Wilderness medicine course participant profiles

Our 4,5 and 8-day Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness Advanced First Aid courses are open to individuals as well as groups. These short interviews with some of our past participants will give you a good idea if they are right for you. 

Get in touch with us if you have questions. 

Name: Heather Erven
Age: 32
Home: Ottawa
Profession: Head coach at Nakkertok ski club adventure program and sailing instructor
CourseWilderness Advenced First Aid (WAFA)


Why are you taking the course? 

I am a head coach for cross country ski adventure program. We did a practice scenario for our youth who are nine-16-years-old, and I discovered that I didn’t know as much as the other coaches. I only have standard red-cross first aid, none of the wilderness stuff. I’m a lead coach, so it’s natural for me to be in a leadership position in an emergency situation, so it’s nice to have the skills and credentials to back that up. 

What kind of programs do with the kids at Nakkertok? 

We basically take nine-16-year-olds on as many adventures as we can come up with, and bring them as close to the safety line as we can responsibly get. We do everything from shelter and quinzee building, canoe trips, ski huts to huts all around the Ottawa region. 

What do you think of the course? 

It’s awesome. I have a lot of experience around people who have taken this course, so I’ve picked some stuff up, but I’m really impressed now that I’m actually seeing how things are all organized into systems. So, well before I might have been able to keep someone alive, now I feel like we have a better chance of not just surviving, but thriving. 

Favourite part of the course? 

I’ve loved the practicing and drills. It’s the small details that matter. A good example is flipping someone over safely onto their back. Being able to drill that is great. A lot of what happens in the wilderness is figuring out how to best handle whatever situation you’re in. This course gives you the underlying tools to get control of any situation. 

What’s the most challenging part? 

There’s a lot of information. Your brain can only remember so much. What’s good about this course is the systems are designed so you only need to remember bullet points, or steps, and then drill down from there. 

Who should take the course? 

Anybody who is outside in the wilderness. I’m handling youth so it’s critical, but this is also going to be good for my personal life. I race triathlon, which means I train in remote areas often. It’s nice to have these types of skills. Anybody who is in charge of anyone should have these skills. I’m also a sailing instructor, and I’ll be able to apply a lot of this there too even though it’s urban. 


Name: Ross Thistle 
Age: 47
Profession: Survival instructor and volunteer with the Army Cadets. 
Course: Wilderness First Responder (WFR)


Why are you taking the course? 

I was in the military for almost 30 years, and now I’m a wilderness survival instructor, and I’m a standard first aid instructor. I wanted to get my WFR because I have clients out in the woods during survival courses, and I’d like to have the knowledge to keep them safe. I also volunteer with the Army Cadets, so we’re often in the field. 

How is the course? 

It’s an amazing course. It’s fast paced, which I enjoy. The instructors are great. 

Who should take it? 

If anyone is working as a guide, or taking their family out, this is a very good course to have. I’ve already posted it on my Facebook with a note saying that anyone who is interested in the outdoors should take this. It’s not just about the knowledge but also the confidence you gain.

Favourite part?

I really enjoy the scenarios. They’re a great way to put your skills to practice. I also really enjoy the alternative methods for splinting, bandaging and wound irrigation.


Name: Elyse Howat
Age: 28
Profession: Wildlife biologist for Canadian Wildlife Service
Course: Wilderness Advenced First Aid (WAFA)


Why are you taking the course? 

We do remote field surveys all across Ontario. We’re helicoptered into sites and then moved site to site by helicopters. If not by air, we sometimes use ATVs or canoes. It’s super fun, but it’s remote. Everybody in the group has taken the course and everybody does a yearly re-certification with Boreal River. 

What’s your favourite part? 

I’m a hands-on learner. So talking it over in class is good, but the constant scenarios, big and small, take us through the steps so many times that it helps me to learn. I feel like it’s becoming ingrained, which is what you want so it comes back in a stressful situation. 

Who should take it? 

