A Hundred Years of Medicine in the US National Parks

A Hundred Years of Medicine in the US National Parks
Yareah Magazine
Will Smith MDGrand Teton National Park

Will Smith MDGrand Teton National Park

This year the US National Park Service celebrates the hundredth anniversary of its establishment by President Woodrow Wilson, and in that century the list of iconic North American landscapes under its management has grown dramatically.

The US National Parks contain some of the continent’s most extreme and remote terrain, and with over 300 million tourists visiting last year, maintaining the safety of visitors is an immense challenge for rescue workers.

Will Smith MD, Paramedic is the Medical Director for Grand Teton National Park, which is in Wyoming, just south of the famous Yellowstone National Park. With a number of high peaks including the 4,200m Grant Teton, an area of 480 square miles, and an average of 3.5 million visitors per year, the park presents a range of complications for medical professionals.

The rugged interior of the United States has a proud history of wilderness survival, and Will Smith embodies the spirit that has been exhibited by Native Americans and European settlers in the country across the centuries. As a serving US Army reservist who grew up on a cattle ranch in southeast Wyoming, an understanding of the wilderness and how to deal with emergency situations comes naturally to him.

As Medical Director, Will Smith’s role takes him into the heart of the National Park on some of the most high-profile rescues in the region. For example, in 2010, he coordinated the medical operations of a rescue of 17 climbers who had been struck by lightning near the summit of Grand Teton – the largest single rescue effort in the park’s history. However, the high-profile cases are the tip of the iceberg, as Will explains:

“The average hiker requires rescuing much more frequently than the high-profile climbing injuries and avalanches. One thing that the National Park Service is trying to do is educate people in order to prevent search and rescues – to take water and clothing with them, to be aware of altitude sickness, not to go too close to the large wild animals that are common around here.

“Getting outside and enjoying nature is really important, especially for younger generations. I think that experiencing the National Parks gives people a better understanding of the planet, an understanding of personal responsibility and making sure that they are well-prepared.

“Today, it’s common for technology to be too deeply ingrained into people’s lives – it’s important that they have an alternative that exposes them to parts of nature they wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Will Smith continues, “Technology does, of course, play a role in modern remote and wilderness medicine. I think that there is a lot of technology out there that can help extreme medics, but the over-reliance on technology is also dangerous. When it fails, when your batteries go dead, or when you don’t have phone signal, you need to be able to rely on yourself and on your training.

“In Grand Teton National Park, we have areas that are very commonly without phone reception, so we have to train our pre-hospital providers to know what to do in pretty much all circumstances, to make decisions quickly and correctly.

“Whether they have been there before or not, they can draw on previous experiences or training. A key skill for wilderness medical professionals is the ability to think outside the box, to relish the challenges associated with taking care of people in the wilderness.

“Sometimes the presentation of the injury or illness won’t be straightforward, sometimes we won’t have all of the tools available, but we figure out what needs to be done. Evacuation can be a priority over the medical procedures.”

Will Smith will be speaking at World Extreme Medicine Conference and Expo at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, EH8 8AS on 19, 20 and 21 November 2016. The Extreme Medicine Exposition brings together leading experts from around the globe to share learnings on prehospital care, expedition and wilderness medicine, sport, endurance, humanitarian and disaster medicine.

Mark Hannaford, founder of conference organisers World Extreme Medicine, said, “One of the key missions of the World Extreme Medicine Conference is to see practitioners of extreme medicine from around the globe learning from one another, and Will Smith has a huge wealth of experience to share.

“At the conference, Will is covering the dramatic rescue of 17 climbers from the summit of Grand Teton, the use of combat medicine skills in emergency medical services and practicing medicine in areas that ambulances can’t reach – all areas that can benefit other medical professionals from a range of backgrounds.

“World Extreme Medicine was founded around a campfire in Namibia, and we coined the phrase ‘World Extreme Medicine’ as an umbrella term for all practices of medicine outside of a clinical environment, whether it is prehospital, disaster and humanitarian, endurance, sport, expedition or wilderness medicine.

“Our message is that there is a great diversity of careers in medicine, and that traditional hospital environments are not the only option for a fulfilling career. To put it into a layperson’s terms, there’s never been a more exciting time to work in medicine.”

For further information about the World Extreme Medicine Conference and Expo, which takes place 18 – 21 November 2016, please visit:… .

World Extreme Medicine Conference and Expo:

World Extreme Medicine Conference Info:…

Grand Teton National Park:…

US National Park Service:

Kate Rubins’ transmitted message supporting the World Extreme Medicine Expo from the International Space Station:

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