At Open Sky, our belief is that when students’ physical needs are met, they are able to better focus on the deep therapeutic work that brought them to our program. As the staff to monitor student safety, risk, and wellness on a day-to-day basis and as the first to respond to a medical need, every Field Guide is a certified Wilderness First Responder. Beyond that, Open Sky’s Medical Team is trained to prioritize our students’ safety in the wilderness, keep them healthy, and encourage a lifestyle that is based on not only mental but physical health as well. By having a 24/7 on-duty Field Medic, employing healthcare professionals with diverse medical backgrounds, and emphasizing the importance and practice of self-care, our students are positioned for great improvements in their overall well-being.
Student safety in the wilderness is the number one priority at Open Sky, demonstrated in part by our Field Medic role. Two years ago, we became the first wilderness program to have a Field Medic embedded in base camp and operating area 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All of our Field Medics are either EMTs, Wilderness EMTs, or Registered Nurses. The Field Medic’s responsibilities are to provide primary and emergency care to students, transport students (as appropriate) in the event that they need further medical care, consult with the Field Guides, Clinical Team, parents, and healthcare professionals, and educate students and staff on health, wellness, and medical response. Our Field Medic also conducts individual bi-weekly medical checks with every student. These checks address physical needs, such as monitoring calorie and water intake, measuring vital signs, and responding with adjustments or treatment as necessary.
Because students are in our care for an extended period of time, needs arise that are as simple as routine shots or blood draws. Open Sky’s Medical Director, Pat Kearney, MD, administers routine procedures and addresses any medical needs, whether simple or complex. In addition to myself (the Health Director) and Dr. Kearney, Open Sky also employs a full-time Psychiatric Assistant, Pharmaceutical Coordinator, and an Assistant Health Director to meet the individual needs of our students. The Clinical and Field Teams work closely with our psychiatrist, Mark Braunstein, DO, ABPN. When appropriate, a student’s primary therapist may refer him or her to Dr. Braunstein to consult about medication changes or perform psychiatric assessments. Open Sky also offers psychological testing administered in the field by licensed clinical psychologists.
Part of why wilderness therapy works is because of the unique physical challenges in the wilderness that students learn to overcome, along with the continual emphasis on self-care. Building on student safety in wilderness, it is our goal that students move forward from our program with the knowledge of how to properly care for themselves. Positive self-care habits may start with understanding the impact of taking a daily multivitamin or understanding the impact of putting illegal substances in the body. Our Field Medics are able to join teams on expeditions and run a session tailored to the needs and interests of that particular group. For example, one group session could be focused on healthy eating and physical exercise routines while another might center on sexual health and preventative measures. During the bi-weekly medical checks, the Field Medic provides individualized guidance for each student to respond to his or her personal self-care struggles. This guidance arms our students with the information they need to form good habits for life beyond Open Sky.
In the field, students learn the practice of the Four-Line Feeling Check (checking in with the mind, soul, heart, and body) which encourages awareness and self-care. Awareness of the physical body empowers our students to learn how to better address all of their other needs. A lack of awareness of the physical body can lead to more complex issues or psychosomatic symptoms. These are symptoms which may present as nausea when anxious, headaches when stressed, phantom muscle or joint pain when scared, etc. Students who experience these symptoms aren’t doing so consciously or with the goal of trying to get out of an activity. The cause may be rooted in a lack of awareness around the emotional connection to the physical body. When our medical team checks in with students that are presenting with symptoms, we incorporate an emotional check-in as part of our physical assessment. After eliminating the possibility of any immediate medical concern, we work with students to connect the physical symptoms with the emotion they are feeling, empowering them to have control over their mind and body.
Open Sky’s commitment to student safety in wilderness encompasses the holistic well-being of every student: health of the mind, soul, heart, and body. Safe and healthy individuals are more present and ready to pursue overall healing. Our Medical Team strives to meet each student’s core physical needs so that they can successfully engage in therapy and build a foundation for long-lasting restoration.