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Preparing for a Ride on the Wild Side

Theodore Combos, a Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management major with a concentration in Natural Resources, utilized the Enrichment Fund to obtain his Wilderness First Aid certification. This certificate will help set him apart while looking for jobs, and better prepares him for a future career in adventure recreation.

Over the last weekend of October, I traveled down to Mountain Island State Educational Forest just outside Charlotte, NC, to obtain my Wilderness First Aid certification. As an outdoor enthusiast and a hopeful adventure recreation professional, I knew that receiving such an education would not only make me more confident in my own endeavors but also would set me apart as an approaching college graduate preparing to enter the working world. As a result, I sought out the highest standard of WFA certification and took my class through the National Outdoor Leadership School the “Leader in Wilderness Education.” The class was $235 and was hosted by REI, which meant a great assortment of snacks, coffee, coupons, and stickers for students to enjoy during class and to take home.

It was a crisp, cool fall weekend at Mountain Island Educational State Forest. We met at the forest office and held class in a warehouse of sorts. It was a cold, uncomfortable setting, which I suppose is appropriate to learn about Wilderness First Aid. A more comfortable, cozy classroom might have resulted in students dozing off. In order to battle the cool, sleepy vibes, students and instructors alike drank copious amount of coffee and tea, myself included. The instructors were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and engaging. We did some introductions and learned about everyone’s medical background and favorite form of outdoor recreation. Nearly all the students appeared to be older than me. Half were there because their work required a WFA certification and the other half sought the accreditation for personal safety and education purposes. There were five to six men who had sons who were boy scouts and wanted their Wilderness First Aid to prepare for a big milestone trip for the next summer.

Overall, I felt that I fit right in. I, along with everyone else, desired to broaden our knowledge of wilderness medicine and to improve our skills in the back country. Throughout the rest of the morning we studied the “Patient Assessment System,” a standardized procedure through which to evaluate and address injured or sick patients in the wilderness. NOLS Wilderness First Aid is completed foundational on the Patient Assessment System and everything we learn is a part of this procedure. That afternoon, we learned the specifics of emergency and evacuation plans, spine injuries, head injuries, shock, and wilderness wound management.

The following day we learned more procedures that emanated from the Patient Assessment System, such as what to do when facing musculoskeletal injuries, heat illnesses, cold illnesses and more. Perhaps the most engaging and educational part of the class was the various scenarios we went through. They would take one third of the class outside and give them an “injury.” Together with another responder, we would go and size up the scene, check for life threatening circumstances, do a head-to-toe assessment, check vital signs, take a medical history, and then create a problem list and plan. We would all rotate on these scenarios and the circumstances and variables would change to keep us on our toes. This part of the class built the most confidence for me and helped me apply my skills that I had acquired in the lecture sessions.

Overall, I am very thankful for the Enrichment Fund program at NC State’s College of Natural Resources for allowing me to partake in this great experience. Going into it I expected a good educational experience and a certification to add to my belt. I was not particularly excited for a weekend full of class nor did I think it would be so entertaining. I came away from the weekend excited and enthusiastic for a job in the outdoors and felt significantly more confident to tackle various problems in the outdoors, whether they were my own injuries, a random outdoor participant, or someone I am responsible for. Thanks to NC State, I will be able to proudly adorn this certification on my resume and apply its teachings to my future careers and endeavors.