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Team Wonder Women attempt to stabilize a mock patient with a laceration in the neck.

Tahoe MedWAR Challenge Creating Real-Life Wilderness Survival Skills

South Lake Tahoe, CA - Baldwin Beach at sunrise on September 9, 2017 was buzzing with participants and volunteers for the 2017 Tahoe MedWAR Challenge as they prepared for the 7 a.m. start to a grueling 25 mile race complete with kayaking, trekking, mountain biking, and putting their wilderness medical skills to the test. 

MedWAR, which stands for Medical Wilderness Adventure Race, is an all-day competition. Twelve teams of four racers navigated through various physical activities and completed wilderness medical scenarios held on lands in the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and Emerald Bay State Park. The winning team was determined by race time and points accumulated during the scenarios. For the Tahoe Challenge, teams also earned extra points for collecting trash and demonstrating trail stewardship for the sensitive ecosystem found in the Lake Tahoe basin.

The race is designed for participants with or without a medical background. For the Tahoe Challenge, participants varied from local adventurers, medical students from University of Nevada, Reno and Stanford University, and five teams from Arizona. 

Racers encountered volunteer “victims” depicting medical incidents throughout the course. Volunteer victims acted out wilderness medical scenarios designed to teach and test each team on their wilderness survival and medical skills. A sampling of the scenarios included an ATV accident, a lightning strike, and an avalanche victim buried in the sand. 

Out in the wilderness setting, calling an ambulance is not an option and all teams were expected to assess, stabilize, improvise, and - when appropriate - treat the patients with the items they had available. Volunteer proctors and staff, mostly comprised of physicians and staff from Barton Health, evaluated how well each team responded.

“In a place like Lake Tahoe, we have many outdoor enthusiasts participating in great adventures. We created scenarios that are realistic in the backcountry when help is usually not immediately available,” says Dr. Terry Orr of Barton Health’s Tahoe Center for Orthopedics who, along with Dr. Stephen Bannar and Khristy Gavigan RN, organized the event. “It is our hope with each MedWAR event more racers and volunteers are able to walk away with a new understanding for how to better handle situations in the wilderness.”

Team Med Students Gone Wild from University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine received the title of champion. The first four team finishers completed the race within ten minutes of each other starting at 5 ½ hours. All teams completed the race within 10 ½ hours.

“MedWAR has become the highlight of my medical career. It provides the adventurous avenue many of us crave to test our medical mettle,” says Patrick Mullett, UNR’s Med Students Gone Wild team. “As a second year medical student, it is the rare opportunity I was looking for to apply my new found medical knowledge, while combining physical, mental, and teamwork challenges in the beautiful Lake Tahoe wilderness. I’m proud to be a participant in MedWAR and you can bet UNR Med will be back next year.”

The MedWAR Tahoe Challenge is hosted by Barton Health, Tahoe Center for Orthopedics, and Tahoe Emergency Physicians. More than forty physicians, staff, and community members volunteered over 400 hours on the day of the race. Dr. Stephen Bannar, Lead Course Designer, says he is reviewing maps and getting ready for next year’s Tahoe Challenge.  The plan is to have more breathtaking views, invigorating exercise, and new wilderness medical challenges.

1st Place: Med Students Gone Wild – UN Reno (Jenna Johnson, Austin Meng, Patrick Mullett, and Robert Shrake)
2nd Place: Team H2UP (Jenn Drennan, Emma Dayberry, Chris Kozlowski, and Caitlin Robinson)
3rd Place: Team EPI (William Gray Grandy, Jeff Koeck, Morgan Machen, and TJ Middlemis-Clark)
4th Place: Peumothorax x 4 (Brooke Myatt, Andrew Odland, Kevin Robinson, and Jeremy Vandehurt)

Sarah Foreman is the Marketing Specialist at Barton Health. More information about MedWAR can be found at online