Aerie's Spring Semester provides unparalleled opportunities to learn and practice wilderness medicine and rescue skills in both the lush Costa Rican rainforest and the snowy Montana Rockies.
The program begins with 4+ week intensive in Costa Rica, where you will complete most of your EMT training and then immediately use that training to help organize and run a series of free health clinics in rural Costa Rican villages. Aerie partners with several Costa Rican physicians whose focus is rural medical care. These clinics give you hours of practice assessing actual patients under the direction of U.S. and Costa Rican doctors.
After the clinics, we head to the Savegre River for Swiftwater Rescue Technician training. There, Aerie instructors who founded the Whitewater Rescue Institute will teach you how to manage complex rescues in a challenging whitewater environment. Immediately after the whitewater program, you will have time off to mentally and physically prepare for Montana. This break time is the only portion of the Semester when you are responsible for your own room and board costs. Many students go home for this break while others spend an extra day or two in Costa Rica.
Upon your return to Montana, you will begin your American clinical experience. During this intense period, you will shadow physicians and nurses in the emergency room at St Patrick Hospital and complete observational ride-alongs with Missoula Emergency Service's Advanced Life Support ambulance. In addition, you will spend an afternoon with Missoula City Fire Department's Extrication Team learning the art of vehicle extrication, and another afternoon enhancing your understanding of human anatomy and physiology in the cadaver lab at the University of Montana. During breaks in those activities, you will spend time on the University of Montana campus preparing for the practical and written final EMT examinations.
Once you complete your clinicals in Missoula, you and your fellow teammates will travel to the stunning Swan Valley, about 60 miles north of Missoula, to begin ten days of avalanche rescue, outdoor leadership, and wilderness survival and navigation training. During this time, you will earn your Recreation Avalanche 1 certification. When digging in the snow, it may be hard to remember that just a week before you were rescuing patients out of a warm Costa Rican river, but that is the essence of the Spring Semester. Environments do not change medicine, but the opportunities and obstacles provided by each environment are unique and require specialized training and preparation.
After completing avalanche training, you will return to the Rich Ranch, at the base of the mountains, and continue with your Search and Rescue and wilderness EMT training. At this lower elevation, as the snow recedes, you will complete your Red Card Wildland Firefighting training with Aerie's professional wildlands firefighting instructors. The program culminates with you putting your route-finding, wilderness medical treatment skills, and team work to the test in an overnight RATRACE (Reach And Treat Review And Comprehensive Exam) adventure race, where you will be evaluated on all skills learned in the program. At the conclusion of the RATRACE, you will have truly earned every certification, credit and experience you have gained.
Credits & Certifications*
- 15 upper-division University of Montana credits
- Aerie Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (W-EMT) certification
- National Registry EMT (EMT) certification
- State of Montana EMT certification
- American Heart Association Healthcare Provider CPR certification
- Red Card Wildland Firefighting certification
- Recreation Avalanche Level 1 certification
- Swiftwater Rescue Technician (SRT) certification
- Leave No Trace Trainer certification
*Earning credits and certifications is dependent on successful completion of required physical and practical examinations as well as final payment of tuition.
During Aerie's Spring Semester, you will travel throughout Costa Rica and Montana to locations ideal for our wilderness medicine curriculum.
Home base in Costa Rica is the tiny village of Mastatal, home to Rancho Mastatal, where you will complete most of your EMT training. Mastatal is home to about 150 residents. The nearest big town is Santiago de Puriscal, which can be found on most maps and is often simply called Puriscal. San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, is about 3.5 hours away by private car or taxi; however, a public bus ride can take most of a day. At Rancho Mastatal, students share bunks in dorm-style living quarters ("Jeanne's House" ) and share a bath house with upscale composting toilets and outdoor showers. The primarily vegetarian meals are made almost entirely from local Costa Rican ingredients, largely based around rice, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. Other features include fresh morning coffee, fresh eggs and homemade granola. On Sunday evenings, students are treated to dinner at the only local café where our friend Lily prepares fish, chicken and pork dishes to satisfy carnivorous appetites.
