Students look forward to gaining experience in the field

For immediate release: March 26, 2007

GALVESTON, Texas - When Benjamin Hughes heard about the Wilderness Medicine Society, he thought about hiking and backpacking, activities he enjoys.

Hughes, co-director of the society's chapter at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, founded in October 2006, learned that wilderness medicine includes much more than afternoons spent in the great outdoors.

Wilderness medicine refers to medical care where access to emergency medical services and hospitals is unavailable. This could include "a car stranded in the middle of nowhere, on a plane, scuba diving" or even outer space, Hughes said.

Hughes, a second-year UTMB medical student from College Station, volunteered to lead the society along with Tad De Martini, also a second-year medical student. Second-year medical student Noelle Northcutte was the person to contact the national society and recruit faculty sponsor Dr. Christine Houser, clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine. The group has about 50 people on its e-mail list.

This year, activities have been limited to listening to speakers, Hughes said, but next year he hopes they take some trips "to get some wilderness experience and try to improvise."

Hughes and De Marco attended a Wilderness Medicine Society event at the John Knox Ranch in Central Texas with members from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston WMS chapter. (Houser is also faculty advisor for the UTSCH chapter.) Workshop topics included wound management, dealing with fractures, orienteering and survival skills.

Lectures at UTMB began with Houser discussing emerging diseases related to travel and bioterrorism in November. Dr. Randal Reinertson, an assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, spoke about hypothermia. "This was right before the reports of the people getting stranded in Oregon, the climbers on Mount Hood, so it was pretty interesting," Hughes noted.

Dr. Sean Roden, a clinical assistant professor in PMCH who did his residency in aerospace medicine at UTMB, has spoken twice. Roden discussed his experiences with outback medicine with the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia. "Doctors flying in single-engine planes to really rural places," Hughes said. Roden's second talk concerned his experience as the lead flight surgeon for the International Space Station.

The group hopes to get a speaker on wilderness dentistry, Hughes said.

Wilderness medicine is good for any doctor to know, Hughes believes.

"Last year I went backpacking in Colorado with some friends, and I was the only medically oriented person there," he noted. "I still felt totally helpless in the middle of nowhere."

He said wilderness medicine can be a good career move for doctors and other medical professionals. The 20-year-old society has professional as well as student chapters and coordinates continuing education units.

"It is a good sideline for a lot of emergency physicians," Hughes said. "The biggest part of wilderness medicine is prevention. It's a good thing for doctors who want to get out there and not stay in a hospital their entire life."

Houser, who has been a member of the Wilderness Medical Society for years, is the expedition medicine consultant to the chairman of Yale University's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. "We are working to get more archaeologists proper training and supervision for medical care in austere settings," she said. This year she will work with the university's White Monastery project in Sohag, Egypt.

While not many physicians specialize in wilderness medicine, Houser said, "There are docs who do only wilderness medicine, such as one of our members who has established the only permanent clinic near Base Camp on Mt. Everest."

UTMB students, faculty and staff wanting information may contact Hughes at

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