- What do you want from your course? A good education? A certificate so you can work? Both? There are over forty wilderness medicine providers and counting. Oddly enough some company's courses are surprisingly easy; so easy, in fact that you learn very little. Others will require more work on your part, some much more work. As with most educational experiences, what you get out them is proportional to the work and energy you put in. If you are looking for a good education, please read the second half of this article.
- How interested are you in first aid/medicine? If interested, you should look for a company that teaches more anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology. Research their textbooks and curriculum.
- Do you have a science background? A strong science background lends itself to quickly understanding physiologic concepts in assessment and treatment and you will likely be interested in a company that teaches the "why" behind the "what."
- Are you disciplined? A hybrid course with a home study component may serve you better than a standard course.
- How much money are you willing to spend? Are you willing to travel? Travel costs more but increases your options.
- Do the course dates matter? If so, it limits your selection.
- Does the location of the course matter? Much of your real-life learning will come from simulations during your course. If you course is held in a remote setting the simulations will be more realistic, and therefore more valuable.
Wilderness medicine providers teach the same type of courses—WFA, WAFA, WFR, & WEMT—but…we all teach them differently. And that difference may be vitally important to you.
If you are looking for a good education, consider these things:
- Is the company a contributor or signatory to the Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder Scope of Practice documents? Contributors have invested significant time and energy working together to design scope of practice documents that define the skills a WFA or WFR graduate should have upon completion of their course. Signatories are other companies that agree to abide by the documents.
- Companies that write and publish their own books typically have a more integrated approach to teaching their courses…and are more committed to your learning. Look online and compare their course materials. Look for a textbook (hard copy or digital), waterproof handbook, and case study workbook; all with photos and full-color. Note that digital materials are easier to keep up to date than their printed counterparts.
- Unless you have a eidetic or photographic memory, you will NOT remember everything you are taught. A waterproof field manual helps fill the gap between your memory—or lack thereof—and what you need to remember to treat your patient. Do NOT downplay the importance of a well-written field manual.
- A case study workbook permits you to "see" patients during the evening. Homework IS more work, but you gain assessment experience and learn more with it.
- Do they supply and train you to use patient SOAP notes to aid your real-life assessment and treatment? SOAP notes—and acronym for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Treatment—are the standard way first responders and the medical community at-large document what they find wrong with a patient and what they are going to do about it.
- Does the company offer true hybrid courses with online interactive training sessions and testing? You may never choose to take a hybrid course, but the fact that a company has one indicates that they are innovative and spend time—and money—developing courses and materials to enhance their student's learning.
- If you are a visual learner, does the company require their instructors to have a full-sized skeleton and anatomical torso? Do they video your simulations and play them back during an "after incident" debrief? All three significantly and positively impact learning.
- How much of the course is hands-on and how much lecture. Greater than 50% of the course you choose should be skill labs, simulations, and incident debriefs.
- How are the instructors trained and what is their practical field experience. If you are a FBI, police, game warden, or military, you want an instructor experienced in tactical medicine. If you are a trip leader or guide, you want an instructor with professional trip-leading experience. If you are rural EMS, you want an instructor with rural EMS experience.
- Does the company offer options for staying current with the course material? Look for free or paid subscriptions to blogs, case studies, newsletters, printed materials, etc.