Are you interested in pursuing a new career that blends your love for adventure with your desire to help people? Perhaps your dreams involve working in the mountains. Or maybe you're interested in working as a first responder with Search and Rescue. Or maybe you want to provide medical care in a hospital or become a NOLS course instructor.
Whatever career you're seeking, obtaining a wilderness medicine certification presents a great opportunity to kick-start your journey.
At NOLS, we offer wilderness medicine courses for certifications in Wilderness First Aid (WFA, pronounced woof-ah), Wilderness First Responder (WFR, pronounced woofer), or Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT).
Our wilderness medicine certification courses equip you with the skills, knowledge, hands-on experience, and critical prerequisites needed for those seeking an employed position in outdoor and healthcare career settings.
Wilderness Medicine Career Pathways
The field of wilderness medicine offers a variety of career pathways for those passionate about combining outdoor adventure with medical and patient care.
These pathways include: expedition medicine, a field where outdoor professionals lead, guide, and instruct participants in outdoor settings and are responsible for providing first aid on often remote expeditions; emergency medical services, which involves providing urgent medical assistance in an ambulance or hospital emergency department, often requiring rapid assessment and treatment of injuries or illnesses; and careers that involve a search and rescue component, often in challenging or inaccessible terrain, that required a combination of medical expertise, physical endurance, and technical rescue skills.
For those aspiring to work in remote or rural settings, wilderness medicine certifications such as WFA, WFR, and WEMT provide a solid foundation in medical skills tailored to environments where traditional medical help is not immediately available.
With that in mind, let's explore some of the top jobs where wilderness medicine certifications are either required or offer a huge benefit.
Expedition Medicine Jobs
1. Outdoor Educator, Outdoor Recreation Leader, or Summer Camp Staff
Summer camp, recreation center, and resort staff can be responsible for leading daylong outdoor trips for community groups, tourists, and students. At these various sites, your duties may include maintaining participants’ well-being in locations that are a few hours away from medical care.
Many organizations, like the American Camp Association, require certifications like WFA for staff working 30 minutes or more from emergency medical services. More advanced wilderness medicine certifications will also meet this requirement.
2. Wilderness Expedition Leader or Wilderness Guide
Expedition leaders guide or instruct multi-day or multi-week trips in remote backcountry settings.
Along with facilitating activities like outdoor education, backpacking, climbing, paddling, skiing, and more, these leaders are responsible for managing risk and handling medical issues ranging from basic first aid to life-threatening emergencies, in areas that may be days away from advanced medical care.
Most guiding or outdoor education jobs that involve extended trips, including NOLS Instructors, Outward Bound Field Staff, and jobs with the American Mountain Guides Association, require a WFR certification as a prerequisite.
3. Ecotourism Operator
Ecotourism operators lead groups on nature-based tours, often in remote and environmentally sensitive areas. These professionals must not only have a deep understanding of the ecology and culture of the areas they operate in but also the ability to provide emergency medical care in environments far from traditional medical facilities.
WFA and WFR certifications come in handy in these settings, helping to support the well-being of the tourists and fellow guides.
4. Adventure Sports Instructor
Adventure sports instructors specialize in teaching and guiding activities like rock climbing, whitewater rafting, skiing, snowboarding, or scuba diving. These instructors not only need to be experts in their sport, but they also must be prepared to handle emergencies that could occur in the challenging and often remote environments where these sports take place.
Wilderness medicine certifications provide the necessary skills to manage injuries and medical emergencies. This knowledge is essential for minimizing the risk of medical emergencies and enhancing the well-being of participants, particularly in areas where immediate access to medical facilities is not available. These certifications also add credibility to an instructor's profile, reassuring clients of their commitment to their well-being.
Emergency Medical Staff & Medical Services JobsPhoto by Dan Zacks
5. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
EMTs play a crucial role in providing medical care and emergency transport for people with injuries or illnesses before they reach a hospital.
Generally, EMTs work in accessible areas, like in ambulance services. Possessing a WEMT certification allows EMTs to extend their skills to more remote, backcountry settings. However, it's important to recognize that more specialized roles, such as working on Life Flight helicopters, typically demand higher-level qualifications, including being a critical care registered nurse or a paramedic.
If you’re considering an EMT job, be aware that states set their own standards of certification and licensure. Most states use the National Registry of EMT (NREMT) certification, which you get through successful testing.
6. Emergency Department Technician
Emergency department (ED) technicians are EMTs who provide patient care in hospital EDs. They work with doctors and nurses and provide routine care involved in treating patients, such as drawing blood and making sure that emergency room equipment is prepared and ready. They work as a critical part of the ED medical team.
ED technician jobs require EMT certification. Obtaining an EMT or WEMT certification and getting a job working in an ED can be the first steps toward advanced medical careers, such as becoming a nurse or doctor.
Other hospital-based jobs may also be available to EMTs, depending on the regional needs.
Search and Rescue Jobs
7. Search and Rescue Volunteer
Search and Rescue (SAR) teams are comprised of citizens who use their local knowledge to assist emergency personnel in a range of rescue and missing person situations, which can range from locating injured backcountry hikers to rescuing natural disaster victims. SAR activities can require advanced technical outdoor skills or simple familiarity with an area.
Minimum certification requirements for SAR teams vary widely, but wilderness medicine training is encouraged for any of them. Most SAR groups are volunteer services, while the National Park Service and other governmental agencies can have paid positions.
8. Ski Patrol Jobs
Ski patrollers provide emergency medical and rescue services to snow sports participants, such as cross-country skiers, downhill skiers, and snowboarders. Ski patrollers may operate within a resort ski area or in a backcountry setting.
Ski areas have different first-aid certification requirements. Some require a WEMT certification, while others may require an Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) certification, though this depends on the mountain and if they are affiliated with the National Ski Patrol. Those already holding a WEMT certification have the opportunity to acquire OEC certification through a modified testing route.
9. Urban Firefighter or Wildland Firefighter
Firefighters usually work in teams to extinguish fires and find and rescue victims. Wildland firefighters use water pumps, chemical pumps, or shovels to put out flames and embers. They rescue hikers and other people trapped in fire areas and provide emergency medical treatment.
Requirements for entry-level firefighters vary by department or agency. The great majority of urban departments require an EMT certification, and wildland firefighter jobs may require WFR or WEMT certifications.
Prepare for Your Wilderness Medicine Career with NOLS
Whatever your career goals are, when you enroll in a NOLS Wilderness Medicine Training Course or Wilderness Medicine Recertification Course, you don't just commit to learning a slew of essential skills, you're qualifying for a diverse range of job opportunities that blend adventure and compassion. As you embark on this exciting path, remember to check job descriptions and consult with potential employers to confirm required certifications and explore salary information.
Advance your career and qualify for new job opportunities with NOLS Wilderness Medicine.
Editor’s Note: Check job descriptions or with potential employers to confirm required certifications and learn about salary information.
Editor's Note: Updated on February 7, 2024.
- Wilderness Emt
- Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician
- Wilderness First Responder
- First Aid
- Wilderness First Aid
- Wilderness Medicine
Ben is the former NOLS Wilderness Medicine Marketing Coordinator and a Wilderness First Responder graduate. He enjoys rock climbing, backpacking, kayaking, and hopes to someday adventure in the mountains on each of the 7 continents.