Diploma in Mountain Medicine...

Posted by Jeremy Windsor on Jun 25, 2021

Over the next few months we'll be speaking to a number of people who provide training for mountain medicine practitioners. Recently we asked David Hillebrandt to speak to Tim Sanders. As Course Lead for the Diploma in Mountain Medicine (DiMM) at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Tim follows in David's considerable footprints! Here's what they talked about...

(DH) Tim, I know you work as a GP for the Cumbria Health On Call (CHoC) and have an interest in medical education but can you explain your role within the UK DiMM? 

(TS) I’m the Course Lead for the MSc Mountain Medicine programme at UCLan.  In this role, I hold overall responsibility for the organization and delivery of the course and its academic development. This isn’t a job that I could possibly do on my own though – thankfully the module leads and wider teaching team who are really where the mountain medicine magic happens have come across to UCLan from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and will be continuing to deliver the course.

Plus Y Brenin is the National Outdoor Centre and one of the locations used by the Diploma in Mountain Medicine. The peaks of Lliwedd, Snowdon, Crib Goch and Garnedd Ugain can be seen in the background. For more information about the DiMM take a look at this

(DH) How did you end up in this role?

(TS) When we found out that the DiMM course was coming to UCLan, I was asked as an existing member of the National Centre for Remote and Rural Medicine team with mountaineering and mountain rescue experience to take on the role of Course Lead.

(DH) I can’t believe becoming a GP close to the Lakes and the Dales was a coincidence. Can you let us know what part the hills play in your obviously busy life?

(TS) You’re right that it is no co-incidence! I was born and brought up in Dorset but since childhood have enjoyed an active life in the outdoors. Initially this was sailing and climbing, with holidays hillwalking in the Scottish Highlands. I went to university in Cardiff where I studied white water kayaking and climbing for a few years fairly full-time with a bit of medicine in my spare time…!

When I finished uni, I was undecided about whether I wanted to do a career in Emergency Medicine or General Practice, but I knew I was keen to join a Mountain Rescue Team. So I looked to North Wales, The Lakes and the Scottish West Coast for jobs in A&E departments that received mountain trauma and posts came up in North Cumbria. It wasn’t much more complicated than that and we have stayed here ever since!

Climbers on the Cioch in Skye


(DH) Could you describe a really memorable mountain trip?

(TS) One of my favorites was a climb on the Cuillin. We arrived in good midsummer weather in the early afternoon and decided to head up towards Sgurr Alasdair, probably via the Cioch. We weren’t in much of a hurry and had a cracking time climbing the classic Cioch Direct (S). Neither of us had a watch and once we were done, we carried on up to the top of the ridge. Feeling a bit hungry we fished a phone out and realised it was 10pm, the midsummer evening light having barely faded by that point. Supper was a hasty affair cooked over my MSR petrol stove in the completely silent Glenbrittle campsite – Whisperlite…?  It has never sounded more like a jet plane taking off!

(DH) I believe that you are an MRT team member - can you tell us more about what this involves?

(TS) I’m a member of Penrith MRT which covers a mixture of mountain and upland terrain in the North East Lakes and North Pennines alongside a large area of rural lowland and forestry that stretches all the way up to the Scottish Border. I returned to MRT about 18 months ago, having had a break from it when my children were young. A lot of my time with the team during Covid has been focusing on helping team members prepare for their Cascare exams by giving lectures online and running medical and trauma scenarios at base and on the hillside. Team training happens one Wednesday and one Sunday per month and it has been great to get out into the hills to practice trauma, search and crag rescue scenarios. We get between 30 and 50 callouts per year and I try to get to as many of them as possible.

The UK DiMM is divided up into 4 residential modules. The second module takes place in Scotland and helps students to develop all the skills and experience needed to operate safely in winter conditions. Read Tom Yeoman's account of Module 2 here. This is what Abbi Forsyth had to say about it, "I have just completed Module 2 in Scotland, a very enjoyable week and it was a privilege to be taught by and spend time with people at the very top of their game. It was a very inspiring week and I’m already planning my next adventures..."

