Wilderness and Mountain Medicine joins the UBC Department of Emergency Medicine as new interest group

The UBC Department of Emergency Medicine established the Wilderness/Mountain Medicine interest group in April 2023. The new interest group will act as a central clearinghouse for information and ideas about wilderness and mountain emergency medicine, serving as a space to foster research, opportunities and connections.

The group was created by six emergency physicians from across British Columbia who recognized an academic gap in this subset of emergency medicine.

A recent study of the epidemiology of emergency medical search and rescue incidents in the North Shore Mountains of Vancouver concluded that there is a need for evidence-based guidelines and core training competencies for mountain medical search and rescue.

“With this new interest group, we are working to bring B.C. and Canada up to speed with the rest of the world,” said Dr. Alec Ritchie, UBC DEM clinical professor and chair of the Wilderness and Mountain Medicine interest group. “There are divisions of wilderness and mountain medicine within emergency departments in many American and European medical schools, so it’s time for us to work on bringing best practices and attention to clinical guidelines to B.C.”

British Columbians are no strangers to wilderness and mountain recreation, and interest has continued to grow each year with population increases and social trends. However, with these increased numbers come an increased burden of injury and illness, which creates a greater need for providing medical care in environments that are often harsh and difficult to access.

Medical care can come from physicians who volunteer with various organizations, such as Search and Rescue, Ski Patrol, and Expedition Medical Teams.

According to the BC Search and Rescue Association, there were over 1,600 search and rescue calls across British Columbia in 2022 with more than 30 per cent of these calls requiring medical assistance. The busiest among the 78 search and rescue organizations in the province is North Shore Rescue, where 41 per cent of calls required medical assistance.

“These emergencies happen every day when people get injured or ill in the back country of B.C.,” said Dr. Ritchie. “Bringing more academic rigor to wilderness and mountain emergency medicine would influence training, funding and purchasing equipment so we can provide the best medical assistance to those who need our help.”

Dr. Ritchie’s co-members include fellow DEM faculty members Dr. Doug Brown, Dr. Anthony Chahal, Dr. Tom Green, Dr. Alana Hawley, and Dr. Carolyn Kelly-Smith.

“If there is anyone in B.C. who wants to get involved in wilderness and mountain medicine either through research, work or training, they currently have no central place to turn. This is a starting point where our group can support people to share ideas and receive mentorship,” added Dr. Ritchie.  

Those active or interested in wilderness and mountain medicine are encouraged to contact the interest group to discuss research or mentorship opportunities or express interest in joining the group.