Close up of a medical kit in the wilderness

How to Become a Wilderness EMT

Combine your love for the outdoors with a career in saving lives.

Close up of a medical kit in the wilderness

Wilderness Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are specialized healthcare providers trained for emergency response in remote, rugged areas with limited medical resources. The responsibilities of Wilderness EMTs are unique and demanding. They must possess not only the medical knowledge and skills of a standard EMT but also specialized training in wilderness medicine. This includes performing extended outdoor patient care, using limited equipment, and managing environmental challenges like extreme weather and difficult terrain. Wilderness ETS often have to make critical decisions independently due to delayed or no backup. They must possess a deep understanding of outdoor survival, the local geography, and be able to collaborate with search and rescue teams.

The purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive guide for those interested in pursuing a career as a Wilderness EMT. By becoming a Wilderness EMT, individuals can combine their passion for the outdoors with a fulfilling career in emergency healthcare. For those at the beginning of this journey, understanding the foundational steps on how to become an EMT is a solid starting point. For those considering various specialties within emergency medical services, our top EMT specialties article offers valuable insights into the diverse pathways available in this field.

Wilderness EMT Definition

What is a Wilderness EMT?

The Wilderness EMT role extends beyond the scope of a traditional EMT by combining basic emergency medical skills with specialized knowledge and abilities tailored to remote environments. The primary responsibilities of a Wilderness EMT include immediate medical treatment for injuries and illnesses that occur in the wilderness. In situations where evacuation is delayed or impossible, Wilderness EMTs are trained to deliver prolonged patient care under challenging conditions. This can include managing environmental threats, such as exposure to extreme weather, and improvising with limited resources. By working closely with search and rescue teams, they also play a critical role in deciding the safest and most effective methods of evacuation from remote locations. Moreover, wilderness EMTs must also assess environmental risks and hazards for the prevention of medical emergencies, including educating people about safety and preparedness in wilderness settings.

The significance of Wilderness EMTs lies in their ability to bridge the gap between emergency medical care and challenging outdoor environments. In many cases, the rapid response and specialized skills of Wilderness EMTs can mean the difference between life and death, particularly in locations where delayed medical assistance is the norm rather than the exception. Their role is invaluable not only for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers but also for communities living in isolated areas. Wilderness EMTs ensure that high-quality emergency medical care is available even in the most remote corners of the world, thus enhancing the safety and well-being of people in diverse environments.

Wilderness EMT: Job Description

What Does a Wilderness EMT Do?

Wilderness EMTs are tasked with a range of duties and responsibilities that are both challenging and critical in outdoor environments. Their primary duty is to assess, treat, and manage a variety of injuries and illnesses that can occur in the wilderness, such as trauma injuries, like fractures and wounds, to medical conditions like hypothermia, heatstroke, and altitude sickness. They are trained to improvise with limited resources available in remote settings. Besides treating acute medical conditions, Wilderness EMTs are also proficient in offering extended care when evacuation is delayed, ensuring patient stability over prolonged periods in environments far from traditional medical facilities.

Wilderness EMTs often work in tandem with other outdoor professionals, such as guides, park rangers, and outdoor educators, providing them with crucial medical support and advice. In emergencies requiring evacuation or specialized intervention, they coordinate closely with search and rescue teams, law enforcement, and other emergency services. This collaboration is vital for executing complex rescue operations in challenging terrains, such as mountains, forests, or deserts. By working together, these professionals form an integral network that significantly enhances the safety net for adventurers, tourists, and residents in wilderness areas, ensuring timely and efficient emergency responses in environments where every second counts.

