By Eliza Joy
Wilderness nursing involves being able to improvise in less than ideal situations. Caring for someone in the wilderness often requires quick thinking and improvisation. Whether it’s learning to use materials in your trunk to splint a broken bone or transporting a patient down a mountain, wilderness nursing is a unique skill set. This past semester, professors Scott Summers and Craig Nuttall organized an event to allow students of the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University the opportunity to be certified as wilderness RNs. Jaren, a teaching assistant who helped create the curriculum for the conference, commented, “A lot of people get confused by what wilderness nursing is. Are you going to run around with a hatchet and find people to save? It essentially is search and rescue. Nurses are specially trained and we already have the mindset that you would need in that situation. All we need is a little bit of extra training.” The Wilderness Resident Nurse Conference provided that extra training.
Over the Summer of 2021, five TAs researched two or three topics to teach through modules. The modules ran anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes each. Students would take a pretest before starting the lesson and a post-test afterwards. Participants had about two months to complete these lessons before a training in October.
The conference took place over four days and students participating stayed in BYU’s Timpanogos Lodge. TAs worked together to construct simulations that integrated the different topics taught in modules. These simulations included treating hypothermia, head injury, lightning strikes, chronic illness, and many more. Beforehand, students had to make decisions about the supplies they would take to help their patients. “We did not take enough of certain things at the beginning,” said student Adia. “We just had to use whatever we had in our backpack. And whatever we brought we had to carry to hike up to the patient.” The students evaluated and treated each patient they encountered, often improvising to care for them sufficiently.
For one of the simulations, the students were told they were helping a search and rescue team. “Scott is actually on the search and rescue team,” Jaren recalled. “He told us that he offered our services to his boss.” When the call came in about someone in need of assistance, the students were ready to go. “The amount of pressure that they were put under and how they did it was pretty impressive,” Jaren commented. Alexa, another TA, explained that transporting patients was one of the difficult parts of the simulations, but the students got more efficient as the experience went on.
The idea of wilderness nursing may seem daunting to those who aren’t partial to the outdoors. But the WRN Conference took students at whatever comfort level they were at with the outdoors. “It’s a really great program because it takes everyone at whatever level they’re at,” said Alexa. Although the conference did not count for school credit, participants gained a new skill set and a wilderness nursing certification.
While at the training and throughout the simulations, the students were reminded of the Savior. “Something I continually thought about was the Good Samaritan and how we can serve other people, even if they don’t deserve it,” said Alexa. “That’s something the College of Nursing emphasizes and teaches us. It definitely brought me closer to Jesus Christ just to understand that love He has for us and how we can demonstrate that for other people. Even in little things, like giving a patient medication so they’re not nauseous, which maybe isn’t essential to keeping a person alive, but it is essential to taking care of them.” She added that it’s important to check your judgments at the door as a nurse. “There should never be criticism about how they got hurt or about their dumb decisions, but it should always be about what we can do to help.” Helping a habitual smoker with lung issues or a careless hiker with a leg injury may be frustrating, but Alexa reminded that helping no matter what “is not only our job, but it’s what we signed up for.”