It has been a pleasure and privilege to attend WEM 2022 representing The Adventure Medic. We are so grateful to WEM for inviting us back to cover what is undoubtedly the highlight of the conference calendar for those with an adventurous streak.
Just like that, in a blur of buzz, ropes, explosions and explorers, the World Extreme Medicine (WEM) Conference has concluded for the year. 19th – 21st November 2022 saw the most eminent explorers, adventurers, astronauts, scientists, rescuers and healthcare workers descend on Dynamic Earth in Holyrood, Edinburgh for the world’s biggest extreme medicine conference. The breadth of experience and achievement present in one place is unsurpassed; the excitement among delegates was palpable.
WEM have been organising this conference for over 10 years. It is evident in the delivery of this slick, efficient and industry-leading event. As well as optimising their face-to-face product, there is the opportunity to join the conference online from anywhere on the planet for a lower price, thus maximising the exposure and impact of content. This feature was facilitated by a small army of technicians ensuring that the live stream of lectures and workshops was high quality worldwide. Equally, a slick app provided a dynamic agenda, profiles for delegates and messaging capabilities for networking. Amid the impressive academic and humanitarian representation there were pioneering companies providing demonstrations of cutting-edge kit.
Arguably more important and impressive than the logistical side of the event was the approachable atmosphere that permeated throughout. WEM 2022 provided a truly international network of impassioned medics and adventure enthusiasts. Too many speakers to mention drifted by the Adventure Medic stand bestowing mind-blowing tales of mountain, jungle, ocean and polar environments with complete modesty; some of these we hope you will see here soon as the authors of future articles! The evidence of global networking and multidisciplinary learning from so many countries, cultures and professions was humbling.
Highlights of the Saturday took us everywhere from the International Space Station to icy Svalbard, Myanmar to rowing oceans. Mark Hannaford warmly welcomed everyone, kicking the conference off to a great start – did we really witness bagpipes played in outer space? Klara Weaver covered the challenges, complex and bizarre, that she faced as a medic returning from 20 months overwintering in Antarctica with her unique perspective on the global Covid-19 pandemic. Martin Bromiley, founder of the Clinical Human Factors Group and an airline training captain, provided an invaluable session on the importance of and barriers to integrating human factors training into healthcare. Pushing yet more boundaries was Lucille Chauveau who described the unique complexities of providing Medevac services to the one hundred and eighteen diverse and remote islands that make up the French Polynesian archipelago.
Delegates and speakers came from a wide range of backgrounds, from paramedicine, nursing and film-making through to mountain rescue, humanitarian and dive medicine. Hands-on breakout sessions allowed attendees to get stuck into everything from expedition vehicle maintenance, splinting, wound care and rope skills. We could not turn down the opportunity to attend an expedition dentistry workshop with the Adventure Medic’s own Burj Langdana; the energy and passion that Burj brings to his teaching is a sight to behold and certainly worthwhile.
Buoyed up with inspiration from Saturday, Sunday arrived with a further jam-packed day of industry legends. Andy Kent from UK-MED reflected on how it felt delivering trauma care teaching to Ukrainian paramedics and then seeing the same group, four days later, responding to a mass casualty event. His presentation included a video showing the erection of a UK-MED bespoke, fully equipped temporary hospital in 12 days, following the intentional destruction of a hospital. His powerful talk really demonstrated the great capabilities and importance of this organisation.
Hopeful pre-hospital medics of the future listened intently to Ffyon Davies and Patrick Wenger, from Air Zermatt, in the HEMS workshop and career panel. They discussed the use of standard equipment in novel ways, demonstrating the creative thought processes required by pre-hospital clinicians managing extreme injuries with limited kit.
Lucy Shepherd, the first keynote speaker of Sunday, embodied adventure. She challenged the misconception that “we are past the glory days of exploration”, wowing the audience with her experience of crossing the snake-ridden Kanuku mountains, an uncharted region of the Amazon. Maritime legend Mensun Bound closed Sunday by telling his story of the successful voyage to locate Shackleton’s vessel, ‘Endurance’ beneath Antarctic sea ice. Given the loss of this ship led to one of the greatest stories of human survival, it is amazing to see footage of the name clearly preserved upon the stern of a ship now found again deep in the ocean.
Monday started slowly with bleary-eyed delegates comparing tales of cocktails and dancing; what a night the WEM ceilidh was! Sarah Spelsberg’s talk was a perfect antidote to the excesses of the night before, detailing how breaking-down boundaries creates opportunity and fulfilment. She attended medical school late and pushed herself to the extremes by working as a medical intern in the remote Aleutian Islands. She described having an “anti-resume” and being “anti-fragile”, making the point that sometimes resilience is unachievable and undesirable. Her talk was incredibly inspiring, concluding that to secure joy, we should “contemplate, innovate, adapt and evolve”.
GoodSAM updated delegates on how their impressive app is improving cardiac arrest outcomes worldwide by connecting casualties to a volunteer first responder network. The Arclight Project provided valuable ophthalmology teaching using their novel and effective ophthalmoscope. It’s ability aiding the diagnosis and management of eye and ear pathology in low and middle-income countries. There were also updates on artificial intelligence and telemedicine projects and their ethical dilemmas and multiple in-depth discussions on how best to look after our own and our clients’ mental health in relation to conflict, expedition and relief work.
Reflecting on the take-home messages from the World Extreme Medicine conference 2022 we have lots to be thankful for. Inclusive, exciting and collaborative are words that immediately spring to mind. The WEM team, speakers and attendees created this inspirational, supportive event for adventurous medicine. This conference is progressive, full of high-calibre content and provides an approachable and truly multidisciplinary atmosphere. It is this that made 2022 such a special WEM conference as attendees from all over the globe, in person and online, could interact in such positive ways. The Adventure Medic is already excited to hear of the projects that will prosper and launch from this conference.
If you missed this year’s event, online tickets are still available by contacting WEM directly and provide access to up to 70 hours of extreme medicine content. You can catch session recordings on-demand for up to 12 months post-conference. For those interested in attending WEM 2023, details can be found here, with speaker submissions now open.
Photo credits: Tom Everett