Dr. Hawkins worked for a month as an emergency physician in Bhutan. Located between China and India, Bhutan is one of the most undeveloped countries in the world. The country just opened to Westerners in the 1970s, first allowed television in 1990s, and only has one main hospital in the country. More than 75 percent of the country is a protected national forest and contains the highest unclimbed mountain in the world
Gangkhar Puensum.

Physician Named Master Fellow of Wilderness Medicine

Honor is First of Its Kind in the World

Practicing emergency medicine in Burke County is much like anywhere else until something happens in the Linville Gorge – called the Grand Canyon of the East -- or South Mountains State Park – North Carolina’s largest state park.

Getting to, caring for and transporting injured hikers is a coordinated effort among many agencies in the county and requires special skills.

Seth Hawkins, MD, an emergency physician and EMS coordinator with Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge, is passionate about wilderness medicine, health care delivered in remote areas or those with very limited resources. “Basically, it means that either you’re about an hour or more away from definitive care or you’re in an area that doesn’t have the normal equipment and supplies,” he said.

His commitment to the field earned him a prestigious honor as he was recently named a Master Fellow by the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He is the only physician in the world to receive such a designation.

Dr. Hawkins has served as medical director for the Burke County EMS Special Operations Team, North Carolina’s first Wilderness EMS Team, since 2006. “In this capacity I have supervised the actual medical care delivered by paramedics in these austere, wilderness and resource-deficient environments during frequent EMS operations,” Dr. Hawkins said. “In some years, our county has the highest number of searches per capita of any county on the East Coast.”

In addition, Dr. Hawkins also achieved board certification in the Emergency Medical Service subspecialty. That exam was administered last October by the American Board of Medical Specialties and the American Board of Emergency Medicine. This is the first time that a physician board certification examination for EMS has ever been administered.

“I am very pleased to have received these honors,” Dr. Hawkins said. “I am particularly happy that EMS has been recognized as a discrete physician subspecialty worthy of board certification, and that I can bring that credentialing level to Burke County. I truly appreciate the opportunity to work here.”

Led by Dr. Hawkins, the county is home to the Carolina Wilderness EMS Externship, one of the first formally accredited wilderness medicine academic rotations for medical students and residents to focus primarily on wilderness EMS rather than general wilderness medicine. It is a unique collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Western Piedmont Community College, Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge and Burke County EMS. Since 2011, three classes have graduated from the annual program.

“Just a huge amount of wilderness EMS happens here,” he said. “In fact, that’s one of the big reasons that I moved here from Pittsburgh. In the wilderness EMS world, this is a pretty big practice area.”

Dr. Hawkins is also medical director of Western Piedmont Community College adjunct assistant professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. In 2011, he co-founded the Wilderness EMS Medical Director Course and has served as a director for it since that time. He founded the Appalachian Mountain Rescue Team in 2012 and launched Carolina Wilderness EMS Summit, a paramedic level EMS training exercise that brings college-accredited continuing education to EMS providers who plan to work in a wilderness environment. To date more than 40 EMS personnel have been trained through this annual exercise.

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