Clinical experiences in Costa Rica take place in Mastatal, the neighboring indigenous reserve of Zapaton, and in Playa Grande near Liberia. Students stay at Kike's Place while working at the health clinic in Playa Grande.
The swiftwater rescue section takes place at the Rafiki Safari Lodge on the Savegre River. Here you will share with several other students a "luxury safari tent" outfitted with a shared bathroom. At Rafiki, the food is also typically Costa Rican but with more emphasis on meat.
In Montana, we base out of Missoula for a week - a small city of 70,000 people and home to the University of Montana, two hospitals and a professional ambulance service. Students live at the newly restored Shady Spruce Hostel in downtown Missoula, near St. Patrick Hospital and the University of Montana. At the Shady Spruce, you will be supplied groceries and will form groups to cook for yourselves because hospital and ambulance shifts vary so much that sit-down meals are hard to schedule.
The Avalanche rescue course is based at the remote, off-grid Jewel Basin Yurt. This cozy space is lit with propane lights and your team will prepare meals for each other on a propane stove. You will feed a wood stove to heat the cozy 24' yurt outfitted with bunkbeds. During the last two weeks of the program, you will move to the family-owned Rich Ranch, near Seeley Lake, a small, rural, and remote town. Students share western-themed cabins at the Rich Ranch and sit down to three, hearty, family-style meals a day supplemented by abundant coffee and snacks.
We can always accommodate vegetarians; please let the Aerie office know about other dietary restrictions (which may not be possible to accommodate at our various venues).
2020: January 25 - April 10
January 1-24: on-line coursework (6-10+ hours per week)
January 25: Meet at SJO Airport, Costa Rica, and take shuttle to Mastatal. Aerie arranges and pays for this shuttle. Or, if traveling independently, meet at Mastatal in the afternoon. Please arrive at the SJO airport no later than noon on the 25th; otherwise you will need to arrange and pay for your own transportation. Our shuttle will take students from the airport to Mastatal at 2 pm on the 25th.
January 25 - February 26 : Costa Rica Section
January 25 - February 13: EMT course work at Mastatal
February 14 - February 20: Clinical daysaer
February 21 - February 24: Swiftwater Rescue Course
February 25th: We will shuttle students and drop them off at the San Jose airport or a local hotel/hostel by noon on February 25th. Please do not make reservations out of San Jose airport any earlier than 3 pm on the 25th. If you cannot find a flight on the 25th after 3 pm, you will need to make reservations to stay in San Jose that evening.
February 27th - March 1 BREAK. PLAN YOUR TRAVELS TO ARRIVE BACK IN MISSOULA BY 5 PM ON MARCH 1
March 1 (evening) - April 10: Montana section.
March 3 - 15: Clinical Experience. During this time, students stay together in Missoula near their hospital and ambulance clinical settings
March 16 - 20: Avalanche, outdoor leadership and Leave No Trace training at the Jewel Basin Yurt
March 21 - April 10: After hiking/ skiing/ snowshoeing out of the mountains, students return to the Semester's final location, the Rich Ranch in Seeley Lake. The program ends at noon, April 10th, at the Rich Ranch in Seeley Lake, Montana. We will provide shuttles back to Missoula at this time. Please do not make your plane reservations out of Missoula for any earlier than 3 pm on the 10th.
$17,000 tuition includes the following:
- All room and board, except for 5 day break between Costa Rica and Montana
- Shuttles to and from Costa Rica airport in San Jose (SJO). Aerie will pick you up and drop you off at SJO airport
Tuition includes the following certifications:
- EMT and Wilderness EMT
- Whitewater Rescue Technician
- Recreation Avalanche 1
- Leave No Trace Trainer
- Red Card Wildlands Firefighting Certification
Tuition includes the following course texts:
- Aerie Wilderness Medicine
- Swiftwater Rescue
- Avalanche Essentials
- Leave No Trace
- AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership
The following items are NOT included with tuition:
- Registration fee for 15 upper division credits from the University of Montana (approximately $500)
- Health insurance while in Costa Rica (purchased through the University of Montana - approximately $100)
- Flight to and from Costa Rica (typically $500-$750 round trip from the US)
- EMT text book (approximately $100)
- National Registry of EMT on-line registration and computer testing fee (approximately $100)
- Health insurance while in the US
- Any costs associated with early departures, medical bills - including shuttles to and from health care clinics.
