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Can Do: How Aerie Backcountry Medicine Prepares Students To Improvise

Dave McEvoy, co-founder and owner of Aerie Backcountry Medicine
courtesy of David McEvoy
Dave McEvoy, co-founder and owner of Aerie Backcountry Medicine

What's Dave McEvoy's starting point for Aerie Backcountry Medicine's wilderness first responder training courses? The assumption that, in the backcountry, “no one is coming to help you.” What's the corollary? That an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. “First of all, what you mostly want is to not need help. So wilderness medicine classes are a lot about prevention.” Very basic prevention, it turns out, of blisters, hypothermia and twisted ankles - not to mention the potential hazards that accompany backcountry work and travel.


McEvoy, longtime emergency medical technician and co-founder and owner of Missoula's Aerie Backcountry Medicine, has been teaching wilderness first responders since 1995. In 2019, Aerie trained close to 2,500 public land agency staffers, hunters, boaters, skiers, climbers, and medical professionals in the U.S., Africa, Central America and Asia. But the business took its time getting there. "The first ten years were painfully slow ... I literally didn't know what a business plan was." McEvoy credits the school's expansion in part to its large network of students and instructors, and the quality of relationships forged while collaborating in the field.


Aerie also trains medical professionals in regions of crisis around the world. There's plenty of overlap between an accident that happens in a remote backcountry setting and broad-scale emergencies taking place in areas without adequate resources; in both scenarios, a well-staffed, well-supplied hospital may be very far away. Aerie students learn how to operate under difficult conditions, administering long-term patient care in situations where resources are limited, and access to outside care is minimal.


On this episode of Can Do: Lessons From Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs, Arnie Sherman talks with Dave McEvoy about Aerie's mission and growth, but also about the wrench the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into both, and how the school and its clients are responding.


Production support for “Can Do: Lessons From Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs” comes from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, dedicated to investing in people to improve the quality of their lives. And from the Greater Montana Foundation, encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans. And from Blackfoot, providing communications solutions for Montana businesses. Plus opportunities like C2M Beta, an innovation lab aimed at helping startups thrive.

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