Extreme Wilderness Nursing

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Summers and Nuttall are now prepared for ANYTHING. Seriously. Anything. Photo courtesy of Summers.

By Corbin Smith

Extreme wilderness nursing at the BYU College of Nursing.

Yep, you read that right. Let me say it again.

Extreme wilderness nursing at the BYU College of Nursing.

What does that mean?

Allow me to explain.

Imagine with me that you and a group of your friends have gone to Zion National Park for a weekend camping trip. In the afternoon, the group decides to go on a hike to a nearby lookout point. While you’re walking, a rock is accidentally kicked from above and hits one of your friends in the head and knocks her out. Do you, as a nurse, know what to do?

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What if while you’re on a campout with your children and one starts showing signs of hypothermia? What do you do then, when you are possibly miles away from the nearest medical facility and you are the only trained nurse in the area?

Assistant teaching professor Scott Summers and associate teaching professor Dr. Craig Nuttall want to assure that all BYU nursing students could feel just as comfortable in those situations as they would in a hospital or emergency room.

That being said, every great teacher knows that before you can teach others certain skills, you must develop those skills and have specific experiences to challenge those skills before you can teach others those things. Summers and Nuttall knew they would need more than just their current nursing credentials and a burning passion. They would need one more thing: a special certification.

This led these two adventurous faculty members to the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, where they received a diploma in mountain medicine! It was a year-long program with online classes and two, ten-day practicums in the wilderness where different scenarios are simulated for the students to learn and use their new skills.

“We want to develop curriculum for the undergrad nursing students,” Summers says, “Undoubtedly these kinds of things will happen in life and we want our students to feel confident when it happens, and then everyone looks at you, the nurse.”

During the “extreme” nursing class, both Summers and Nuttall found themselves in some very unique situations. For one, they had helicopter training! They learned how to pick up an injured patient, how to lead them into a basket so the helicopter could express them to the hospital (even Summers and Nuttall go to ride in the basket!).

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They were sky-high this summer! Photo courtesy of Summers

Considering all the crazy things they did during their wilderness trips, the most memorable activity for Summers was the hypothermia simulation. “It was 33 degrees outside that day,” Scott remembers, “and they filled up a kiddie pool with water and tons of ice then made us sit in it with our swimsuits on. After that, they measured our temperature every two minutes to see what our core temperature was. They tried to get us as close to hypothermic as they could!”

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Legend has it that Scott and Craig might still be shivering to this day! Photo courtesy of Summers

Now cold to the bone and close to hypothermia themselves, they were taught different ways to warm up patients. “I shivered for probably four hours straight!” Summers laughs.

While Summers and Nuttall probably won’t get permission from the University to push students to hypothermia every semester, they have begun to envision what the class may look like and how they run things. Students would likely be divided up into rescue teams and given a set of scenarios to complete based on the skills they learned in class. Students won’t be able to receive the same certification that Summers and Nuttall were awarded from the University of New Mexico, but, according to Summers, that isn’t their primary focus.

“We want the students to recognize that they have learned a lot in the hospital, but those skills can be adapted to an environment where you don’t have all the resources you would in the hospital. We want to augment and stretch the knowledge they already have,” Summers says.

Summers and Nuttall are also going beyond the classroom to teach others about the subject that can be simplified as “wilderness nursing.” In the future, they will be speaking at a conference about hypothermia, heat illness and altitude sickness. Summers also volunteers with the Utah County Search and Rescue, perfectly putting to use the unique skills he has gained.

So yeah, let me remind you again that you did read that right.

Extreme wilderness nursing at the BYU College of Nursing.

However, before you get too excited, it must be noted that it may be a few semesters before we see the class Summers and Nuttall are envisioning. Even though you may not be able to take their class, you can take comfort in knowing that if you ever get injured in the middle of nowhere with Scott or Craig around, you’ll be well taken care of. Now, isn’t that peace of mind we have wanted all along?

Published by BYU Nursing

Guided by the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we exemplify the Healer’s art by: leading with faith and integrity; advancing the science of nursing and healthcare; promoting health and wellness; alleviating suffering; and serving individuals, families, and communities. The mission of the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University is to learn the Healer’s art and go forth to serve.

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