Blasting With Dr. Biondich
I was scrolling through the PROOF Research Facebook page a few months ago and came across a post about a woman named Dr. Amy Biondich. She is a board certified Emergency Medicine physician who specializes in wilderness and expeditionary medicine. Oh, and a she’s a big game hunter too.
This woman is a veritable scholar-badass.
Although her insanely busy schedule doesn’t allow much down time (she’d just returned from New Zealand when I interviewed her) she was kind enough to tolerate my fangirling and answer a few questions about her unique career field.
Erin: How does what you do differ from a doctor in a big city emergency room? What are some unique challenges you may encounter?
Dr. Biondich: The great thing about being trained in Emergency Medicine is that this field really sets you up to think on your feet and to be ready for anything. As an ER doctor, you really never know what’s going to come in the door next, so that has helped me to have a certain sense of always anticipating worst case scenarios and even having to be creative or innovative in my care plans. With that being said, working as a physician in the wilderness is a whole different experience. I’m often in charge of large groups of individuals in extreme environments where literally anything can go wrong. For the most part, everything goes smoothly but once someone begins to have a medical issue, the stakes are high. An illness or injury that would be easy to deal with in an Emergency Department is much more intense given limited medical supplies and remote locations. For the most part, I carry everything to treat emergencies on my back and as you can imagine, my supplies tend to be quite Spartan. I carry life-saving medical equipment at all times but you often have to think outside the box in order to adapt standard supplies to your unique wilderness needs. The remoteness of expedition medicine is also quite a challenge. In a big hospital, I have everything at my fingertips, including other physician specialists. In the wilderness, I’m often the only caregiver and I also have to find a way to get someone safely out of the backcountry and to a hospital or at least civilization. Determining a good evacuation plans is often as challenging as providing the medical care.
Erin: What types of expeditions or assignments have you been a part of?
Dr. Biondich: My specialty within wilderness medicine for the past several years has been ultra-endurance events. There are races all over the world where participants are running hundreds of kilometers over five to seven days in incredibly remote and exotic locales. I am the medical director for four yearly international races. I have also acted as the physician at a mountaineering school in the Adirondacks. And I am very dedicated to teaching other people about safety in the wilderness. My educational work includes giving lectures at a national level, leading groups of doctors on backpacking trips with a focus on learning wilderness medicine, and even teaching at hunting skills camps. I recently started my own expedition medicine company (The Less Traveled Road, LLC) that will provide a physician to travel along with individuals going on backcountry or international hunting trips.
Erin: I understand that, in addition to your work in wilderness medicine, you’re also a hunter. Did you grow up in a wilderness-oriented family or is this a passion you developed later in life?
Dr. Biondich: I wouldn’t say that I am from a wilderness oriented family, but I did develop a passion for the outdoors early in life. Around the age of fifteen, I started spending a large amount of time backpacking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. It was my brother that introduced me to hunting. We went on a safari to Africa together five years ago. He taught me how to shoot before the trip, and I just fell in love with hunting while there. I haven’t stopped since! I love honing my shooting skills, traveling to beautiful places, and supporting the conservation of wildlife.
Erin: What is your most memorable hunt?
Dr. Biondich: This is a tough question to answer! I have had so many wonderful experiences while hunting. I think one of the most memorable hunts was the twelve days that I spent in British Columbia on a stone sheep hunt. It was my first sheep hunt, and despite what every other hunter told me, it was still more difficult than I had imagined. The temperature was in the forties and it rained all but two days of the hunt. We slept in tents so I was cold and soggy the entire time. We hiked up and down the mountains looking for sheep ten to fourteen hours per day. But, the views were incredible and I really enjoyed the company of my guides. When I finally took a gorgeous ram, I couldn’t have been more proud of how hard I worked to take that trophy. The most difficult hunts are also the most rewarding hunts.
Erin: What are three creature comforts you must have with you on an expedition, regardless of where you are in the world?
Dr. Biondich: I travel so much for work and for pleasure that I feel like I have packing down to a science. No matter where I go in the world, I always pack the following:
– A small inflatable travel pillow. I know that other people ball up their down jackets etc to make a pillow but this small luxury has made all the difference in the world for my comfort during otherwise uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.
– A giant bag of assorted gummy candy.
– After-sun balm. I carry a tin of all natural organic balm that you can use for pretty much anything – sunburnt skin, chapped lips, blisters, cuts, dry or cracked skin, unruly hair, etc.
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About the Author: Erin is a shootingly squared away, desert-dwelling Nerd (the kind that merits a capital N) with a preternaturally strong love of music and a taste for absinthe. Hummingbirds are drawn to her like moths to light, which is weird, but something we interpret as a sign of good character. Plus, she never fails to pick the best bourbon or beer we never heard of once we hit the bar, so what’s not to like?