The Challenges of Medical Preparedness in a High-Tech Age

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The following post is contributed by Pete Farmer,  who holds advanced degrees in research biology and history, and is also an RN and EMT. 

In the first of a series, he raises a number of issues that other readers may be interesting in addressing as well.  If you are knowledgable in a certain field and would like to contribute, please leave a comment in the box below. 

Special thanks to Pete for his thoughtful article. 


The Challenges of Medical Preparedness in a High-Tech Age

by Pete Farmer 

The preparedness movement – “prepping” for short – has gone mainstream. What was formerly a movement at the margins of society has penetrated into popular culture such that and Costco sell preparedness supplies, and one can get a hand-cranked survival radio at Eddie Bauer. Post-apocalyptic movies and books are entertainment staples. 

Anyone even remotely interested in prepping can probably identify a tipping point, such as Hurricane Katrina, which caused them to begin taking the idea seriously. Others point to the unfolding solvency crisis of the western world, or perhaps to the 9-11 attacks. Still others fear an influenza or similar pandemic. Finally, there are those people who do not fear a specific calamity or “black swan;” but simply believe in contingency planning and thereby getting a good night’s sleep. History teaches us that plans rarely survive contact with reality – but also that having plans and preparations is vastly preferable to having none.  “Chance,” the old aphorism notes, “favors the prepared mind.” 

Once one has made the decision to think proactively and begin prepping, the questions multiply rapidly. Authorities such as James Rawles have devoted a great deal of time and effort to developing templates and action plans, to assist would-be preppers in getting themselves and their loved ones squared away and ready to face a crisis, whatever it may be. Rawles and other authors have also explored the subject fictionally, in great detail. These are great services, ones for which we should be thankful. However, as Rawles himself notes, he is not a medical professional – hence the need for blogs like “Armageddon Medicine,” and services like Medical Corps, which offer disaster-preparedness medical training from physicians, EMTs and former medics/corpsmen.

Medical preppers face a number of obstacles found nowhere else in the movement. Subsequent articles in the series will explore some of them, as well as topics of general interest to medical preppers. Cynthia Koelker, M.D. has kindly asked me to write as a guest columnist, exploring some of the relevant issues. In doing so, I will draw upon my training and experience as a historian, a scientist, and healthcare professional (EMT & RN). In subsequent features, we will consider such subjects as the following… 

1.  What can history teach us about disaster preparedness? What do public health and epidemiological crises of the past teach us about prepping in the present? We will examine such past crises as the influenza pandemic of 1918, to help answer this question.

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2.  For which scenarios should we prepare? Which are best left to professional clinicians such as physicians, med techs or pharmacists? Which preps can be done by  the lay person, and which cannot? How should we encourage our federal and state disaster management agencies to prepare?

3.  Legal/regulatory barriers to medical prepping. Do we protect our turf, or protect our patients?

4.  The knowledge gap: the specialized expertise of scientist-clinicians; high-tech infrastructure of medical research and implications for preppers.

5.  The military medical model and its applicability to the future of preparedness.  What can preppers learn from medics, corpsmen, nurses, and Doctors without Borders?

6.  Know your limits. Why apocalypse and post-apocalypse medical care will make this time-tested advice more important than ever.

7.  The importance of public health, and why the plumber may just be the most unrecognized and appreciated “public health worker” in America today.  Why you, the medical prepper, should make friends with skilled tradesmen.

8.  The medical preparedness bookshelf. Take stock of your knowledge, and add to it whenever you can. How to prepare if you didn’t go to med school.  

9.  Tell your representative: About medical readiness, disaster preparedness, and ask what steps he/she has taken to protect citizens in the district? Let your elected representatives know preparedness is a priority.

10.  Get trained as well as you can; the importance of experience and skills.

11.  Medical shelf life and storage for preppers, pertaining to such issues as drug expiration/potency, required storage such as refrigeration, and related.

12.  Rediscovering medicine of the past; the importance of preserving and using “out of date” techniques and procedures in a post high-tech world.

13.  Microbiology in the post-apocalyptical world – for healthcare, food production and storage, and more. What every lay person should know about basic microbiology.

14.  Improvising medical care in extreme circumstances. How to keep a casualty or patient alive until you can get professional help.

15.  Get to know your local emergency management professionals – they can help.

16.  Conclusion and looking ahead to the future.

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
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20 Responses to The Challenges of Medical Preparedness in a High-Tech Age

  1. Dana S. says:

    Need: Dental Guy/Girl…How do you remove orthognathic appliances (braces)
    Looks like really strong wire, what pliers to cut AND how to remove clasps on teeth?
    Where to buy?
    HARDWARE diagonal cutters may shatter if tried.

