Prep Wild

Students simulate treating patients in a chemical contamination disaster.

Simulated mass-casualty disasters and traumatic injuries in remote wilderness locales are all part of the training.

“No amount of working on paper is going to guarantee your plan works in a real situation,” Peter Sananman, MD, told a dozen fourth-year medical students who sat, dripping, in a bright yellow emergency tent. They were debriefing a disaster simulation exercise they had found frustrating—not enough staff, stretchers, or information to make the best decisions. And that was the point.


Taking turns to pose as victims, practicing a wide variety of rescue scenarios helped students prepare to coordinate care when facing unexpected and extreme situations.

In this two-week elective course in wilderness and disaster medicine developed by Sananman, an associate professor of Emergency Medicine, the challenge is to balance medical and technical skill with situational awareness to help patients no matter how difficult the real-world situation. Students learn to flex those muscles in a variety of hands-on settings, from underwater in the pool to the mountains of a New Jersey wilderness camp.

Not long after completing the course, one recent Penn Med alum put these skills to use. He rescued a fellow hiker who had fallen into a snowy crevasse on Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevadas and suffered a concussion and hypothermia. Read the dramatic rescue story on the Penn Medicine News Blog.

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