Interview: Scott Schams, MD

December 21, 2015 | Frontline Stories

We asked Dr. Scott Schams to share one of his passions with us – heading “off the grid” and into the wilds! He shares how taking groups on wilderness adventure hikes has taught him how the lessons of self-discovery and leadership learned on the trail make you stronger and more prepared for the challenges of running a busy practice.

HH: Dr. Schams, when we spoke about APT you mentioned your love of hiking and heading in to the mountains. Can you tell us a bit more about your adventures and how those experiences have shaped your approach to leadership?

SS: I love this. I love to backpack and hike. I’ve lead 51 hikes so far. I’m a member of the Back Country Men’s Ministry, a licensed outfitters group that was founded in 1989 and went on to become a non-profit organization in 2006. The aim of our group is to teach people to become leaders, and we primarily do this from a faith-based perspective. We work with church groups, men’s groups, boy scouts, other adventure based groups, and students. The trail is a great teacher. The mountain will humble you in ways that nothing else can. For these guys and these kids — we take boys and girls — it’s a bonding experience and an opportunity to enjoy the simplicity and find a peace that you’ve never known before.

In addition to the hikes, we also give a lot of talks to men’s groups and children’s groups. We do about 34 treks a year, as well as consulting to other adventure groups in the country. We are licensed outfitters — liability protection is a must even though we’ve never had a major problem in that regard. That’s very fortunate considering we get into some potential scary situations at times. We had a run in with a grizzly bear on one hike so I can tell you all about bears, firsthand. Our group leaders get bear training, and several of us are OSHA certified on predator attacks so we’re ready and able to handle just about anything that nature throws our way.

Despite finding ourselves in some difficult situations, we’ve only had a couple of scrapes, one laceration and an ankle sprain. The nice thing about the mountains and the wilderness is that you can figure out what’s important. And what’s not. Many people do these hikes in their late 30s when they’re having a personal or professional crisis. I’ve been doing this for 20-odd years, and we’ve all bonded very closely. It’s an opportunity to get away from everything, just to be alone in the wilderness, with good friends and alone with God. When you strip everything else away, you can kind of figure out what life is all about. You’ll find yourself in situations where you’re being challenged to the nth degree. Your physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological self is being tested. You find that you’re able to do things you never thought you’d be able to do. It stretches you and teaches you to prepare for challenges in life on and off the hiking trail. You’re intentionally putting yourself into situations where you know you’re going to have to overcome some discomfort or fear. Sometimes the weather is gorgeous, other times it can be very cold. Sometimes it’s snowy, you’re wet, and you may have to deal with wildlife that doesn’t want you to be there. There’s also the fatigue factor, and dehydration. There’s a lot to overcome but when you do, that’s when those life-changing moments happen. My wife says, “Why do you do this? Why do you put yourself through pain?” and I say it reminds me of what life is all about so when I come into a really tough situation I’m mentally prepared for whatever civilization can throw at me.

Believe me, when I have a bad day at the practice, all I have to do is think back to some of those worst days on the trail and I can always say, “Yup, today is not that bad.” It’s an amazing thing, really.

HH: What have these hikes taught you about leadership?

SS: I’m a John Maxwell team member. I coach and speak for his team, particularly to medical students. John says, “Leadership is influence: Nothing more and nothing less.” If you can influence people in a positive way, they will follow. I may be the leader on these hikes but the thing I always remember is it’s not all about me. It’s not about myself. That’s the essence of leadership and that really comes to the forefront on these hikes. We have to work together to overcome challenges on the trail, and off.