Doc Forgey is a Fellow in the New York Explorers Club and wrote the book on Wilderness Medicine [EP 219]

May 31, 2020

Doc Forgey is an accomplished Doctor, Author of over 30 books, and an adventure traveler. On this episode, he tells how he was introduced to the outdoors, his writing career and thoughts on first aid, wilderness medicine, and prepping for disasters.

Photo by Karl Lee on Unsplash

Show Notes

Doc Forgey is an accomplished Doctor, Author of over 30 books, and an adventure traveler. On this episode, he tells how he was introduced to the outdoors, how he got into medicine, his writing career and thoughts on first aid, wilderness medicine, and prepping for disasters.

How were introduced to the outdoors?

Well, actually my family. My dad was a big fisherman and he worked in an industrial area in Northern Indiana for an oil company. He would take vacations and drag us out to Tennessee Valley Authority lakes throughout the South. They'd have fishing camps and little cabins. It was really fishing introduction and that went on throughout my childhood. One of the things I found I like to do, in Tennessee particularly was go off on my own with the boat. And of course, you know, I'm young, I'm in grade school, but dad trusts me to take the boat out. I would just tramp the woods and I looked for caves and crawling in caves. So I became an avid cave Explorer.

How did you get into wilderness medicine?

I spent a long time in the army, so I guess I graduated from the army, was out of money and wanting more adventure. I had no money and no training for that. So I said, well there's one way to get it. I joined the army in 1964 and you know, cause the army slug was FTA, Fun Travel, and Adventure.
I spent 30 months in Vietnam and went to training with the army and it was during that time I graduated in chemistry. It had been years since I was in school, but I definitely want to become a doctor. I am not going to remain an infantry officer, I definitely want to be a doctor
I got into grad school and while I was in grad school applied for med school, but I made sure my graduate advisor was in microbiology and knew that I'm not here to get a Master's or a Doctorate. I don't want any of your money. You know, the graduate program wants to give, wants people to be teaching assistants, give them stipends. They also want me to get degrees and be in their business. I said, no, no, I will pay my entire way. I'm going to go to med school. And he agreed with that.

Indiana Camp Supply

So I was in my first year of med school and, know already I've done a lot of these canoe expeditions in the North and I know I need equipment. It's kind of specialized. I want to use sacks any backpacker would hate, like the Duluth sack. But long-distance wilderness canoeists know about the Duluth sack and basically a lot of other specialized gear. And I was buying it online. And what I decided is, you know what, I think I'm just going to start a company and sell it cause look at it, I can get it like 50% off. I buy from the manufacturer. Well, this looks like a gold mine so I started a company.
What I did is I went to the small business administration and I got a $40,000 loan while I was a medical student. I didn't tell them I was in med school and I didn't tell them I actually was still on active reserves. I had 40 grand out of them and started this mail-order company called Indiana Camp Supply in Indiana. And, we had a mail-order catalog. We were actually dropping a hundred thousand at a pop eventually. And we're probably 400,000 a season of these catalogs as the years went on. It lasted for years and we started carrying an awful lot of books because we found that we had like 135 titles and we also were carrying medical supplies and I was putting these articles about medical care in there and, and so there we go

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I think the thing I'm proudest of is being a teacher. I worked a lot with outdoor education and so these early days as we were coming up with a concept of wilderness first aid, how does it differ from urban first aid, I put on hundreds of workshops on that and, and really worked. And then, the last part of my life, I've been done a lot of international work. I've set up a nonprofit in Haiti, and I made 44 trips to a village in the mountains where we go multiple times a year. And that's a different type of thing, but it's mass casually and safely. Um, it's just a very poor environment and people don't see a doctor, sometimes ever in their life.
And you just got a lot of pediatric and an elderly, a lot of infectious diseases. So I was down there for the explosion of cholera and for the explosion of zika virus, for chikungunya. I mean, I've seen hundreds of these cases. So it was medical students. You're kind of showing them how you go into any setup and you just deal with this mass of humanity. And we work under the health department, so we're part of the Haitian health department where we take orders from them. So they have different treatment protocols say for malaria than what we do. So, okay, in the United States, here's how I would do it. Here's how you're going to do it here it's two different worlds, right? So we would do it the way they do it.
Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor business or get into wilderness medicine?

I had a lot of people come to me, and say how do I become a wilderness doctor and I said, you know, you have two choices. You either live in a beautiful area and, you're living there and working real volunteer and doing the things you want to do and make your living there, or you'll live in an urban area and then break away for blocks of time.
And that's what I did by necessity because I got a job at an ER and then built a private practice. So you’re like a politician, you can't just really leave unless you're a billionaire and your family can make you a Senator here and Senator somewhere else, you know? No, you gotta grassroots it yourself. I think when it comes to the prepping end of it, I'd say I've always been a bit of a prepper. And when I first enrolled as medicine, I worked a lot with groups that were very active and prepping. This was long before this early prepper movement, you know. Then, while I was so tied up with technical aspects of medicine for outdoor education or eventually got into the international medical relief stuff, you still think, you know, what you're really dealing with is how you manage an issue when you don't have assets. In other words, the grid is collapsed. What do you do? Right? You don't have 911, which is always the wilderness situation or the international situation. You know, what do you take with you and what do you do to improvise when you don't have normal stuff? So I think when it comes to wilderness medicine, the biggest, the lessons you learn there is improvisation.

If you hang a banner at the entrance of that show, what would it say?

It would be like something like “free luggage tags at booth 97

Do you have a favorite outdoor gear purchase under a hundred dollars?

I always carry a sheath knife and the

Follow up with Doc



Dr. Forgey contributed to the current edition of the Field Book, 3rd Ed (1984), and the current edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, 12th Ed, 2010, published by the Boy Scouts of America, The Wilderness Educator (1991), a textbook for outdoor educators, and Fishing First Aid (2002), and to Expedition Medicine (2008) from Cambridge University Press.
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