Core Skills — 1 May 2023 at 11:00 am

Thinking outside the box for diversifying medical work

Abbey Wrathall / ACCS (EM) CT2 / North Wales

The Mountain Leader (ML) award is the qualification for leading groups of people walking in the UK hills. It is run by the Mountain Training Association, and requires a detailed logbook, attending a training course and passing a multi-day assessment. Here Abbey shares the benefits the qualification has had for her as a medical professional.

Why Mountain Leader?

Like many others, as I progressed through university, I began to look for inspiration on how to personalise my medical career. Many of the options I found involved either being highly qualified in post-graduate medical training, or paying vast amounts of money to travel to far flung places in the world. Both of these were prohibitive to me as a student, and did not fit into how I saw myself working in the future.

I got involved with my University’s Duke of Edinburgh centre, first by finishing the Gold Award, and then by running the award for participants for several years. It was there where I heard about the ‘Mountain Leader’ – the people that kept our groups safe whilst completing the expedition aspect of the award in the Scottish hills and mountains.

The Training Process

Fast forward to my Foundation Years. I became captivated by ‘Munro Bagging’ – trying to reach all the summits over 3000 feet in Scotland. A list that is updated every few years but with a current total of 282 peaks. Whilst looking for ways to spend my annual leave, and the impossibility of coordinating time off with friends, I decided to book onto Mountain Leader training in North Wales.

What followed was one of the most fulfilling and well rounded training courses I have been on both within and outside of medicine. The focus was on leading a team whilst maintaining oversight and an awareness of each individual’s competency and capacity to deal with the task at hand. Doing all this while exercising, carrying a heavy pack, with wet feet, and the wind and rain in your face but still having fun!

The following summer, I moved further North to take up a Clinical Fellow ‘FY3’ post in the Scottish Highlands. There I completed my consolidation period, and passed the five day assessment in the Cairngorms, finishing my ‘Munro Bagging’ goal in the process.

Transferable Skills

Part of the consolidation period between training and assessment requires pushing yourself to head out into the mountains in bad weather and confidently manage and maintain safety often for groups of inexperienced people. I regularly took friends and colleagues from work out into the hills to show them how wonderful it could be for physical and mental health.

Without noticing, over time these skills spread into my working life. I found myself naturally gravitating towards leadership roles, and felt more comfortable doing so. The skills and theory I had learnt during the training week and honed out in the hills had undeniably given me a greater understanding of effective leadership and team working and the confidence to put these skills into practice in all aspects of my life.

What Comes Next?

The opportunities that arise from the qualification are wide ranging and very individual. Having expertise in both medicine and in enabling people to enjoy the outdoors safely is desirable for many branches of work. Proving that you can look after yourself in physically and mentally challenging conditions is invaluable, and the Mountain Leader scheme is one way of evidencing this. It also does so without shelling out thousands of pounds to big companies, having to be away for weeks at a time, or needing any amount of post graduate experience.

The opportunities for further development are extensive. Mountain Training provides a wide array of complimentary qualifications and skill sets, including rock climbing and winter hillwalking. As with the summer ML these qualifications are wonderfully flexible and are often looked for by expedition companies looking for leadership staff. Outside of the training and assessment weeks, the logbook requirements can be obtained in your own free time.

The practicalities

Requirements for training:

  • Minimum one year experience of UK hillwalking
  • Membership of the British Mountaineering Council, Mountaineering Scotland or Ireland
  • A logbook of minimum 20 ‘Quality Mountain Days’ (QMDs) defined by Mountain Training, QMDs include (but not limited to) the use of map & compass, navigating in poor visibility/weather and full involvement in planning of the route.

Requirements for assessment:

  • Completion of a recognised Mountain Leader Training course
  • Completion of an in-person 16 hour First Aid course (special exemptions can apply on an individual basis for doctors)
  • An additional 20 QMDs after training, logged in multiple different mountainous areas of the UK.
  • A logbook of 8 nights camping, with a minimum of 4 nights wild camping

Time commitment:

  • Six days for training
  • Five days for assessment
  • Minimum 40 days of hillwalking (can be logged over many years)
  • Additional time consolidating navigation and rope work skills


  • Training course, from £375
  • Assessment, from £375
  • Costs of fuel & accommodation in achieving logbook requirements
  • Gear/kit costs


Mountain Training

British Mountaineering Council

Mountaineering Scotland

Mountaineering Ireland