News & Features — 3 January 2017 at 8:18 pm

Student Wilderness Medicine Conference 2016

Ellie Dickson & Tom Beddis / Adventure Medic Student Reps / Edinburgh

In October 2016, the Student Wilderness Medicine UK (SWMUK) Conference crossed the wall into Adventure Medic’s home territory of Scotland. As a conference with over 180 attendees, this is a huge event in the student wilderness medicine calendar. Adventure Medic’s student reps and conference organising committee members, Tom Beddis and Ellie Dickson, give us an insight into what went on behind the scenes at this impressive student-run event. The 2017 deadline for hosting is coming up on the 20th January – read on to find out how your local wilderness medicine society can get involved.

What is the SWMUK Conference?

The SWMUK Conference is an annual event that takes the form of a jam-packed weekend, with inspirational talks from some of the best speakers in expedition medicine, interactive workshops, great food, a huge bonfire complete with marshmallows, and 5* camping for all (take our word for it…). The conference is attended by students from all across the UK and is hosted by a different university each year. This conference is international, with a group of students travelling from as far away as Estonia to attend this year. The event is enormous fun, but is also a great opportunity to learn about wilderness medicine and to network with future colleagues in the field. What more could you want?

How did Edinburgh get involved?

After attending last year’s SWMUK Conference down in Snowdonia, hosted by the lovely folks at Liverpool University Wilderness Medicine Society, four of us from Edinburgh decided we’d love to give it a go ourselves. Like children at a fun fayre we enthusiastically put forward our bid to host the conference in January and were very excited to discover that we’d got it. We recruited a few more members to our conference committee and learnt very early on that it’s never too early to start spamming email inboxes across the country! Months of hard work followed, and never before this had we really appreciated the importance of teamwork and leadership.

What was 2016’s conference like?

Fantastic. We were delighted to be able to welcome a whole host of inspirational speakers who have worked in healthcare across the globe. They delivered incredible talks and interactive workshops across the field of expedition medicine to inspire the next generation of wilderness medics. We made sure it wasn’t all work and no play, with a traditional Scottish ceilidh and the classic SWMUK bonfire – like-minded individuals could meet and share their stories and adventure plans. Of course, we couldn’t host in Scotland without the option of a deep-friend mars bar after dinner.

What went on behind the scenes?

A LOT of emailing. This may seem obvious, but when organising something like this it is never too early to fire emails across the board. Speakers, caterers, sponsors, local businesses. You name it – we emailed it. Whilst many of our messages may have never been replied to, we were constantly surprised at the willingness of people to give up their time and help out. It really showed us what a great bunch of people the wilderness medicine world is made up of.

It certainly wasn’t without its fun moments though, we did our fair share of pizza eating and we are all now experts in how to mass produce sandwiches by hand: 500 lunches won’t make themselves.

What did you enjoy about the process?

Without a doubt the opportunity to work as part of a committee made up of such lovely people was a highlight in itself. It was really satisfying to see all of our hard work come together in the end and to see everyone enjoying themselves. Not only that, but it was lovely that so many of the delegates took the time to come up to us at the end to thank us before they started their long journeys home. Too often we get stuck in the bureaucracy and protocol that is medical school and it can be so very impersonal; it was such a nice feeling to see folk getting inspired about the potential of a career off the beaten track.

It was lovely to meet all of the amazing speakers and realise that a career in wilderness medicine is achievable. You don’t have to be Bear Grylls to be an expedition doctor – this world is open to us and it’s much closer than we think if we are willing to get out there and access it.

It felt great to be part of a conference with a difference. This wasn’t your average academic affair; it was an escape from the city and from normal medicine for a couple of days, and after all, isn’t that what wilderness medicine is all about?

Oh, and we were really proud to help raise £2000 for The David Nott Foundation of course!

What were the challenges?

We have to be honest and say that organising an event as big as this wasn’t without its trials. The whole process was really one big problem-solving exercise. None of us had ever organised anything like this before, so one of the biggest tasks was working out what we actually needed to do. There are so many things that go into an event like this that you wouldn’t initially think of. Trying to become a human algorithm to timetable 180+ people into talks they’d like to attend; remembering at half-past midnight that you need to make enough sandwiches for tomorrow to feed 220 people; and working out that there is NEVER enough milk for the number of teas and coffees required during a chilly weekend in Scotland, to name just a few.

What have you learned?

In terms of the organisation process; we learned the importance of pro-activity in getting things done. We managed to attract the involvement of some quite frankly exceptional individuals (including David Nott himself) and the reason these people helped us is simply because they were asked. Doctors on the whole are a wonderful bunch and are more than happy to help others if they can. Put more simply “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” and “shy bairns get nowt”. These lessons are great ones to learn at this stage, particularly with electives on the horizon, and we hope that other students can benefit from this mind-set. If you think that there is something out there that you want to be involved with, don’t be afraid to ask – you never know where it may lead you.

The greatest thing we learned, however, was that the most valuable resource we have at university is time. The medicine and knowledge will come as our careers progress, but the time to gain the skills that will allow us to get off the rails and out into the world will be limited. So use it now! Whether that’s learning to navigate a team up a mountain, qualifying as a scuba diver, or becoming a kayaking instructor, the list is endless… If you want to get out and be doctors in a remote setting, start learning those skills in the time you have now; it’s never too early to start.

Top tips

Get started early and be proactive / If you have the opportunity to get involved with something like this then get stuck in. Yes it will be hard work, but it will be more than worth it in the end. There is so much to be learned that will benefit you in the future.

Email everybody / Don’t be afraid to ask for things; if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Work as a team /  Be adaptable, and work together. There is no way you can pull it off by yourself.

Have fun! / The most important thing to remember…

Want to be involved in 2017?

SWMUK are now taking applications for the next hosts of the National Student Wilderness Medicine Conference – the deadline for entries is 20th January 2017. It’s a fantastic opportunity to make contacts with experts in the wilderness world – you never know where it will lead! We are happy to be on hand to give tonnes of help and advice to whichever society is successful.

Please email the Edinburgh team on ed.wilderness@gmail.com expressing your interest, and attach a proposal or pitch outlining some of your ideas for next year.