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Into the Wilderness: Beyond Primary Care

April 12, 2014
For Jillian Klaucke, MD, the practice of medicine is not confined to the walls of a clinical exam room. The GBMC primary care physician’s study of Wilderness Medicine has provided her the opportunity to work in exotic locations like a clinic in Montana’s Yellowstone National Park, a medical practice in rural New Zealand and in Cusco, Peru, where she conducted high altitude illness research. Wilderness Medicine is the practice of medicine in limited-resource environments. It encompasses topics such as altitude sickness, cold- and heat-related illness, trauma, expedition and disaster medicine, dive medicine, search and rescue efforts and wild animal attacks. “From activities like exploring deserts, climbing mountains and skiing to scuba diving, white-water rafting and windsurfing, people find themselves in situations where medical issues can and do occur,” Dr. Klaucke explains. A doctor trained in Wilderness Medicine may be the difference between life and death for a patient.

Primary Care Physician and Wilderness Medicine specialist Jillian Klaucke, MD, on an excursion outside of Wanaka, New Zealand.
“My interest in this field has been lifelong; I grew up hiking and camping, and I always knew I also wanted to become a physician,” says Dr. Klaucke, who is a member of the Family Care Associates practice at GBMC. During her residency, Dr. Klaucke learned of the Wilderness Medical Society and knew she had found her niche. She decided to specialize in the subject and now works closely with the Society to hone her skills and educate other doctors. Throughout the course of her training, Dr. Klaucke has lectured on topics such as heat illness, wilderness ophthalmology, sun exposure, water procurement and purification, knot tying and land navigation.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
While Wilderness Medicine certainly involves extreme situations, medical professionals in the field are not solely focused on injuries or illnesses occurring in remote locations. These specialists also assist with the issuance of protocols for first response and secondary care, provide insight about prevention of medical emergencies, conduct epidemiological studies and contribute to public policy advisement and issuance of guidelines to disaster planning agencies.

So what’s the benefit of having a primary care physician who has climbed 18,000 feet in Bolivia and surfed in Hawaii? “I think one of the advantages of this training is creative problem solving. I may not be discussing Wilderness Medicine with each patient, but the thought processes and skills learned are parallel,” says Dr. Klaucke. Her patients can consult with her when planning for or returning from locations with limited medical resources and benefit from her extensive regional knowledge. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” she notes, while adding that if patients return from vacations or expeditions with a medical issue — such as a fever or gastrointestinal upset — her experience with Wilderness Medicine is a great help as she works to find the best course of treatment.

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