(DH) You obviously enjoy General Practice. What gives you a buzz during the working day?

(TS) I think what I like most about General Practice is the variety – it really mixes up the serious with the benign, the young with the elderly with a bit of urgent-care spice thrown in from time to time. Working in a rural setting as I do definitely makes you stand on your own two feet and I really like the fact that we have to be able to provide a response to whatever comes through the door. I guess there’s quite a cross over between that and being out in the mountains really – flexibility, resilience, resourcefulness and the ability to work as a member of a close-knit team continue to be key to success.

(DH) You obviously enjoy medical education. What aspect of this part of this job gives you a buzz?

(TS) I really enjoy postgraduate medical education for the closer and longer-term relationships that we have with our very well motivated groups of students.  Often, I feel more like a coach than a teacher and I find being able to be flexible to support people to learn in the ways that result in their best performance really rewarding. Amongst other things, over the years I have specialised in the support of students of trainees with additional learning needs and I have found that I have been able to transfer my skills as a clinician into my role as an educator to achieve really positive results here.

The final module takes place in the Alps and marks a demanding end to fantastic course! It's fun too. Here's Tom Yeoman, "Judging from the smiles on the faces of the returning climbers every evening, it had clearly been a storming success. A personal thanks must go to the guides I was out with ... All of the guides went to great lengths to pass on the benefit of their experience to us, even patiently working on crevasse rescue ropework back at the hotel!” (Image: Dr Richard Griffiths)

(DH) Rumour has it that you're a van dweller. What type of van?

(TS) We have a long-wheelbase VW campervan conversion built by Jerba who are based in North Berwick. Fitting all 5 of us in can feel like a bit of a squeeze, particularly when the weather is rainy, but there have been surprisingly few sense of humour failures. Two sleep in the pop-top, one across the cab and 2 of us on the fold out bed. It’s our platform as a family for mountain-biking at the 7 Stanes, sailing on Ullswater, summer holidays in the Alps and bagging Munros in Scotland.

(DH) Since getting involved with the DiMM what aspects have impressed you and equally what aspects do you struggle with?

(TS) The toughest part of the diploma so far has been having to cancel the 2020-21 student intake due to Covid. More generally, the process of transferring the course into the university and putting it through its various academic paces to achieve validation as an MSc programme has been immensely time consuming and quite frustrating at times! On the flipside, the team of module leads who have brought the course across from the RCS(Ed) are all awesome, bringing a real diversity of approaches and ideas alongside a clear collective desire to see the course continue to thrive and develop further in its new home at UCLan.  Of course, I am really looking forward to having the opportunity to actually spend time out on the hillside with students and course faculty alike.

Thanks David and Tim!

For more information about the DiMM take a look at this

If you would like to find out more about mountain medicine why not join the British Mountain Medicine Society? See this link for details.


The Birmingham Medical Research Expeditionary Society (BMRES) and the British Mountain Medicine Society (BMMS) have joined forces to organise the 2021 Altitude Research Conference. The face-to-face event will take place in Birmingham on the 11th September. Speakers will include Peter Bartsch, Jo Bradwell and Chris Imray. There will also be presentations from members of the UK's leading research groups as well as ample opportunity for researchers, young and old, to present posters and short talks about their work.

Further details can be found here.

1 thought on “Diploma in Mountain Medicine...

David Hillebrandt commented 2 months, 4 weeks ago
I thank Jeremy for crediting me with being a Diploma course organiser but should point out that in reality i would never have the patience to cope with the bureaucracy involved and have never had this role. From its inception in the UK it has always been a massive team effort and I know Tim appreciates this aspect of the job. A bit like coordinating a MRT. People who really deserve credit for the hard work in the background are Pete Barry when we were based with the University of Leicester and Mike Greene when we were with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. My thanks to all who have ben involved including our inspirational Guide team. Dave H

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