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Wilderness First Aid Scope of Practice

Document Date: October 30, 2009
Document Source: Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS
Tod Schimelpfenig
Posted:  October 29, 2009

The concept ofconsistency in the content of Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and Wilderness First
Responder (WFR) programs is receiving much attention.  Some folks seem to
think there is chaos among the various providers with people teaching widely
varying practices.  I’m not so sure this is the case. 
I’ve been talking
with David Johnson MD of Wilderness Medical Associates for several years on
this question of curriculum consistency.   We decided last winter
that it was time to move forward on this question and to approach this project
by first defining the Scope of Practice (SOP) for WFA and WFR.  Scope of
Practice is medical jargon for a job description, a statement about what a WFA or
WFR should be able to do, and not do.  This seems a logical place to
We do not feel it is
our place to dictate standards to the industry.  Rather, we’ve drafted a
document with input from peer groups including Aerie, SOLO, Wilderness Medicine
Training Center, Wilderness Medicine Outfitters, Landmark Learning and Desert
Mountain Medicine.   Together we’ve trained over 150,000 WFA students
since 2000. 
Most of this was
straightforward and it was easy to reach agreement.  The challenging
issues revolve around the total amount of content we think can reasonably fit
in a 16 hour program without eroding overall skill retention, and questions on
what skills and decisions are appropriate for a WFA.
The attachment below (pdf)
is the consensus document, posted to allow a wider audience a chance for
Our next step will
be to send it to the Wilderness Medical Society’s Education committee for their
consideration as part of their charge to develop standard WFA and WFR
As you can see, we
agree it is time to take another step toward consistency in the WFA and WFR
programs, so the consumer, often an outdoor program hiring a trip leader, knows
what a credential implies.  If you work in outdoor programs and want to
participate please send your comments to Dr. Johnson and myself.