A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Doctor Freeze


On call on the slopes.

In high school, Noah Philip RES’09 F’11 F’12, MD, volunteered for the ski patrol to save money on lift tickets. Little did he know he’d ignite a lifelong passion for saving fellow schussers, not to mention a career in medicine.

“Helping people at the worst times of their lives [is]a very, very meaningful experience for me,” says Philip, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior. “I knew at a very early age that that was something that I wanted to be doing.” He assumed he’d go into emergency medicine or critical care, until his psychiatry rotation at Albany Medical College.

“I said, no, actually, this is where people are the sickest,” he recalls.

Now a psychiatrist at Providence VA Medical Center, Philip treats many patients with PTSD; he’s mindful of that as he helps skiers who have just survived a horrific event. However, “there’s very little quote-unquote medicine that one does on the mountain,” he says: a ski patroller is essentially an outdoor EMT, with specific training in search and rescue and the art of pulling a toboggan while on skis.

“The transportation of somebody who is injured down the mountain is one of the more technically challenging things that you can do,” Philip says.

While he may not wear his “doctor hat” while skiing, “I always have my ski patrol helmet on when I’m doctoring,” he says. “What I learned before going to medical school was how to help another human being with nothing more than what I’m carrying with me.”

Last year, Philip and two colleagues earned the National Ski Patrol’s highest honor when they saved the life of a skier who sustained multiple spinal and internal injuries after a high-speed crash.

Philip sometimes pitches his research ideas to fellow patrollers, who include military veterans, like his grant to combine brain stimulation with virtual reality to treat PTSD. “It’s all very relevant to them,” he says.

Weather-wise, wind and cold are the biggest risks on New England mountains, so getting people inside quickly is a top concern for ski patrollers. Philip quotes their unofficial motto: “Saving yours while freezing ours.”

Philip’s dad got his mom and then him to become ski patrollers, and now Philip’s wife is too. As for whether their kids, 11 and 13, will join them someday: “I hope so. It’ll be fun.”

Not everyone Philip helps is injured; sometimes they’re stuck on a trail they can’t ski down, or on a broken chair lift. “Those are the fun calls,” he says, because “they’re not hurt.”


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