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Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Wilderness Medicine Campus for NOLS

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Location of future WMI wilderness medicine campus, in Red Canyon, Wyoming Photo Credit: Melissa Gray/WMI of NOLS
photo by Melissa Gray/WMI of NOLS
This news release is just in to me from Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin on behalf of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS):

Generous donations from Swiss biomedical entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss and a Wyoming ranching family have given the Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) of the National Outdoor Leadership School the holiday gift of its dreams: a wilderness medicine campus in the state of Wyoming.

NOLS, based in Lander, Wyoming, is the leading teacher of wilderness education worldwide. WMI of NOLS provides medical training for times when resources are scarce, including remote backcountry emergencies or incidents in the frontcountry when help is delayed. More than 100,000 students worldwide have benefited from WMI’s training, going on to become wilderness emergency responders, search and rescue team members, medical volunteers in underserved nations, professional healthcare practitioners, and more.

To continue to be the leading provider of wilderness medicine worldwide, WMI of NOLS needs a year-round residential education facility in Wyoming where it can house students and hold its many courses, which continue to increase in popularity. WMI offers two-day Wilderness First Aid courses, ten-day Wilderness First Responder courses, month-long Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) courses, as well as field-based Wilderness Medicine Expeditions. A campus is particularly important for the WEMT program, as six of the 14 WEMT courses the school currently runs are based out of Lander. In 2010, WMI of NOLS ran 51 courses in its home base of Lander, educating over 820 students. Ultimately, WMI of NOLS hopes to be able to significantly grow its Lander-based programming, from the current 820 students per year to possibly double that number.

Thanks to the generosity of Hansjörg Wyss, as well as local Wyoming ranchers Dr. Charles and Mary Ann McMahon, WMI of NOLS is one step closer to making its vision into a reality. On December 28, 2010, NOLS purchased more than 200 acres of land in a spectacular location outside Lander, Wyoming—the ideal setting to conduct remote wilderness scenarios and a stunning and inspiring location—for the planned Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus.

The word “school” brings to mind a traditional classroom with four walls and a ceiling. But while indoor spaces are part of the WMI educational experience, outdoor spaces—where students practice what they learn in real-life remote wilderness scenarios played out in wild and realistic terrain—are equally integral to the learning experience. The Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus will be a perfect venue for these scenarios: river rescue scenarios can be staged on a river slicing through the property, red sandstone cliffs and uneven terrain provide options for search and rescue scenarios, and a maze of hoodoos, limber pines, and juniper studding the landscape create a maze ideal for night rescue scenarios.

It appears the stars aligned perfectly to make NOLS’ purchase of this property possible, as both Mr. Wyss and the McMahons share the school’s passion for medicine, education, and conservation of wild spaces. Mr. Wyss is a Swiss businessman, medical entrepreneur, and longtime president of bioengineering firm Synthes. With a $1.5 million gift and the potential for an additional $1.5 million matching gift, Mr. Wyss’ donation potentially will be the largest cash gift in the history of the school.

After having enjoyed this property for nearly 45 years, the McMahons too are delighted to be leaving it in the hands of an organization that will serve as a good steward of the land. “We’re going to miss it,” said Mary Ann McMahon, who often took school children on day hikes to visit ancient petroglyphs inscribed in the sandstone cliffs above the property. “To have NOLS buy this property is the best possible outcome we could ever hope for,” said Dr. McMahon, who practiced neurology in the local area for over 40 years. “We knew NOLS would take care of the property, but when we found out that it would be used to build a medical education campus, I thought, ‘well, that’s even better!’”

NOLS’ purchase of the land is only the first step in realizing its vision. The school’s ultimate goal is to build a campus that will include both indoor and outdoor classroom space, meeting rooms, and residential and dining facilities. “As thrilled as NOLS is to have this wonderful opportunity, our plans to complete the development of a campus on this property can only come to fruition with frugal management, careful planning, and the continued generosity of its many donors worldwide,” said John Gans, Executive Director of NOLS. “We are absolutely ecstatic. A wilderness medicine campus will not only be of tremendous value to the school and its students, but it will be a lasting investment in the State of Wyoming as a whole. Thanks to Mr. Wyss’ generous contribution and the McMahons’ significant gift, the Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus will become the premier center for wilderness and remote medicine training in the world.”

What a marvelous announcement! NOLS is an outstanding organization and this recent development will be wonderful for the field of wilderness medicine. I am eager to follow the progress of NOLS as it undertakes this important endeavor. 

The photo above is of the location of future WMI wilderness medicine campus, in Red Canyon, Wyoming.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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