So this last weekend I drove down to Eugene, OR to attend a Wilderness First Responder Recertification class. I just wanted to do a quick review of it.
To give some background, let’s talk about why someone should even consider dropping a wad of money on a WFR certification. If you have a job that requires one or are going into a field where it is expected, then work is a good reason. But even if you don’t work in the wilderness those of us that play in the wilderness should seriously consider taking the course. It isn’t the certification that is important, it is all the skills that you practice during the course that are invaluable. I received my Wilderness First Responder certification two years ago from WMA (Wilderness Medical Associates). The course that I took through WMA was a seven day course in Skamokawa, WA, hosted by a kayak guiding company. I had an incredible experience. The course was well taught, it was a small class, maybe fifteen students, and EarthCorps paid for the course and put me up in a yurt. Not only was it fun, but the course focuses on teaching you extremely valuable risk management and decision making skills. There is some level of inevitable leadership training built in as well, especially if you act as the Incident Commander for one of your scenarios. The course itself is unbelievably hands on, with full blown scenarios complete with fake blood and very realistic acting on the part of your classmates. You can read about wilderness medicine all you want but this is as close to the real thing as you are ever going to get in practice. I certainly learn best by doing and I believe, with this kind of information, getting to fake triage and build splints and bandage wounds and “perform” CPR… there is nothing better to prepare you.
So bottom line, if you spend time in the wilderness (defined as two hours away from definitive medical care) then you should consider getting your WFR. Now that I have mine I consider it an essential piece of gear. As someone wise once said, your lightest piece of gear is your brain.
I got my WFR two years ago, but your WFR isn’t just good for the rest of your life. Your certification will expire after two years unless you retake the class or attend a WFR recertification class, which is a three day course designed to refresh your memory, practice skills that might be getting rusty, and bring you up to date on new practices and procedures or changes to the curriculum. I would have preferred to retake the course, but because we are paying for Kyle to take his WFR for the first time, we decided to be frugal and sign me up for a WFRR (Wilderness First Responder Recert). It is significantly cheaper. The closest course we could find that fit into our time frame was in Eugene, OR, so I made plans to stay with some friends in Salem and drive to Eugene every day.
I do have a couple of pieces of advice, now that I have taken my recert. First of all, I took my original course from WMA but I took my recert through WMI (Wilderness Medicine Institute, which is run by NOLS). WMI is considered the leader in wilderness medicine, with WMA being right up there as well. It wasn’t a big deal to switch organizations, however it did cause a couple of problems for me as a student. The two different organizations do things pretty similarly but some of their systems and mnemonics vary. This was a little bit of a challenge for me, instead of being a refresher I found myself learning certain things all over again, while everyone else already knew what they were doing.
Second piece of advice, WMI sends you an initial email when you are registered in the course and then it won’t send you anything else. All of the information you need for the course is in that original email. I failed to notice the link in the original email when I skimmed it to make sure I was registered. So then, about a week out from the course I was starting to wonder why I had never received any course information. I kept checking my account on WMI’s website but there wasn’t anything in that portal. Finally, I went back and discovered the link in the email and followed it. That was when I discovered we had to take a test the first day! I took the practice test and bombed it. I started to really stress about the test. Plus, because I had never taken a WMI course I didn’t have their course material… so I studied my old text book from WMA and hoped it would be enough. I passed the test, but barely, and there were certainly things that became clearer once I received a WMI text book.
Bottom line it is probably easier to stick with your original certifying organization. The WMI course was good but it was different. I also think I would prefer the longer course every two years, you get to go over everything in class before doing the scenarios. In a recertification course you jump right into scenarios, the assumption being you remember everything you are doing. It was also challenging because most people in the class were on their eighth or ninth recertification. These where people who had been practicing wilderness medicine in their jobs for years and years. I was totally the novice. If I had taken a full WFR class I would have been with other people taking the course for the first time. Until I become more comfortable with wilderness medicine I think that beginner crowd would be a better learning environment. Although people had really great stories and great knowledge, which was awesome to listen too.
Overall it ended up being a great experience, better than nothing by far, and I am happy to say I passed and am still a certified WFR. I continue to keep my fingers crossed that I will never have to use the skills I gained through taking the course, but if I am put in that situation feel confident in my abilities.