Please contact our Semester Coordinator, James Pyke, if you are eligible for any of the following:
- Early-Bird Registration
- $2,000 tuition discount for any student paying their non-refundable $2,000 deposit 6 months or more before the start of the program.
- Students may be eligible for no more than one of the following tuition discounts:
- AmeriCorps members/alumni using their AmeriCorps awards will have their awards matched, up to $3,000 or
- AmeriCorps members/alumni without education awards - $3,000 tuition discount or
- Alumni or staff of the following: Student Conservation Association, American Conservation Experience, and any other state Conservation Corps or Youth Corps programs - $3,000 tuition discount or
- Montana-state residents or students enrolled at a Montana college - $3,000 tuition discount or
- US Military Veterans - $3,000 tuition discount
Students may also be able to use the following:
Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA)
Because Aerie's Spring Semester program is offered through the University of Montana, students who are currently receiving federal financial aid using the FAFSA are often able to use their financial aid to pay for Semester tuition. Aerie can help facilitate this process. The process for doing this is described here. Contact Semester Coordinator, James Pyke, with any questions.
Because the program is run through an accredited Title IV university, AmeriCorps members and alumni can use their Segal Education Awards to pay for their tuition. If you have completed more than one AmeriCorps program, you are able to use all your awards, cumulatively, for tuition. The process for doing this is described here. Contact Semester Coordinator, James Pyke, with any questions.
GI Bill Education Award
Because the Spring Semester operates internationally, veterans may not use their GI benefits for the program. Aerie offers scholarships for veterans (see above); however, if you are looking for a Semester program that is eligible for VA benefits, explore our Summer Semester, which operates entirely in Montana.
Aerie's Semesters are, above all else, about the medicine. Our students complete their education and training with far more clinical experience and practice than any other wilderness medicine training provider offers. We believe excellent patient assessment and care is at the heart of all other advanced skills. Aerie Semesters not only offer extensive practice for EMT skills, leading to consistently high rates of National Registry certification, we also offer actual patient assessment experience in hospitals, on ambulances, and in rural medical clinics to ensure that our students leave with outstanding clinical skills.
During the Spring Semester, you will work in both Costa Rica and Montana to gain actual patient-care experience. In Costa Rica, you will work with Aerie's team of doctors, nurses and medics, as well as Costa Rican physicians, during 4 days of health clinics in Mastatal, Zapaton, and Playa Grande (near Liberia). On the day of each clinic, you will set up an intake area and begin immediately taking patient histories and establishing a triage system. You will follow patients from intake and triage through care to discharge. In 2019, Aerie students and the medical provider team saw over 350 patients at 3 different sites and during in-home visits.
All patient interactions take place in Spanish. If you happen to be fluent in Spanish, you can practice your language skills; otherwise, all care is directed through a team of translators for our English-speaking medical providers.
Aerie donates all supplies, medicines and instruments for these clinics, as well as bringing an Aerie team of American doctors, nurses and medics to provide care in partnership with Costa Rica-based physicians.
Back in the U.S., you will gain more clinical skill through a 12-hour ambulance ride along and a separate 12-hour emergency room observation.
Q: Will I have time off during the program to sightsee and visit local areas?
A: There will be very little time for traveling/sightseeing in Costa Rica or Montana. You should plan time before or after the Spring Semester for personal travel. The week off in the middle of the program (between Costa Rica and Montana) is designed to give students time to take a much-deserved break, catch up on reading and possibly attend to family concerns. It is not sufficient time to both sightsee in Costa Rica and ensure a timely return to Montana.
Q: Will I be able to communicate with friends and family?
A: Communications will be challenging throughout each section of the program. In Mastatal, Costa Rica, there is an inexpensive, local internet business consisting of 3 computers, available on a first-come, first-served basis. Expect to be able to get on a computer several times a week to check email or use Skype. Most evenings, a public phone is available for a short window of opportunity. At Rafiki, internet service is typically available but may be extremely slow when everyone is trying to access it in the evening. In Costa Rica, in general, expect slow internet coverage that may crash at any time.
