinicians. As a result, there is a huge variety in the education available for wilderness medicine, with only a few educational institutions specialising in this field. The Wilderness Medical Society is perhaps the oldest and most well established organisation in this area and has established international reach. The Wilderness Medical Society produce the Wilderness & Environmental Medicine journal and administer the Fellowship of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM) award. The FAWM was first awarded in 2007 in 28 clinicians (20 men and 8 women).[40] The FAWM continues today and recognised educational activity form a number of providers which provide credit towards the Fellowship. The College of Remote and Offshore Medicine (CoROM) in Malta offers FAWM credit as well as; undergraduate, postgraduate and short courses in wilderness medicine-related topics.[41] and mountain medicine. An extreme medicine master's degree has run in partnership between World Extreme Medicine and the University of Exeter since 2016.[42] There are a number of higher education and specialist qualifications available internationally:

Masters Degrees
Fellowships (Academic)
Fellowships (Contribution to the field)

Applications to Covid-19

As of April 2020, studies and trials are underway that examine the possible benefits of nitric oxide in the treatment of COVID-19.[49][50][51] This research is related to the role of nasal breathing in the creation of nitric oxide, which increases oxygen absorption in the lungs.[52] Nitric oxide was also investigated as an experimental therapy for SARS.[53]

Brian Strickland, MD, a fellow in Wilderness Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital who studies "acute respiratory distress" in high altitudes, is applying this research towards COVID-19.[54][55] He is currently involved in clinical trials which apply the use of inhaled nitric oxide as a treatment for COVID-19.[56] This approach was inspired by the work of associate professor of Emergency Medicine at the Harvard Medical School N. Stuart Harris, who has been studying the effects of altitude sickness on mountain climbers, such as those who climb Mount Everest. Harris noticed that the consequences of high level altitude sickness on the human body mirrored COVID-19's dysfunctional impact on the lungs. His focus on nitric oxide comes from its role in being able to breathe in high altitudes.[54][57]

See also


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  2. ^ Auerbach, PS (2017). Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine, 7e. Elsevier. p. 1200. ISBN 978-0323359429.
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