IUSM students combine wilderness survival skills, medical training in national adventure race

October 23, 2014

Six students and residents from the IU School of Medicine recently traveled to Michigan to participate in an outdoor "adventure race" designed to test their mettle in a series of grueling outdoor challenges interspersed with simulated real-world emergency medicine scenarios.

Medicine Wilderness Medicine Student Interest Group members who participated in MedWARs, from left to right, Johnathan Drew, Jake Shopp, Jen Yu, Anja Skljarevski, Linday Leech and Taylor Duncan.

The Medical Wilderness Adventure Race, or "MedWAR," is a series of events across the country that combines wilderness medicine and adventure racing to test, as well as teach, wilderness survival and medical skills. Climbing, swimming, running, orienteering and rope climbing skills are required. All electronic devices are strictly prohibited.

The MidWest MedWAR race was held Sept. 13 at an outdoor recreation area near Ann Arbor, Mich. IUSM participants in the event were Jonathan "JD" Drew, M.D.; Taylor Duncan; Lindsay Leech, M.D.; Jake Shopp; Anja Sklijarevski; and Jen Yu. Dr. Drew, Duncan and Dr. Leech comprised the team that placed third out of 31 teams.

All members of the group are also members of the IU School of Medicine Wilderness Medicine Student Interest Group, or WMSIG, officially established in April. The group explores methods of acute patient care in the wilderness and austere environments, according to Leech, a member of the group.

"WMSIG provides an excellent opportunity to learn about aspects of medicine not traditionally emphasized in the classroom," Leech said. "Wilderness medicine teaches students to recognize common problems encountered with outdoor activities, how to prevent them and how to care for them in remote or wilderness settings. This skill set is not only helpful for anyone who enjoys outdoor activities, but it is also relevant for those wanting to practice in limited resource settings such as global health or even within the confines of our own hospitals when one needs to get creative to solve a problem.

Kaia Knutson teaches a wilderness medicine course.

"MedWAR was a chance to test this knowledge, practice my medical skills, work together with a team, be physically active and have fun."

The group's faculty advisors are Josh Mugele, M.D., assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine, and Julie Welch, M.D., assistant dean for faculty affairs and professional development and associate professor of clinical emergency medicine. Resident advisors are Dr. Drew, a third-year resident in emergency medicine, and Kaia Knutson, O.D., a third-year resident in pediatric emergency medicine.

Cumulatively, Drs. Drew, Knutson, Mugele and Welch, who are all avid outdoor enthusiasts, hold national certifications in advanced wilderness life support, rescue diving, snowboard instruction and whitewater raft guiding. These physicians were an integral part of the group's establishment, according to Shopp, a fourth-year medical student, who serves as founding president of the group.

Additional WMSIG student leaders include fourth-year medical student Robert Avera, who serves as vice president; and second-year medical students Hannah Wolsiefer and Ryan Matthews, who serve as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

In only six months, the group has grown to include over 75 members. The group is open to students with a wide range of interests in the outdoors and includes members pursuing careers in emergency medicine, pediatrics, surgery and family medicine.  

IUSM residents Johnathan Drew, M.D., back row, second from left, and Kaia Knutson, M.D., front tow, first on left, join Advanced Wilderness Life Support instructors from the IU School of Medicine and University of Michigan Medical School.

WMSIG events over the past year have included outdoor activities and lectures on subjects such as heat injury and water safety and drowning. Upcoming events and lectures include a weekend “hike-and-learn” camping trip, snow sports injuries and avalanche safety activities, and a lesson on venomous animals.

In addition, Knutson and Drew were invited over the summer to instruct and guest lecture at the Advanced Wilderness Life Support Course at the University of Michigan Medical School thanks to their involvement in the WMSIG, as well as Dr. Welch's connections with the wilderness medicine program at the school. Shopp has also attended this course and received Advanced Wilderness Life Support certification.

For more information on WMSIG, including how to get involved on the student, resident or faculty level, please contact the leadership team. To contact Drs. Welsh or Mugele, email jlwelch@iu.edu or jmugele@iu.edu. To contact Drs. Drew or Knutson, email drewj@iupui.edu or knutsonk@iu.edu. To contact Shopp, email jshopp@iupui.edu.

Story by Jonathan Drew, Kaia Knutson and Jake Shopp
Edited by Kevin Fryling