In Montana, there should be wireless internet service students can hook in to with their own laptop except during the avalanche training section in the backcountry where there will be no cell coverage at all. Cell phone coverage is tentatively available at this time at a few good spots at the Rich Ranch. In Missoula, communication possibilities should be excellent.
Q: What are the physical requirements for the program?
A: All Aerie Semesters are physically challenging. Students will carry 30-60 lb backpacks 6-8 miles per day during certain sections of the program. During these days, they may climb 2000-3000 vertical feet and will be living at elevations of 3000-8000 feet above sea level. They will carry patient litters and gear across uneven terrain and rivers and will be expected to swim and climb. You will work outdoors in snow, rain and ice and will be expected to maintain a positive learning attitude regardless of the weather or activity. Great athletic, climbing, skiing or swimming experience are not necessary to successfully complete the program; however, all of these activities require physical conditioning conducive to constant movement in these environments.
The Red Card "arduous pack test" involves walking 3 miles carrying a 45 pound pack in under 45 minutes. If you cannot, or choose not, to complete this pack test, you will not receive a Red Card but you will still be able to complete the Semester and receive UM credits. Please contact us if you have any concerns.
Q: What credits are offered and how do I get my university to transfer the Semester credits?
A: For a general overview of the credits offered by the Semester, click here. The Semesters all consist of three, five-credit upper-division courses from the University of Montana: Emergency Medical Technician and Incident Management; Wilderness Medicine and Risk Management; and Wilderness Rescue and Survival Skills. Please write us for more information, and feel free to forward the syllabi to your advisor for review.
The issue of transferring credits is determined by your advisor and your university's registrar. That said, most schools allow transfer of credits from other degree-granting institutions. Our students receive official transcripts from the University of Montana, as if they had taken classes on campus. That would be important information for your advisor to know.
Second, assuming your university will accept transfer credits from UM, your advisor will need to make a determination about HOW the credits will transfer to your degree. They may come in as upper-division electives, or your advisor may agree to use them towards a specific degree requirement.
Q: Will there be tests and homework?
A: Yes. Homework is assigned each night and initially may include up to 100 pages of reading per night. At least two written exams are given each week in addition to a weekly practical exam.
Q: Is this program considered an "international program" by university standards?
A: Aerie's Spring Semester is approved by the University of Montana's Office of International Programs (OIP) as a Faculty Directed Program and students in UM's Global Leadership Initiative, required to pursue a study abroad program, can choose an Aerie Semester as one of those options.
Q: What does the "online coursework" consist of?
A: Because of the heavy reading load in the National Registry EMT text, we assign chapters of reading and associated online quizzes during each of the three weeks preceding the start of each Semester. Students can complete this work wherever they happen to be, as long as they have internet access to submit their quiz answers. Grades for these quizzes count towards the final score in the Emergency Medical Technician and Incident Management course.
Q: What are Aerie's academic expectations?
A: High. Aerie's course policies outline our academic expectations; you will be given a handbook outlining our course policies once you have been accepted into the Semester. Students must receive passing grades on weekly exams to be eligible to test for the National Registry final exam; this is not an Aerie policy – it is a National Registry policy. Poor grades may result in expulsion from the program and may result in not being able to test for, or receive, your National Registry EMT certification.
Q: How long do the certifications last, who issues them, what are the recertification requirements, and what types of jobs and/or further opportunities can I get with the experiences and certifications the Semester offers?
A: The certifications and experiences the Semester offers are unique, professional-level, and rewarding, designed specifically for the highly competitive professional outdoor and medical/ nursing/ PA ambitions of our students. The following list shows where our students use their certifications, but please remember that there are no guarantees that any organization or school is going to hire or admit you based on a certification or transcript.
