It’s normal around here in early January to overhear urgent discussions at lunch about someone struck by lightning or pulled unconscious from the water. Or to see three or four somber-faced adults huddled around a limp body on the Quad debating the best way to move someone with multiple bone fractures. Year-round staff just walk on by. That’s because they know that every January and June, Wilderness Medical Associates International (known casually as WMA) instructors will be here teaching people from all over the country how to handle medical emergencies in remote backcountry or other challenging locations. Carefully planned mock emergencies help participants gain hands-on experience working in bare-bones conditions. Students in the WMA courses at Chewonki (usually Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness Advanced First Aid, Wilderness First Responder, and/or a bridge course spanning first aid and first responder skills) vary widely in age, experience, and purpose, which always makes for a lively group. Some are medical professionals who need field skills; some lead outdoor programs involving risk; others are wilderness enthusiasts who simply want to be prepared. Among this January’s participants were someone doing research in Iceland; someone working for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Woods Initiative; boatbuilder and sailor Bill Thomas, who teaches at Chewonki each summer; Chewonki Wilderness Trips Leader and Outdoor Classroom instructor Dana Mark; Ellie McGee, who just finished Semester 55; and incoming Semester 56 student Ellis Heminway. The bond that grows among WMA participants is strong and durable; many enjoy each other’s company in recertification classes over many years. WMA’s partnership with Chewonki is long, too. We hosted the first WMA courses here in 1993. “Until then, we had been doing our training in-house, following Red Cross protocols,” explains Greg Shute, director of outdoor programs. The emphasis was on stabilizing patients till the ambulance arrived. “More and more we were feeling the need to provide specialized skills to our staff who might and often did face medical emergencies in locations far from hospitals and mainstream care.” Dr. Peter Goth, a physician in midcoast Maine who knew Chewonki healthcare director Margaret Ellis, a nurse practitioner, had recognized this growing need and developed a curriculum for teaching the basics of emergency medicine for delivery outside conventional medical settings. Goth had just founded Wilderness Medical Associates, which soon earned its reputation as “the best,” says Shute. “They pioneered what is now a well-respected field of medicine. ” As WMA instructor Eric Duffy puts it, “WMA is the grandfather of wilderness emergency medicine training.” These days, Wilderness Medical Associates has one more word at the end of its name: International. Still based in Maine, the organization provides training to more than 8,000 people around the world every year, and courses now include remote travel and battlefield emergency medicine. The teachers in charge of this January’s courses were two big, bearded, friendly outdoorsmen we know well. Duffy is an R.N. at a nearby hospital emergency room and a Registered Maine Guide who was Chewonki’s healthcare coordinator in ‘07-’10. He has taught WMA courses here for the past 15 years. Andrew Bezon, teaching assistant for the second year in a row, is the assistant director of the Chewonki Outdoor Classroom and summer wilderness trips and is also a Registered Maine Guide. Shute praises their expertise and WMA’s curriculum, a mix of classroom time and experiential scenarios outdoors during which participants need to call on their learning to save lives. “We’re trying to give them the tools they need to manage whatever challenging situation they might face in a wilderness setting,” says Andy. No one wishes an emergency on these students but WMA teachers feel understandable pride when a past participant contacts them to say how much the training helped in a real-life crisis. These former students become practitioners who often save the day.