“It’s a perfect coming-together of interest in medicine, interest in taking care of people in austere settings, and appreciation for the environment.” – Dr. Paul Auerbach
Dr. Auerbach’s Path to Wilderness Medicine
Wilderness medicine has been a fascination for me ever since I was a medical student. I had the good fortune to work for the Indian Health Service in Montana in 1975 and was exposed to many of the problems that are covered in the textbook, ranging from snake bites, to drowning victims, to heat illness, to endurance events. That planted the seed, and then specializing in emergency medicine was a natural follow-on. When Ed Geehr and I first conceptualized the text, Wilderness Medicine, wonderful people came out of the woodwork – experts who had worked with the national ski patrol, volunteers who had worked with Outward Bound and other outdoor leadership schools – so it was easy to recruit contributors with great expertise.
Helping in Haiti
I responded to Haiti as part of a team from Stanford under the auspices of International Medical Corps. It was a hard gig. We arrived in the center of Port-au-Prince four and half days after the earthquake. We were one of the first teams and provided medical support out of the university hospital. The Haitian people were incredible in terms of what they endured and how receptive they were to our assistance. We had never seen anything like this disaster, and it tested all of our skills: physical and emotional endurance, and of course, improvisational medical skills.
How Wilderness Medicine Has Evolved
Wilderness medicine is improving in the sense that it’s transitioning from being a very empirics-based science — where most of what was taught and learned was observation of scenarios and situations — to a more evidence-based discipline. More research is being done in the lab, whether it’s basic work on frostbite, modeling lightning injuries, working with antivenoms. We’re witnessing the science of wilderness medicine catch up with its clinical practice. In a relatively short time period, we’ve developed a real medical specialty: the education is remarkably better than it was 15 years ago, the science is much better, the teaching is better, and therefore the practice has also improved. This is a very exciting time for the specialty.
I have strong feelings about wilderness medicine. I’m passionate about it — I’ve been pursuing it my entire professional life. I hope that people are able to use this book and get the information they need, while they recognize the opportunity to marry their love for the environment and for being outdoors with their dedication to being health care providers.
Paul S. Auerbach, MD, MS, FACEP, FAWM, is the Redlich Family Professor of Surgery in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. He is the world’s leading medical expert on wilderness medicine and a prolific author. He is the editor of Wilderness Medicine, and author of Medicine for the Outdoors and Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine.
Dr. Auerbach holds his MD from Duke and completed his internship at Dartmouth and residency at UCLA. He is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He has been recognized as a Hero of Emergency Medicine by the American College of Emergency Physicians and received the New Orleans Grand Isle Award for Science from the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences, the Founders Award from the Wilderness Medical Society, and the Outstanding Contribution in Education Award from the American College of Emergency Physicians, among others. Dr. Auerbach has served as a volunteer physician in Haiti, Nepal, and Guatemala.