UK HealthCare

UK alum uses medical degree to advance ‘wilderness medicine’

Ben Mattingly
Ben Mattingly

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 2, 2023) Since graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in 2004, Ben Mattingly, M.D., has climbed the highest peaks on each continent, known as the “Seven Summits.” He has gone scuba diving near the Galapagos Islands. He has ridden dirt bikes in Romania. He has fished in bodies of water across the U.S. and traveled to so many countries that he’s lost count.

And everywhere he goes, he is using his UK medical degree.

Mattingly and his wife, Jenni, founded Wild Med Adventures, a company offering continuing medical education (CME) training for physicians, physicians-in-training, and health care professionals seeking knowledge and experience in wilderness medicine.

Wild Med Adventures travels far and wide to provide small-group, onsite learning experiences. This fall and winter alone, the company will take groups to Brazil, Belize, Mexico and Southern California.

Mattingly leads many of the trips. He hopes Wild Med Adventures participants develop an understanding that wilderness medicine “really encompasses everything,” and the skills learned through the company could be utilized anywhere: flying on an airplane, attending a wedding at a remote resort, or even as close as a few miles behind your house.  

“Let’s say you go dune-buggying and something happens, and you’re like, ‘Where’s the nearest hospital? Where’s a medicine kit? Do you have any communications?’” he said. “Fishermen may go out on cold, open water. Do they have life preservers? What about allergies? Are they diabetic?”

In short, wilderness medicine means being prepared for anything. And with Wild Med Adventures, Mattingly’s goal is to train learners and health care professionals how to be ready to save lives anywhere they travel.

The idea for Wild Med Adventures started a couple of years after Mattingly completed residency training at Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts. He was treating patients in one of the busiest emergency rooms in the country, and he needed a change of pace.

In a moment of spontaneity, he asked Jenni and their three children (ages 6, 9 and 15 at the time) if they wanted to live in New Zealand for a year.

His passion for wilderness medicine strengthened as he met with doctors in New Zealand, helped teach courses, and trekked across the country. He and Jenni, a physician-assistant and UK College of Health Sciences graduate, brought this passion back to the U.S. and started Wild Med Adventures in 2012.

Mattingly continues to take trips with his company as he treats patients across Kentucky. He is stationed at St. Claire HealthCare, UK’s regional health care partner located in his hometown of Morehead, Kentucky.

The worldwide traveling has broadened Mattingly’s knowledge of medicine. He knows that asking the right questions about a patients’ travel history, for example, can unearth information pertinent to a diagnosis. During trips he has seen his fair share of high-altitude pulmonary edema, dive accidents, stroke and tick-borne illnesses.

Wild Med Adventures can help health care professionals treat patients more effectively, but the trips also bring a renewed sense of purpose to those who join Mattingly. As an emergency medicine physician and frequent traveler, he has witnessed firsthand the benefit of these trips to physician wellness and well-being. Many of them involve connecting with nature, exercising, building camaraderie and overcoming incredible challenges.

“I’ve seen people’s lives change,” Mattingly said.

Learn more about Wild Med Adventures here.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.