About The Wilderness EMT Profession

There are a number of sub professions in the EMT industry and one of the options that you have if you are interested in emergency medical response services is to become a wilderness EMT. The basic difference between a wilderness EMT and an EMT that works in the city is that, as the name clearly states, the wilderness EMT works in the wild where there are no nearby hospitals to which they can take their patients or refer to for help.

Definition Of A Wilderness EMT

Emergencies occur in all parts of the world and they are usually not foreseeable or expected. In wilderness areas there may not be access to medical services. Consequently wilderness EMTs are trained in order to cope with these medical emergencies when they arise in these isolated situations. In cases where immediate evacuation is not possible you will either need:

  • A wilderness first aid user
  • A wilderness first responder
  • A wilderness EMT

A wilderness EMT is a far more advanced qualification than the previous two options on the basis that it requires far more training (in addition to the EMT training already received).  In order to become a wilderness EMT there are a number of educational requirements that you will have to meet. In addition you will be unable to work in this profession without first obtaining the required number of hours of practical experience in the field, preferably in a wilderness setting.

Certification Requirements

Wilderness EMT
There are a number of fairly basic qualification and requirements that you have to meet in order to be eligible to be a wilderness EMT. For one thing you have to pass the training course and successfully show your ability to put into practice all of the skills and methods taught during your training without help. There are also age requirements for this line of work. In order to be a wilderness EMT you generally need to be at least 18 years old. However ins some circumstances and in some states you can be a wilderness EMT if you are only 16 or 17 years old if you have a letter of permission from your parent or your legal guardian. Additional requirements are:

  • The ability to communicate effectively over a radio.
  • The ability to assist in balancing a 300-pound individual.
  • The ability to calculate medications based on body weight.
  • The ability to document all relevant information in prescribed format.

Additional Requirements

There are several additional requirements that you will need as a this kind of EMT of you are to be successful at your job and, more importantly, if you are to receive your certification. These include:

  • The ability to interview bystanders.
  • The ability to perform specific physical and diagnostic skills (such as determining blood pressure and lung sounds).
  • The ability to withstand extreme environmental conditions.

In order to receive certification as a wilderness EMT you must meet all of the requirements mentioned in these two sections. You will be tested on all of the topics mentioned here in order to determine whether or not you have what it takes to be a successful wilderness EMT. If you do not meet these fairly basic requirements you will, unfortunately, be unable to become a wilderness EMT until such time as you are able to demonstrate them. However you will receive a letter that confirms that you completed the training course and that you were willing to try.

Course Description

Certification as a wilderness EMT requires about 180 hours of coursework which will usually be compacted into an intensive month-long training session involving both theory and practical hands-on training. The course will focus on emergency care in settings where calling 911 is not one of your available options. Coursework will include:

  • Medical equipment improvisation
  • Prolonged patient care

In addition your course will include:

  • Ambulance and emergency room observation
  • Trauma training
  • Intravenous therapy training
  • Endotracheal intubation training
  • Back country medicine training
  • Environmental medicine training
  • Toxins training
  • Other emergency medical techniques necessary to prolong the life of a patient

As with most other jobs related to the provision of emergency care, they needs to be extremely hands-on and practical as this is the only way in which you will be able to learn everything that you will need to know for an actual medical emergency that takes place in an outlying area where assistance is not available.

Certification Completion

There are a number of things that you will have to do in order to finalize your certification. For one thing you will need to attend 100% of the classes that you have signed up for. If you miss even one class you will not be certified. However, because sometimes events arise that are outside of our control, if you have a good a reason for missing a class you may be able to come to an agreement with your instructor and make up the class at a later date or catch up from another student. Generally speaking, however, 100% attendance is non-negotiable requirement. In addition you will have to perform at a level deemed satisfactory by your instructor during your practical rotations and during your exam. The exam will consist of oral as well as written questions and you will need to display competence in both areas in order to complete the certification process.

Course Length

As the medical profession goes the course does not take a particularly long time to complete and results in a WEMT certificate, which is also recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The exact length of the course will depend on who sponsors the course. Although traditionally speaking these courses require a month-long training regime, as of fairly recently courses have emerged that take as little as two weeks to complete. It is important that you ensure that the course you complete is one that is accredited and acknowledged by the relevant parties to avoid wasting your time and your money. On average your course will take 110 to 180 training hours to complete. It is important to note that, because of the high degree of hands-on practical training you will need in order to become a wilderness EMT, there is no way in which you will be able to complete the coursework online as there is very little theory in comparison to the practical training needed.

