Log in

Advocacy for Wilderness Medicine Instructors 


The NIA was founded in 1975 and at that time membership was limited to Expedition Faculty. NOLS purchased the Wilderness Medicine Institute in 1999; Wilderness Medicine Instructors are NOLS Instructors in the same sense that Expedition Instructors are NOLS Instructors. In August of 2014, the NIA held a constitutional referendum in order to allow Wilderness Medicine Instructors to join our Association. 86% of the NIA membership was in favor.  

As of August 2017, Wilderness Medicine Instructors accounted for 20% of all active NIA Members. This figure demonstrates the high level of interest Wilderness Medicine Faculty have in representation, as they have only been eligible to join the NIA for 6% of our history. In addition to offering Wilderness Medicine Instructors a voice in school-wide decision making, the NIA also offers these instructors, who are typically geographically isolated from a NOLS campus, a way to interact with the larger NOLS community.


The NIA acknowledges that by any measure (number of students, number of program days, income, and especially growth) Wilderness Medicine has become an integral part of NOLS. In FY2016, 79.7% of all NOLS students took their course in a classroom. NOLS supports these students when it supports their Instructors. The following is a list of actions that NOLS should take (some of them learned from the best practices of NOLS Expeditions) that would better support Wilderness Medicine Instructors and by extension, Wilderness Medicine students, which make up the majority of our student body.  

On behalf of all Wilderness Medicine Instructors, the NIA advocates for:

1. NOLS Wilderness Medicine should be treated as a full pillar partner, equally as integral to the mission and financial health of the school as NOLS Expeditions. One concrete manifestation of this would be to continue and strengthen the efforts of the marketing department to spend comparable resources on Wilderness Medicine marketing as on Expeditions.

2. A system whereby Wilderness Medicine Instructors can view their completed, offered, and accepted contracts on a single screen. This exists for NOLS Expeditions, and is very helpful in managing one’s schedule.

3. Wilderness Medicine Instructors should be paid on the last payday before the end of their contract, as Expedition Instructors are. Under the current Wilderness Medicine system, nearly a month can elapse between when an instructor begins travel to a WFR course and when they are paid for that contract.

4. Notations on pay stubs being made more transparent. NOLS paystubs are difficult for employees to interpret. This difficulty is compounded for Wilderness Medicine Instructors, who may work multiple courses in a single pay period, and who are generously paid for travel days. An employee should be able to decipher what a given pay check is paying them for. The NIA applauds the greater level of details on the pay stubs visible on Green Employee.com, which also recognizing that this doesn’t adequately address the problem.

On behalf of Wilderness Medicine Instructors who are also Expedition Instructors, the NIA advocates that:

1. Wilderness Medicine Instructors are NOLS Instructors, and Wilderness Medicine Courses are NOLS courses. In light of this, Instructors who work both Wilderness Medicine and Expedition courses should not be penalized by being de-prioritized for off-season Expedition work if they serve the NOLS mission by teaching Wilderness Medicine courses during the Boreal Summer.

2. If a contract requires a Wilderness Medicine assessment, the Wilderness Medicine travel policy should apply. In other words, if a WFR or WFA instructor is needed to teach a Wilderness Medicine course that happens to take place in the field, they should be compensated and reimbursed for their travel as if they are teaching a WFR or WFA, because, in fact, they are.

3. Wilderness Medicine Faculty who take the Professional Instructor Course should be awarded ROPE weeks for their time already spent teaching NOLS Wilderness Medicine courses at a 1:1 ratio. Only by recognizing time already spent teaching NOLS courses, and by closing the wage gap, can NOLS ever hope to recruit and retain an adequate number of crossover staff.

The NIA also acknowledges that Expedition and Wilderness Medicine instructors are paid via different scales. This difference stems, at least in part, from differing historical pay scales that evolved in two separate companies prior to 1999.  

The NIA advocates for closing the wage gap between Expedition and Wilderness Medicine Instructors. This should be accomplished by annual raises in Expedition pay that outpace future raises in Wilderness Medicine pay. Among other desirable outcomes, this will create a greater breadth of realistic work opportunities for Wilderness Medicine Instructors within NOLS.


The NIA applauds changes that NOLS has made since this plank was first published that are in accordance with the recommendations included herein.  Namely:

1. Ceasing, as of 2019, to penalize Expedition Instructors by de-prioritizing them for off season work if they choose to teach Wilderness Medicine, rather than Expedition, courses during the boreal summer.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software