- Aerie Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) certification: Aerie WEMT certifications last for two years. To recertify, WEMTs need to also recertify their urban EMT (see next bullet) and complete 8 additional hours of wilderness-specific training. For jobs, the National Park Service, US Forest Service, many guiding and outdoor organizations such as NOLS, Outward Bound and the Student Conservation Association look for Wilderness EMTs to lead their backcountry crews. Wilderness EMTs must be current urban/ state/ National Registry EMTs to keep their "wilderness" certifications.
- National Registry EMT (NREMT) certification. NREMT certifications are valid for two years. To recertify, NREMTs must complete 48 hours of continuing education, a 24 hour EMT refresher, and have six months' affiliation with an agency providing EMT-level care. These requirements are listed here. This is the standard certification for working on an ambulance or in an Emergency Room as a Technician in many parts of the US. If you are looking to see what your home state requires for EMT licensure/ certification, click here. Many ambulances around the US require EMTs to be 21 years old to drive the ambulance.
- State of Montana EMT certification is offered through the Montana Board of Medical Examiners. Montana EMTs must recertify every two years, complete 48 hours of continuing education, a 24 hour EMT refresher class, and have 6 months' affiliation with an agency providing EMT-level care. You do not need your Montana EMT certification if you are not planning on working in Montana as an EMT. This is the certification you will need if you want to work as an EMT in the state of Montana.
- American Heart Association Healthcare Provider CPR certification: This certification lasts for two years and is recertified by taking a 2-8 hour refresher course. This is the highest level of CPR certification, is required for EMTs, and can be used for any job requiring CPR certification.
- Recreation Avalanche 1 training by the American Avalanche Association: This training prepares our students to assess hazards in a mountainous, snow environment and similarly prepares them to respond to and manage avalanche injuries. This training is invaluable for any backcountry guide or traveler in a snow environment.
- Swiftwater Rescue Technician certification, offered by the Whitewater Rescue Institute: SRT certification lasts three years and is recertified by taking another course. Other course details can be found here. This certification is often required for raft and/ or river guides.
- The wildlands firefighting certifications, listed below, are offered through Aerie, the National Wildland Coordinating Group (NWCG), and FEMA. They vary in duration of certification.
- Red Card, which itself consists of the following classes and certificates:
Q: Do I need to be enrolled in college to participate in the Semester?
A: No, participants do not need to be university students to enroll. However, they may need to be enrolled to receive federal financial aid and university sponsored health insurance.
Q: Are there any prerequisites for the Semester?
A: Students must be ready for an intense, challenging experience, but there are no specific academic prerequisites. Many of our best students have had no previous medical training. Students must be 18 years of age. In addition, to test for and receive National Registry EMT certification, students must have a high school diploma/ GED and have no current felony convictions. Otherwise, we expect students to arrive with a solid work ethic, open mind and positive attitude.
Q: What are the refund policies for the Semester?
A: No refunds are given for any reason, including sickness, family emergencies, or expulsion from the program. For this reason, we STRONGLY encourage all participants to have travel and health insurance to cover the possibility of their not completing the program. Aerie recommends contacting Global Rescue for this insurance. In the event that a student leaves the program early, whether voluntarily or at Aerie's discretion, all expenses associated with their departure from the program, including airfare, travel to and from field sites to airports/ bus facilities, and health costs, are solely the student's responsibility. If, for example, a student is injured or becomes ill and they are unable to complete some or all of the program, they will be responsible for their own food, housing and any other costs associated with their recovery.
Q: Is this program safe?
A: Our Semester programs have inherent risk. Aerie believes that students learn best when they are involved in realistic, engaging scenarios and practical sessions. As a result we simulate these environments in our classroom scenarios and head out into the field to swim, hike, snowshoe, carry heavy packs and cross difficult terrain depending on the season and location. In addition, the international components of the Semester have their own unique risks, including significant distance from advanced medical care as well as potential exposure to illness during clinical rotations. The risks we face during these exercises are similar to those faced in an austere, remote environment. We encourage you to talk with our staff about risks inherent in our training programs before enrolling. Depending on course location, injuries and illnesses that occur may require prolonged evacuations and may necessitate repatriation to the United States.
Please do not register for any Aerie course, particularly our Semesters, without exploring, understanding and accepting these risks.