Even if it’s just the two-day course it would be good for anyone who’s serious about doing anything in the wilderness from backpacking to skiing to canoeing and hiking. 


Name: Steph Willgilder
Age: 36
Profession: Outdoor retail and outdoor adventurer 
Course: Wilderness First Responder (WFR)


Why did you take the course?

I took the same course in 2008 because I was doing six-months of travel involving lots of paddling, climbing and hiking. I had only signed up for the four day WAFA, but after four days I decided to stay on for the WFR. 

Why are you taking it again? 

I’m taking it now because I work at an outdoor goods store and I help organize trips with staff and clients and I also have my own trips. So it’s important to have access to good first aid people, especially the more remote the trip. But I also want to work in outdoor education and this is a good stepping stone for that kind of career. I also realized that my expired certification didn’t really matter until I started responding to accidents and things on the street. If you’re offering treatment to a stranger it helps to have certification. I responded to a broken leg last spring in Nevada and I wasn’t confident to offer help because I didn’t have up to date certification. 

Who should take it? 

All the courses are useful. The thing that gets used least is basic CPR, which is what most people have. But having the basic skills to dress wounds and splint and things like that is going to get used a lot more. If you are the primary first aid person in your group and in a remote location, you should have a WAFA or WFR. The WFR is geared towards professionals, but still good to do because of the extra drills. I’ve used virtually every item in my first aid kit, which I think shows how valuable this knowledge is. 

Anything to add? 

Something people don’t think about is the communication aspect of first aid. In a real scenario, the quality of your communication is going to have a major impact on the outcome of the scenario. The types of conversations that happen during the simulations are rich and because you’re dealing with another person it makes you feel like you are learning the combination of hard skills of first aid and the soft skills communication. You can’t learn this type of communication from a book. 


Name: Sarah Fuller
Age: 39
Profession: Interested in becoming a guide
Course: Wilderness First Responder (WFR)


Why did you take the course? 

I’m considering getting my assistant hiking guide certification through the ACMG but I also do a lot of backcountry trips and so I think it’s smart to have first aid. 

What type of trips do you do? 

Lots of back country trips in the Rockies, tenting and hut to huts. Lots of backcountry winter trips too. So, multiday trips hiking, skiing and climbing. 

Was there ever a moment you wished you had wilderness first aid? 

Luckily I haven’t had an major accidents, but there have been times where I’m with a friend and I wonder, “what would I do if something did happen? Or what would they do if something happened to me?” 

Have you taken courses like this before? 

Not outdoor first aid. I worked at the Banff Centre for the Arts and I was a first aid lead for the photography area. So the first aid there was CPR and around chemicals because of the photography studio. But this is very different. 

How so? 

What I like about this course is we study something and then practice it right away. It gets you thinking about the skills tangibly and not just theoretically. I like the mix of two ways of learning. The hands-on stuff is important too for developing habits so you can act quickly under pressure. It’s also a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be. 

Who should take this course? 

Anyone who is going into the backcountry. It’s worth it. 


Name: Louis Corbeil
Age: 51
Profession: A teacher for Parks Canada
Course: Wilderness Advenced First Aid (WAFA)


Why are you taking the course?

As the lead teacher at the Palisades Education Centre in Jasper, all the teachers who work for me need the WAFA as a minimum. I’m not required to have it because, in theory, I’m not responsible for the kids, but I thought it would be good if I had it too, just in case. 

Do you have other first aid? 

Yes, all the basic first aid stuff. 

How does this course compare to those? 

This is quite thorough and intense compared to the other course. It’s four busy days with lots of material and lots of action. 

As an educator what do you think of the course? 

It’s a good mix of experiential and traditional. Experiential is more effective as a learning tool, but you can’t learn about something you’ve never heard of, so I think the structure is good. It’s a good balance of both. 

Who should take the course? 

Now that I’m doing it, and I think back to everything my family and friends do in the backcountry, anyone who is doing activity in remote territory should do it. 

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