Scoring a Wilderness Medicine Job
A Guide to Jobs in Wilderness Medicine
Gaining a wilderness medicine certification is an asset to anyone’s resume. For many jobs a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification is a requirement. In other cases, a certification isn’t required but opens up additional doors of opportunity for future work. Below is a reference of how your certification can help you in a wilderness medicine job.
Teachers & Instructors:
Outdoor and field based educational courses are gaining popularity at all ages and schools.
At the university level, field programs are very popular, involving Grad students and professors facilitating multi-day and -week trips, often in very remote settings. Many universities are requiring a WFA or an even more appropriate Field-WFA course. In some cases, wilderness expedition trips are in the remote backcountry, and a WFR is required to be a lead instructor.
I’ve had a number of teachers who take a WFR so that they are able to run and chaperone field trips. This is a great example of where the certification isn’t required but having it makes for great opportunities. Another high school instructor in my course now oversees a high school outdoor club with extracurricular field trips. She now gets to spend time sharing rock climbing and other outdoor experiences she loves with her students.
Field Science & Research:
Similar to the role of an educator, which involves field classes, many science and research based work requires field and data collection. Wilderness medicine training can be crucial to these roles. In particular, disciplines such as:
- Atmospheric and Space Sciences
- GIS Work
- Survey Work
Most camps and retreat centers have a component of outdoor recreation. Camp counselors must have a level of outdoor leadership and wilderness medical training to be considered for these roles. Often people in charge of leading hikes or more adventurous activities need a WFA, at minimum.
Expedition or Tour Guide
Due to the remote nature of some tours and inability to guarantee access to advanced medical care, these jobs want you to have some amount of medical training. The more adventurous and cool the tour service, the more likely wilderness medical training will be required. If you want a cool way to travel and see the world this is a great opportunity! Becoming an expedition medic for backpacking, mountaineering, skiing, climbing, and boating trips may be a great way to find adventure in your workplace.
Working ski patrol isn’t just about skiing well and knowing avalanche terrain, you need to have a solid emergency medical background. For many ski mountains, a WFR fits the bill and opens up this job without the time commitment of a full EMT course.
National & State Parks as well as other Public Land Agencies
If you have thought about a career in the national parks, then adding a wild med cert to your resume will help you get your foot in the door. Certain jobs, like wilderness ranger and conservation crews, that work in the remote backcountry specifically will require a WFR.
Get paid to build and maintain trails. This can be for public land employees (National Park BLM, Forest Service, state parks) as well as private sector work and Americorps positions. Due to the remote nature of the work, and the risk associated with power tools in the backcountry, a WFA or WFR can help you land the trail crew position of your dreams.
Want to be on the front lines of wildfires, saving lives and homes? Maybe even rappel out of a helicopter? Then try a job with a wildland fire crew. A WFR will help open doors. As a next step, getting your EMT certification often includes a good pay raise. These are hard, dirty jobs that are crucial to saving land and homes from destruction and preventing future fires.
This job is all about using outdoor experiences to help people learn and grow. Most often a WFR is needed for this style of work. This is a very rewarding job- though it takes a lot of great skills beyond just the WFR. The participants are often troubled youth and need mentorship along with outdoor experiences.
Guiding is the hallmark example of a career choice that will require wilderness medical training. For guiding on day trips that remain close to medical resources, a WFA will usually suffice.
If you want to get into overnight trips, backcountry or any form of technical guiding you will need a WFR. Within the land disciplines such as rock and ice climbing, mountaineering, and skiing, a WFR is required to take most guide training courses. For example, a WFR is a prerequisite for all AMGA rock courses. The skill of responding to emergencies and handling risk management are foundational for a good guide. There are guides for every type of outdoor discipline you can think of. If people do it outdoors, someone can make a career out of guiding it. Heck, I had a student who guides international running trips (they look awesome by the way)!
I have personally guided around the US and internationally. I still remember when I moved to New Zealand in 2007 and started applying for jobs. One of the first things tour and guide companies asked for is a WFR cert. For a US citizen in other countries, it’s expected.
This is a hybrid between traditional guiding and field work that many teachers do. When the environment requires additional skills beyond that of the group of scientists, they need a guide. This is what I do in Antarctica – I work to keep scientists and support staff safe while in the field. A WFR is required for this job. The same for field camp managers.
Get hired to advise the movie and TV industry on how to represent emergencies accurately. I would consider this to be an opportunity that one works their way into after years of using their wilderness medical skills. I wanted to include it because it’s a very fun and unique one.
I’ve been hired as a hypothermia expert for filming. I’ve also been hired as safety for film crews working in outdoor and remote settings. Both have been an interesting spin on my wilderness medicine and guide-based skills.
Disaster Relief Work
Become part of a volunteer or paid disaster relief team. While a CPR First Aid might get you a volunteer job the additional field base protocols and practice with limited resources during a wild med course is a must. A WFA is a huge asset to being sent into a disaster zone.
Other jobs of people who have taken my courses:
- Boat captains and boat crews. I’ve had private boats and commercial boat captains and crew take courses.
- ‘Packers’ or pack mule work.
- Recreation coordinator. I’ve seen this with city recreation jobs and as a recreation coordinator for military bases.
- Mountain Bike Coaches
- Search and Rescue teams. These are usually volunteer teams that encourage and often host their own wilderness medical training.
A note for the future:
Over the past 20 years, the outdoor industry has continued to grow. User numbers in our public lands also continue to grow every year. Access to public lands for any commercial use is becoming contingent upon training. This has included wilderness medical certifications for national parks and forest service land. It also includes things like Leave No Trace training. The writing is on the wall- formal wilderness medical training is going to become required more often. Obtaining a certification will be one way to stand out when applying for jobs. It’s time to sign up for your wilderness medicine course today!