SurvivalMed: The New Way to Stay Safe in the Outdoors


A dreamy forest after a heavy snowstorm in the Jordan Pines Trailhead on Dec. 29, 2017 (Photo by Abu Asib | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Haley Utendorfer, News Writer


Surrounded by the Wasatch Front, with the Uintas just to the east and Moab a three-hour drive south, Salt Lake City is a hub for the outdoorsy. World-class hiking, biking, climbing and skiing are all within half an hour of downtown. However, these activities are not without inherent risks. 

All it takes is one cam failure, tripping on a tree root, or a fall into a tree well to necessitate a day-ending injury. Being stuck in the woods while injured can lead to disastrous consequences and even death. 

Earning a certification through a Basic Wilderness Survival or Wilderness First Responder course can help mitigate this risk, and is often required for those in the outdoor industry, such as ski patrollers, backcountry expedition leaders and river guides. 

After discovering the exorbitant costs of traditional courses, which can reach up to $1,000, doctor Natalie Bonthius decided to make the process more accessible to all by lowering the costs and offering online delivery of curriculum. 

She founded SurvivalMed to bring her vision to life and allow those enrolled to access the wilderness “expertise of physicians, search and rescue leaders, paramedics, psychologists and survival experts.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that right now you have to pay so much money and submit so much time to doing it,” she said. “So all the courses are going to be totally self-paced, you do it on your own time and it’s going to be for a fraction of the cost.” 

So far, she estimates that 300 people have signed up for the program. The program continues to grow with the two certifications, Basic Wilderness Survival and Wilderness First Responder, that SurvivalMed offers. It also offers two other programs, Dive and Marine Medicine and Solo Travel for Women.

On Oct. 24, Women’s Outdoor Leadership Init. at the U partnered with SurvivalMed to offer a basic wilderness survival course. They are a program that focuses on empowering women in the outdoor industry, helping them develop leadership skills and cultivating their confidence outside.  

The WOLI wilderness first aid course encapsulated the information found online and also included an in-person element. Topics of interest included how to escape a sinking car and methods of stopping bleeding and improvising tourniquets, with participants earning certification for their efforts. 

“The whole class was super informative,” said U junior Emma Taylor, president of WOLI.  “She somehow went into depth about everything and kept it really short, which was really nice … We had seven or eight people get certified.”

As SurvivalMed continues to develop, Bonthius hopes to add more certifications to those already offered and expand the range of the program to allow more students and others to take advantage of its accessibility. 

“I’m working with a few other doctors to put together the classes and offer continuing education credits for it and to get these certifications rolling as well for people that need this,” Bonthius said. “Hoping to offer lots of new classes and do avalanche courses this winter and you know, regions specific to not just here in Utah to offer classes that are helpful to people in other areas as well.

To learn more about the program, visit their website or Instagram.


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This article was updated on Dec. 6, 2021, to clarify the title of Natalie Bonthius. Bonthius is a doctor but does not practice at the University of Utah.