Dr. Loren Greenway

Dr. Loren Greenway, CEO of the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS), leads the world’s foremost organization devoted to wilderness medical issues. The WMS has selected Global Rescue as its official medical and security provider for the past five years. Its members travel the globe exploring health challenges in remote and sometimes dangerous or extreme locations.

We spoke with Dr. Greenway about the latest developments at WMS, backcountry preparedness, and the partnership with Global Rescue.

What’s new with the Wilderness Medical Society?

WMS plans to launch a marine medicine diploma, covering environmental issues, diving issues, marine conservation issues and animal issues. So now alongside the mountain medicine diploma offered by WMS, there will be a diploma in marine medicine that’s never been seen before.

How did the marine diploma come to fruition?

Historically, our society has been mountain-centric. However there are many people who care about diving and marine science, desert medicine, jungle medicine, and all kinds of other things, and not so much about mountains. What we’re trying to do is add a multidimensional focus to wilderness medicine, so that when people hear the term ‘wilderness medicine’ they don’t automatically think only of climbing mountains.

Do you recommend that anyone heading into the backcountry take a course first?

From my perspective, everyone who goes into the wilderness should take a wilderness first aid course. They’re not that expensive. The Red Cross offers them. These courses stress the idea that you’re not going to be able to call 911 and expect someone to come and get you in a few minutes. That’s not the way it works in the real world. Trip leaders should have at least a wilderness first responder course, maybe a wilderness EMT, and they ought to have a lot more training than the ‘average Joe’ just hiking around in the backcountry. We’ve seen an increase in incidents that would be pretty preventable if people just had a little more savvy about themselves and the backcountry.

What kind of preventable incidents?

People twisting, spraining, cutting — mostly camp safety stuff. We do a lot of adventure travel and we always kind of start out with the ‘don’t be stupid’ kind of talks. Those seem to be really helpful.

Are you seeing an increase the use of satellite phones? 

We have had long debates about whether or not we ought to provide sat phone coverage for all of our adventure trips, because in fact we can get cell coverage just about anywhere now. Sat phones are nice but they’re relatively expensive, and in many situations you can get good reception. However, it can’t be stressed enough that a good method of communication is really important.

Aside from phones, I always take with me and recommend that people have some kind of GPS locator that has the ability to communicate more than just where you are. If you’re stuck, you can say, “I’m stuck but I’m ok, I’m not going to die” or “I need help right away.” There are a handful of companies that provide that service.  It’s mandatory for trip leaders but everybody else ought to have it too.

How would you describe the benefits of WMS membership to someone who is considering joining?

The benefit of membership in the Wilderness Medical Society is that we’re a not for profit, membership- based organization.  We care more about safety, science, and our members than we care about making money. What that means is that not all trekking and expedition companies are equal.  Some are a lot better than others and some care more about taking care of clients than others do. We put ourselves in the group that cares more about the client, the experience, and the science that we can generate than we care about making money off people.

WMS is now in its fifth year of the partnership with Global Rescue. How has this partnership benefited WMS?

The relationship that we have experienced over the last five years has been really positive for the Wilderness Medical Society in our adventures. We’ve tested Global Rescue’s services in the past in many different situations and it has worked out really well.  I’ve heard some horror stories from people who thought that they had good evacuation coverage and it just didn’t come to pass when it was actually needed.

Global Rescue will be at the Wilderness Medicine Conference and WMS Annual Meeting in Breckenridge, Colorado, July 10-15, 2015.