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Posted August 3, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Wilderness medicine is a passion for physician

By Jessica Wiant -- jwiant@nvdaily.com

Dr. Jeff Livermon might not practice high-altitude or dive medicine or tactical combat casualty care at his family practice in Winchester, but he could. And he's got the medallion to prove it.

Following a convocation ceremony at the annual conference for the Wilderness Medical Society last week in Colorado, Livermon is now one of about 165 bona fide fellows of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine.

The title validates his qualifications for practicing medicine in what Livermon calls "austere environments." On the society's website, it names among them mountains, jungles, deserts, caves, marine environments and even space.

Available fields of study through the program vary from tick-borne illness to traveler's diarrhea, mammalian attacks, frostbite and food procurement in the wilderness. The topics are taught by recognized experts in each field at conferences, according to Livermon, and hands-on experience is also a component of the program.

Becoming a fellow requires 55 to 70 credits from the curriculum, plus a minimum of five elective credits and 20 experience credits, according to the society's website.

For Livermon, specializing in wilderness medicine allowed him to combine his profession with his passion.

He says hunting trips with his dad first introduced him to the outdoors, but moving from the flat Tidewater region of Virginia to the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg broadened his experience.

It was there, he said, that he discovered mountains, caves, waterfalls and the Appalachian Trail.

For his day job, Livermon, who is turning 60 this year, has been a physician at Amherst Family Practice for the past 10 years and is a fellow in the American Academy of Family Physicians.

In most cases, he is treating chronic conditions, along with some minor acute injuries. He's in the office, not out in the field.

But the outdoors have remained an important part of his life since college, as he introduced the passion to his children and served as an assistant Scoutmaster when his two sons, who both became Eagle Scouts, were going through Boy Scouts.

He still stays involved with Scouts, having taught first-said earlier this year.

When he came across a brochure for the Wilderness Medical Society, it piqued his interest, from the courses available to how "neat" the other people involved were. He first became involved with the society in the '90s, he said.

"I was hooked," he said. "It hit something in me. This all became about stretching, learning new areas."

"There's so much to learn."

You can become stagnant if you don't push yourself, he added.

When the Academy of Wilderness Medicine fellowship became available in recent years, it took Livermon's love of the outdoors to new heights, literally.

He went on an expedition with a group from the society last summer to Mount Kilimanjaro, suffering a high-altitude headache firsthand, being treated with fluids, Tylenol and oxygen and continuing on to the summit.

Even on breaks, the discussions were on wilderness medicine.

The education gained from the journey was priceless, he said.

Last November, for his experience requirements, Livermon traveled to Utah's Zion National Park, where he attended lectures and took part in half a dozen or more hands-on exercises putting his knowledge to the test.

As to whether it's all a little out there, Livermon said he needs to maintain his certification as a physician anyway, and all professionals have their own way of challenging themselves.

"This is just the way I sought to stretch myself," he said. "Maybe what I'm doing is a little more extreme."

But it isn't impractical knowledge either. Livermon said his training comes in handy on Scout trips, and even in the office when a patient has travel questions.

A deacon at Calvary Baptist Church, Livermon said he and his wife hope to do long-term mission work somewhere overseas, where he can really put his knowledge to work.
When he retires, he said, he'd like to do something long-term.

"I don't know where I'm going to end up ... but in 5 to 10 years, I'm going to be over there somewhere."

And now that he has earned the fellowship, Livermon said there is a master's program that has gotten his interest.

"I'm never finished," he said.

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