UT Health fellowship program trains doctors to respond to heat-related emergencies at parks, trails

There have been 3 deaths, dozens of heat-related illnesses on hiking trails in Texas so far this summer

A jogger passes under power lines during an evening run, Monday, June 26, 2023, in San Antonio. Meteorologists say scorching temperatures brought on by a heat dome have taxed the Texas power grid and threaten to bring record highs to the state. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – The Wilderness and Survival Medicine Fellowship in Texas at UT Health San Antonio — the first fellowship of its kind in Texas — is training doctors to respond to heat-related emergencies at parks and on trails.

UT Health San Antonio said the year-long program in the Long School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine gives doctors practical training and experience, as it includes stints on trails at Big Bend National Park.

So far this year, there have been dozens of heat-related illnesses on hiking trails in Texas.

At Big Bend National Park in June, a family was hiking on the Marufo Vega Trail in extreme heat when a 14-year-old boy became ill and lost consciousness. The boy’s father hiked back to their vehicle to find help while the boy’s brother attempted to carry him back to the trailhead.

The father, 31, later crashed his vehicle over the embankment at the Boquillas Overlook. Both the father and son died.

The National Park Service said on that day, the temperature reached 119 degrees.

Also last month, a teenage boy died while hiking at Palo Duro Canyon in extreme heat, according to ABC 7 in Amarillo.

UT Health said its fellowship program is aimed at preventing these types of deaths.

“With more people spending time outside, a changing climate and an increasing number of global medical missions, we thought it was time to start educating our students how to be safe in austere environments,” Steven Moore, MD, the fellowship’s director, said in a news release. “We first started with the wilderness medicine course for fourth-year medical students in 2020, and the fellowship for doctors was a natural progression of this.”

Moore is also a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

UT Health San Antonio said it is training doctors by placing them in harsh outdoor conditions with limited resources. That includes two weeks or more at Big Bend National Park.

“The fellowship offers a wide variety of exposures to austere environments, and is designed to have a consistent component of self-survival and outdoor skill-building, while still geared to the fellow’s goals and future practice,” the news release states. “There are opportunities both nationally and internationally, with clinical practice and teaching.”

William Jones, MD, and Savannah Chavez, MD, are currently fellows in the program. Bryan Everitt, MD, an EMS faculty member and an EMS medical director, and Lee Boyle, DO, a second-year resident and former “smokejumper” are among the physicians.

To read more about the program, click here.

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Rebecca Salinas joined KSAT in the fall of 2019. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.