In May 2009, I acquired the Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification from SOLO. I was anxious attending this course as I’ve never been interested in learning this skill set, however after hiking miles into the backcountry with my son and many others I dealt with the anxiety and took the course. It’s been a few years and my certification had expired and since I have not had to (thankfully!) use the skills I wanted to re-certify and renew the information.
This past weekend, I took the WFA course through the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS and renewed my certification.
The course prepares you for many different types of medical emergencies in the backcountry. While this is not a comprehensive list, it gives you an idea of what you will learn: patient assessment system, emergency and evacuation plans, spinal and head injuries, shock, fractures, dislocations, heat illness, cold injuries, lightning, altitude illness, anaphylaxis, etc.
Structure of Program
The course is very well put together as you learn a topic and then go into the field to practice what you just learned. It’s theory and then hands-on followed up with a review, discussion and Q&A before moving to the next topic. In my course, there were 24 students with 2 awesome instructors.
The instructors did not just speak from theory, but from experience as they were both guides. That said, they did not spend a great amount of time telling us stories, it was more peppered throughout the course where it was relevant.
While, I believe my experience at the NOLS course was far better than that of SOLO, I cannot tell you it was purely because of the different schools or instructors. Over 90% of the materials were the same, both schools gave you field time and both were very good learning moments for me. That said, I believe that the structure of the course and the method that NOLS teaches the course was far superior than SOLO (maybe SOLO has changed in the last 3+ years). Regardless, I suggest that you take this course and if you cannot get a course through NOLS then check out SOLO.
I took this course due to the time I spend in the backcountry and in the wilderness setting. That said, if you look at recent events such as Hurricane Sandy, this skill set would prove to be very useful. There were (and may still be) parts of NJ and NYC that do not have power and in the early moments of the storm, there were people completely shutoff from emergency services. If an emergency would have occurred and you had no ability to call for help and it would be hours if not days before help could arrive then you are definitely in that wilderness setting. Just having these skills and the leadership skills that you learn during the training will help you in these stressful moments.