Man wrapping a person's knee with gauze beside a waterfall

Wilderness EMT Duties

  • Conducting thorough evaluations of patients’ medical conditions, including trauma assessment and identifying potential medical emergencies.
  • Administering immediate care for a variety of injuries and illnesses, such as fractures, wounds, allergic reactions, and cardiac events.
  • Managing ongoing treatment in situations where immediate evacuation is not possible, including monitoring vital signs and managing pain.
  • Coordinating and executing patient evacuation strategies, often involving complex decision-making and logistics.
  • Working alongside search and rescue operations, providing medical expertise during rescues in challenging terrains.
  • Ensuring all medical supplies and equipment are in good working order and readily available for emergency situations.
  • Continually updating their own skills and knowledge, and often providing first aid training and safety education to other outdoor professionals and enthusiasts.
  • Assessing potential hazards in the wilderness and implementing measures to prevent accidents and injuries.
  • Recording detailed medical reports of patient assessments and treatments for legal and medical record-keeping.
  • Engaging with local communities, especially in remote areas, to educate and assist in emergency preparedness and response.

Wilderness EMT Skills

Success as a Wilderness EMT hinges on a unique blend of skills and qualities, of which outdoor survival skills, advanced medical knowledge, and effective communication are paramount.

  • Outdoor survival skills: this includes the ability to navigate rugged terrains, manage risks associated with wildlife, and adapt to varying weather conditions.
  • Advanced medical knowledge: this encompasses a deep understanding of a wide range of medical emergencies and the proficiency to treat them.
  • Effective communication skills: this means the ability to clearly convey instructions to patients, often in stressful situations.
  • Collaboration skills: frequently wilderness EMTS encounter unpredictable situations where standard protocols may not apply, necessitating quick thinking, innovative problem-solving, and clear communication.
  • Adaptability: this extends to an EMT’s ability to handle sudden changes in the environment, patient condition, and available resources.
  • Resourcefulness: this skill is particularly critical when they have limited medical supplies, requiring improvisation to provide the best possible care with what is on hand.
  • Teamwork: is another critical aspect, as Wilderness EMTs often work closely with search and rescue teams, outdoor guides, and other emergency personnel.

In addition to these skills, a profound knowledge of wilderness medicine is essential. This specialized field goes beyond traditional emergency medicine, covering aspects unique to wilderness settings such as prolonged patient care, evacuation techniques, and dealing with environmental emergencies. Additionally, proficiency in navigation is vital. Wilderness EMTs must be adept at using maps, compasses, and GPS devices to locate patients quickly and plan evacuation routes. This knowledge is crucial in minimizing response times and ensuring that patients receive timely medical attention in the most challenging locations.

Where Do Wilderness EMTs Work?

Wilderness EMTs find their skills in high demand across a variety of settings, each offering unique challenges and opportunities. They play a pivotal role in national parks and protected natural reserves, offering vital medical support to visitors and staff. In these remote environments, their responsibilities include everything from minor injuries to life-threatening emergencies. Outdoor adventure companies also employ Wilderness EMTs to ensure the safety and well-being of clients engaging in activities like hiking, climbing, rafting, and backcountry skiing. These roles require not only medical expertise but also a deep understanding of the inherent risks associated with each activity. Additionally, Wilderness EMTs are integral members of wilderness search and rescue teams, participating in intricate rescue operations. In these situations, their medical and survival skills are indispensable, working in concert with other emergency personnel to swiftly locate and administer crucial care to those in need.

Wilderness EMTs have a broad range of career paths that extend beyond conventional EMT roles, such as specializing in areas like adventure guiding, outdoor education, and the specialized field of expedition medicine. As guides, they lead groups on outdoor adventures, combining their medical expertise with a profound understanding of the wilderness. In the realm of outdoor education, they impart crucial knowledge about wilderness safety, first aid, and survival tactics. Additionally, expedition medicine offers opportunities to work in various, often remote, corners of the globe. They can provide essential medical support to diverse teams, ranging from scientific researchers to film crews and adventure trips. These roles require not only a high level of medical competence but also a passion for adventure and a commitment to educating and safeguarding others in the wilderness.

Team of EMS professionals stabilizing a man on a stretcher

Wilderness EMT Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Wilderness EMT?

  • Standard EMT Program: Enroll in an accredited EMT program, often offered at community colleges, technical institutes, or through emergency services agencies to learn foundational skills in patient assessment, emergency response, and basic life support.
  • National certification exam: In order to become a certified EMT, students must pass the national exam.
  • Wilderness Medicine Training: Enroll in a Wilderness EMT (WEMT) course offered by specialized wilderness medicine schools or organizations.
  • Wilderness EMT Certification: Earn the Wilderness EMT certification, which specifically qualifies EMTs to practice in wilderness and remote environments.

