Expedition Medicine Course – Partnerships In Action

Nick HancockChris GallagherDavid Brown


Outdoor education, by its very nature, seeks to promote the virtues of self reliance of the individual and the group. To do this the outdoor education specialist deliberately takes his/her clients away from the security and support of society and exposes his/her client to more risk than would be allowed in a classroom environment. The balance of perceived risk to actual risk has to be carefully judged and managed, but must in order to be treated seriously by our clients, the two elements of risk must be somewhat similar.

As a result the outdoor educator runs a chance of precipitating an incident that requires immediate decisive action to contain the incident, prevent further harm to his/her clients and possibly evacuate the clients, potentially with no help whatsoever from outside sources.

Many outdoor educators will go their whole career with no serious incidents to deal with, but the consequences of failing to deal with a serious incident in a timely and professional manner could have far reaching consequences for everyone involved.

The outdoor educator might well be drawn to the field because he/she believes that he/she has an innate ability to deal with critical incidents without the assistance of other professionals like the police, ambulance service, fire service etc.

Regardless of whether the outdoor educator does have the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with an incident, performance at a high level of leadership whilst under a high level of stress, might not be forthcoming, especially for the lucky outdoor educator who has not had the misfortune to have had to deal with a serious incident previously.

How then, do we gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to deal with a serious incident?

It is well known that the most effective learning occurs when the learner is towards the edge of their comfort zone, and indeed the outdoor educator uses this knowledge to gain the maximum learning for his/her client. It stands to reason then that any training in serious incident management will have to be pitched at a different level for different clients depending on their comfort in outdoor environments and their prior experiences. Training should also be conducted in as remote an environment as is practicably possible, as realistic as possible and also on a realistic timescale.

The traditional medium for training outdoor educators is via Remote First and Wilderness First Aid courses. These courses typically run over five days or so and are often run in only slightly remote locations. This can lead to clients wishing to leave courses in the evening to return home and as a result time is limited, scenarios are often short lived and rarely run throughout the night. It would be advantageous to us all, if incidents only occurred during the hours of daylight, when we were fully rested, when it wasn’t raining and when we knew exactly where all our stuff was. The real world isn’t like that so we had better make sure our training reflects the confusion, fear, complexity and unpleasantness of real incidents as closely as possible.

To this end The University of Tasmania in partnership with The Australian Antarctic Division and The Hutchins School has been running Expedition Medicine Courses for several years, in midwinter, at remote locations in Tasmania. Expedition Medicine runs for eight days, usually at Arm River Field Centre, just outside Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park Tasmania. The course builds on the Accident Management Plan common to RAFA & WFA, but aims to create learning through well planned, well acted, complex, multi-layered scenarios, that utilise the natural features of the local terrain and weather to simulate incidents that are often based on true events. Although nominally a First Aid Course, Expedition Medicine might be more aptly though of as a Critical Incident Management course, even though effective patient medical, and other, care is a priority.

The course aims to bring together a broad mix of participants and to use the varied skills and knowledge within the group to form an effective team that responds to incidents. Participants have been outdoor teachers, paramedics, outdoor guides, nurses, military, doctors, medical students and many others. Having a broad range of participants reflects the reality of group make up in the real world, and importantly greatly increases the amount of teaching that occurs on the course, as it is then not only the instructors that do all the teaching.

Scenarios sometimes begin on dark at the end of a full day learning new skills and attending lectures. Responses have been known to run until the early hours of the morning, in constant heavy rain, with moderately long approaches carrying heavy rescue gear in addition to personal overnight camping gear. River crossing has been facilitated via tyrolean rope traverses, including the evacuation of a stretchered patient. Rafting, abseiling, caving and  snowholeing have all featured in scenarios, building on participants practical skills as well as making events more realistic and complex. Tiredness is a feature of the course and instructors take great care to ensure it si at manageable levels to minimise the risk of harm to participants and themselves, but only through having responded to acritical incident in adverse self care and environmental conditions cane an Outdoor Educator hope to be able to perform efficiently during a real incident.


Dave Brown

Dave is an Intensive Care Flight Paramedic and has 18 years of paramedic experience in three Australian states. He is also a Wilderness Rescue Paramedic and as such forms part of the Tasmanian Helicopter Rescue crew. He has been instructing wilderness first aid courses for over ten years and is a key facilitator of the Expedition Medicine Course conducted by the University of Tasmania.

Nick Hancock

Nick is a multi-pitch guide, instructor trainer, and assessor with the TCIA. He is a prolific climber and instructor having pioneered some of the hardest routes in Tasmania as well as climbing and guiding extensively in Europe and the USA. Nick is a key facilitator of the Expedition Medicine Course conducted by the University of Tasmania.

Chris Gallagher

Chris has worked for 18 years as a Field Training Officer with the Australian Antarctic Division; he trains expeditioners in leadership, teamwork, risk management, polar first aid, search and rescue, alpine and survival skills. He also works as a wilderness first aid instructor and facilitates the Expedition Medicine Course for the School of Medicine at the University of Tasmania.

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