Licensing Requirements

Becoming a licensed wilderness EMT requires taking and passing a written and practical exam. The skills that you will need to develop in order to pass this exam will be covered in your training and if you attend a good course with a good reputation you will have no trouble at all receiving your license. Requirements vary from state-to-state. This means that when you engage in a wilderness EMT training program you first need to look into what requirements your state has for the profession. Once you are sure what the requirements are you will be able to better determine which courses and schools are the better options for you to choose from in the long run. Remember to check the requirements for your state specifically. Licenses (as well as certifications) are valid for a period of three years. After this time has elapsed you will be required to renew your certification and your license in order to continue working as a wilderness EMT.

Coursework And Training


EMT training can be completed at a number of different schools, universities, and colleges. During your training you will learn the following:

  • The skills necessary to treat bleeding
  • The skills necessary to treat shock
  • The skills necessary to treat head injuries
  • The skills necessary to treat spinal injuries
  • The skills necessary to treat fractures
  • The skills necessary to treat sprains
  • The skills necessary to treat hypothermia
  • The skills necessary to treat heat exhaustion
  • The skills necessary to treat altitude sickness
  • The skills necessary to treat burns
  • In addition you will be trained search and rescue procedures and skills

The training that you will receive, then, is very focused on providing immediate and basic care for a number of medical emergency situations that could arise in a context where no hospitals are nearby and where evacuation is not possible, or at least not where evacuation is not an immediate possibility.

EMT Training

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training varies by level. As a wilderness EMT you will have to achieve a fairly high level. This is because you will be the patient’s only source of immediate medical care for a very long time so the more skills you have the better able you will be to take care of the patient.  In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has identified four fundamental levels: EMT-B (Basic), EMT-I/85/EMT-I/99’s (Intermediate), and EMT-P (Paramedic). In general, EMTs are the highest form of pre-hospital care that is available. However, your goal as a wilderness EMT is to stabilize and safely transport the patient, not to heal them. Basically you can only provide a very basic level of care. In wilderness situations or in rural areas where the hospital is too far away to transport a patient without first stabilizing them, your skills as a wilderness EMT will be invaluable. However you cannot expect to be able to cure or treat your patients.

Wilderness First Responder Training

If you do not feel that you are ready to make the commitment to being a wilderness EMT, there is a slightly lesser qualification that requires fewer hours of training to achieve. This is one certification level below the wilderness EMT. In this training you will be taught:

  • Basic medicine practices
  • How to handle issues a medical team might encounter in the wilderness

The services that you will be able to provide are even more basic than those that an EMT is able to provide. Consequently this is a very entry level position to the medical industry.  A wilderness first responder involves 80 hours of coursework. Wilderness first responders learn how to:

  • Assess situations
  • Treat injuries
  • Determine the best way to evacuate victims from a remote setting

Becoming a wilderness first responder will allow you to develop a feel for the work and decide whether or not you are prepared to dedicate the time required to becoming an actual wilderness EMT.

Organizations That Offer Training

If you want to be a wilderness first responder there are a number of organizations that will provide you with training in this regard:

  • The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)
  • Aerie Medicine
  • Wilderness Medical Society
  • Wilderness Medical Institute
  • Wilderness Medical Associates

To become a wilderness EMT you will need to attend a college or university. Note that because a great deal of practical work is required it is better to attend a college or university that is located in a setting fairly close to an area where you can observe actual wilderness EMTs at work in the field. However to a certain degree simulated exercises as well as general EMT training in urban settings will also go quite a long way to preparing you for this line of work. The school that you attend should be accredited and have a good reputation to improve your resume and assist you in finding a job as wilderness EMT once you are qualified.

Because of the lack of support and the relative isolation of the job, being a wilderness EMT can be highly stressful for people choosing to work in this area of emergency medical response. However it is something that is definitely necessary. If you have a natural affinity for the outdoors and if you have, combined with that, a desire to help others in dangerous situations, becoming a wilderness EMT may be the best career path for you as you will be able to combine your outdoor skills with helping others.

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