For advanced professional opportunities, explore our article on how to become a Paramedic, which offers insights on the duties, requirements and salary* differences of this advanced emergency medical provider.

What Certification Do You Need to Be a Wilderness EMT?

There are numerous additional certifications and trainings for EMTs that are as varied as there are outdoor environments. Each of these certifications and training opportunities allow EMTs to specialize further in their field. Here are some examples:

  • Advanced Wilderness Life Support (AWLS): Specialized training focusing on advanced medical care in remote environments, including complex wilderness medical scenarios.
  • Swiftwater Rescue Certification: Training in rescue techniques and safety procedures for emergencies in swift moving water environments, such as rivers and flood zones.
  • High Angle Rescue Training: Instruction in technical rescue techniques for scenarios involving cliffs, mountains, and other steep terrains.
  • Avalanche Safety Training: Education on avalanche awareness, rescue techniques, and survival strategies in snowbound environments.
  • Search and Rescue (SAR) Training: Comprehensive courses in search and rescue operations, including navigation, search techniques, and coordination with rescue teams.
  • Disaster Response and Preparedness: Training in handling large-scale emergencies and disasters, focusing on response strategies and crisis management in challenging environments.
  • Wilderness First Responder (WFR): A certification that focuses on providing medical care in remote locations, ideal for those seeking a less intensive option than a full WEMT course.
  • Incident Command System (ICS) Training: Education on the standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency response.
  • Certification in Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC): Training focused on the medical response to care for patients in tactical scenarios, such as mass casualty law enforcement operations.

Wilderness EMT Salary

How Much Do Wilderness EMTs Make?

According to the BLS data for EMTs and Paramedics, the mean annual wage for these professionals is around $39,000. However, it’s important to note that salaries for Wilderness EMTs can differ from the general EMT and Paramedic category due to factors, such as geographic location, level of education and training, experience, and the type of employer.

Man speaking on a radio in the wilderness

Wilderness EMT Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Wilderness EMTs?

The job outlook for Wilderness EMTs is generally positive and is influenced by the increasing popularity of outdoor activities and the corresponding need for emergency medical services in remote areas. According the BLS, the overall employment of EMTs and paramedics is projected to grow 5 percent from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations.

Broader trends in outdoor recreation can provide valuable insights as well. For example, according to outdoorindustry.org, there has been a notable surge in the popularity of outdoor activities, such as hiking, running, fishing, mountain biking and backpacking.  In 2020, 53 percent of Americans ages 6 and over participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record.

As more people venture into remote and rugged areas, the likelihood of accidents and medical emergencies in these settings rises, thereby increasing the need for Wilderness EMTs. Moreover, with the increasing impact of climate change leading to more frequent natural disasters and extreme weather events, there is a foreseeable need for emergency responder’s adept at handling challenging and variable conditions. Those considering this career path can expect a dynamic and evolving field, with opportunities likely to expand as more people engage with the wilderness and as communities adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Take the First Step and Explore EMT Training Today!

In this comprehensive guide, we’ve explored the multifaceted role of Wilderness Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), highlighting their essential responsibilities and the unique challenges they face. These specialized medical professionals are trained not only in emergency medical care but also in navigating and managing health crises in wilderness settings. From assessing and treating injuries and illnesses to coordinating with search and rescue teams, their skills are vital in ensuring the safety and well-being of individuals in remote and often rugged environments. Whether working in national parks, with outdoor adventure companies, or as part of wilderness search and rescue teams, Wilderness EMTs are crucial in handling medical emergencies far from conventional medical assistance.

For those inspired to pursue this challenging yet rewarding career, the path involves completing a standard EMT program followed by specialized wilderness medicine training. Visit Unitek’s EMT Boot Camp page for comprehensive training programs that can set you on this exciting career path. Additionally, gaining outdoor experience and continuous learning through additional certifications are also important steps. The profession not only offers a unique and exhilarating work environment but also the opportunity to make a significant impact on the safety of outdoor enthusiasts.