Wilderness Medicine Schools

NOLS Wilderness Medicine Review 2021

NOLS Wilderness Medicine is one of the leading providers of outdoor medicine courses. Check out our review to learn more about the school!

The National Outdoor Leadership School, also known as NOLS, is one of the longest-running wilderness medicine schools in the world. NOLS Wilderness Medicine offers a slew of different wilderness medical courses at locations around the world.

The school’s course list includes everything from backcountry first aid courses for recreational hikers and trip leaders all the way to medicine in remote settings courses for medical professionals. NOLS’ courses pride themselves on giving students the knowledge they need to provide life-saving treatment in austere environments.

With so many different wilderness medical schools to choose from, deciding which organization to trust with your training isn’t easy. To help you out, we’ve put together this in-depth look at all things NOLS Wilderness Medicine.

Related: SOLO Wilderness Medicine Review

What is NOLS Wilderness Medicine?

The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is an outdoor education organization that’s headquartered in the city of Lander, Wyoming. The organization was founded by Paul Petzoldt in 1965 as a way to train and prepare future leaders through wilderness adventure.

Nowadays, NOLS is an international education organization with branches all over the world. There are actually four different pillars of NOLS: 

  • Expeditions – NOLS Expeditions are the school’s bread and butter. They offer everything from week-long outings to 180-day adventures. Each course teaches practical skills for outdoor living as well as leadership and risk management skills.
  • Wilderness Medicine – NOLS Wilderness Medicine, formerly known as Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI), is the organization’s medical training center. It offers a range of certification courses with top-notch instructors.
  • Custom Education – NOLS Custom Education works with organizations around the world to create customized training courses and expeditions using NOLS resources and curriculum.
  • Risk Services – NOLS Risk Services provides in-depth training courses for the outdoor industry and institutional risk management services.

With regards to wilderness medicine, this branch of the school was founded in 1990. It was purchased by NOLS in 1999 and it now has its main branch at the Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus. Most WEMT courses are taught at the campus, though the organization now teaches classes at locations around the world.

NOLS Wilderness Medicine Courses Offered

WFAWAFAWFRWFR HybridWEMT
Course Length16 to 20 hours40 hours80 hours80 hours120 hours
Teaching MethodIn-PersonIn-PersonIn-Person & OnlineIn-PersonIn-Person
Certification Expiry2 years2 years3 years3 years2 years
NOLS Wilderness Medicine Courses Comparison Chart

A wilderness medicine school is only as useful as the courses that it offers, and NOLS is no exception. Let’s take a closer look at the different outdoor emergency medical and rescue training certification courses that NOLS offers.

NOLS Wilderness First Aid (WFA)

Wilderness First Aid (WFA) is NOLS’ flagship outdoor medicine program. This 2-day course is approximately 16 to 20 hours long and it is designed for non-professional practitioners. This includes outdoor educators who work on short backcountry trips and recreational hikers.

No prior knowledge is needed for WFA certifications. WFA is similar to urban first aid, but it provides more in-depth information about handling emergencies in remote places where access and resources are limited. 

NOLS Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA)

Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) is a longer and more in-depth version of WFA. With this class, students get 40 hours of instruction, so approximately double what you’d get in a WFA.

While WFA remains one of the most popular training courses, WAFA is a nice certification for people who want more practical experience in-class and a slightly more advanced skill-set.

NOLS Wilderness First Responder (WFR)

Wilderness First Responder (WFR) is one of the most popular first aid course offerings at NOLS.  This 80 hour course provides training in essential skills for responding to emergency and rescue situations in remote environments.

While WFR is not a professional medical course, it is one of the most widely taught certifications, both on a national and international level. The initial course is approximately 10 days long, but there are recertification options that are much shorter (3 to 4 days).

NOLS Hybrid Wilderness First Responder (WFR)

The Hybrid Wilderness First Responder provides the same curriculum and practical skills as the WFR course. However, this course is designed to support students who can’t take the time to travel to a course site for a 10 day period.

With this first aid course, students complete 3 weeks of online learning. Then, they attend 5 days of in-person learning taught by experienced instructors to receive their certification, which is popular among backcountry trip leaders and industry professionals.

NOLS Wilderness EMT (WEMT)

Designed for the aspiring wilderness medical provider, the Wilderness EMT (WEMT) is a 200 hour course that’s normally taught over a month. It’s a popular choice for search and rescue team members, outdoor educators, industry professionals, and people who also want to work as an urban EMT.

With this course, you’ll receive a national EMT certification as well as in-depth wilderness first aid training similar to that of a WFR. It’s designed to prepare you to handle a wide range of medical emergency situations in remote locations.

NOLS Courses for Medical Professionals

All of the course offerings that we’ve listed above are designed for people who aren’t already medical providers. However, NOLS also offers coursework for medical providers, such as physicians, nurses, and paramedics. These include:

  • Wilderness Medicine for the Professional Practitioner – This two day course helps you apply your current emergency medical skills to a wilderness setting.
  • Wilderness Upgrade for Medical Professionals – This five day program provides a more in-depth look and wilderness medicine for experienced professionals.
  • Medicine in the Wild – One of the school’s newest offerings, this course is offered once a year and is designed for medical students. This program is taught alongside the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency (HAEMR) and gives medical students a chance to practice their skills in remote environments.
  • Wilderness Medicine Expedition – This program combines a Wilderness Medicine for the Professional Practitioner with a week-long expedition course.

NOLS Geographic Regions Served

NOLS is unique in the industry because it offers wilderness medicine courses across the US and in a slew of international locations. 

While many schools serve very specific geographic locations, you can sign up for a NOLS wilderness emergency medical course in nearly every US state and in dozens of countries. NOLS also partners with REI, so many of the school’s course site locations are at one of the company’s many stores in the US. 

NOLS Scholarships Offered

It’s no secret that wilderness medicine courses are expensive. Thankfully, NOLS offers some scholarships and financial aid for their programs, which you can search for on their website.

Note that the organization currently offers scholarships for WEMT, Medicine in the Wild, and Wilderness Medicine Expedition courses. They also offer scholarships for WFA and WFR courses for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students that are ASL-fluent. Finally, NOLS has a specific scholarship for residents of Fremont County and the Wind River Reservation.

NOLS Review: The Verdict

NOLS Wilderness Medicine is one of the best-known wilderness and outdoor medicine schools in the world. The organization offers a range of top-notch courses that serve outdoor enthusiasts of all experience levels.

While NOLS’ courses are expensive, they are more or less the same price as other organizations and they offer great bang-for-your-buck. Additionally, NOLS is one of the few schools that offers scholarships for their wilderness medicine courses.

Overall, NOLS is a solid choice for a wilderness medicine course for anyone who wants to learn more about medicine in remote and austere environments.

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