    Point is to remove a mechanical source of buccal irritation…other than wax and see your dentist…
    These are ususually etched And cemented? What solvent gets then to release’
    Someone will need to remove this hardware..and likely fracture a healthy tooth trying the wrong protocol. Is it a cyanoacrylite bond or worse light cure.

    Opinion on Elective Removal? If things look bad?

  2. Laura says:

    I am very interested in all you’ve mentioned. My husband and I tried to sign up for the last Medical Corp weekend, but it was full. I wish they’d be offered more often and in more places.

    I homeschool my 5 children, we have a farm, and my husband travels some, so going back to school is not possible right now. I would love to become an RN, but that will have to wait. I’ve educated myself by books as best I can, focusing on “wilderness medicine” and homeopathic-type things. I would be interested also in more information about medicinal herbs since I should be able to grow or obtain a lot of those.

    Thanks for this blog. I will be checking back often.

    • Doc Cindy says:

      As time goes on I will try to address herbs in more detail. So much to cover . . . so little time. I am considering offering a Medical Corps type training class. Anyone interested, please leave a comment below, preferably with your location.

    • Pete says:

      Laura, with a full schedule, it is a challenge to find time to study, but it urge you to make the effort if possible. What is your college background? Do you possess the necessary prerequisites for nursing school? That’s a logical place to start. Prepare yourself for the GRE as you will need it to get in. You could also begin in the nursing books themselves, and start studying the pharmacology, pathophysiology, and so on. If you have the time, complete an EMT course,and try to work some hours that way or as a patient care tech. You’ll learn some things, build useful experiences, and impress admissions people, as well. Good luck!

  3. Wayne says:

    😉 I’m at the other end Pete – 57yoa….and I did that already as my first career (served 20 years). I am getting ready to retire from my second career and want to start a third… me crazy but I am interested in the medical field both from a prepardness standpoint and as a possible part time career in my “retirement” years. I agree with all your points about the military and their medic training….and by the way you would make a good recruiter.

    • Dave says:

      I am a 50 yo male that is an EMT, and I have just completed course work as an LPN. I have worked full time thru it all. I have just – yesterday signed up for RN school. Take 1 step at a time and make it happen. After my schooling I realized I needed more education and experience. I am prepared to help in ways that were never available to me before. Please go for it and start small but just start. Oh by the way, I am also a lead instructor for Medical Corps. The Medical Corps course was my first real course work. I do not intend on stopping – this medical training, it is a critical area.
      Good luck!!

      • Doc Cindy says:

        I couldn’t agree more. An LPN license is an excellent way to get your foot in the door, but for real flexibility, an RN is the way to go.

      • Pete says:

        Dave, how did you find the Medical Corps course? Was it worth the time and money? I’ve heard good things about it but always good to get feedback directly from someone who took the course recently.

  4. Pete says:

    One further comment Wayne…

    Are you of military service age, and willing/able to join? If so, this can be an extremely effective means of learning a healthcare skill and then getting practical experience. I’m not a recruiter, and don’t have an agenda. However, the military has always been short of doctors and nurses (who are officers), and has compensated for this in part by learning how to quickly and effectively train enlisted medics and corpsmen. The army and navy excel at taking kids fresh out of high school, and in a year or less, making effective medics of them. You can join as a reservist and get the same training. I wish I’d done this route myself; I know some former corpsmen/medics and they are well-trained, effective and work extremely hard. Military medicine isn’t for everyone, but it is a real plus for some people.

  5. Wayne says:

    Pete – Thanks for your reply. I have been looking a the EMT courses at my local CC. Probably the way I will have to go. I will also check out Medical Corps – had not heard of them. I live in Oregon so if they are out of state that could be a problem. I am interested in what you said about taking a self-study approach. That is something I can do now – got my MS degree online through Boise State University. Just need a curriculumn or road map and the books to order….has anyone put together anything like that?

    • Pete says:

      Wayne: You’ll need to take stock of where you are now in terms of knowledge, and then assess your goals and resources – time, money, the amount of effort you are willing to expend. The task of learning the scientific pre-requisites and then the specialized knowledge required can be daunting, but like anything else, it is less intimidating done in small steps. Tackle the obvious stuff first – take a basic first aid course, get certified in CPR, and then get your EMT-B. After that, to progress, you’ll need to get work experience and/or take more specialized courses. Be aware that at some point, you will run up against the regulatory limits of self-taught halthcare. Beyond a certain point, you are going to need to enroll in a formal education program – if you wish to have access to certain kinds of training and responsiblities.

    • Most of the basic science of medical education could be self-taught. If you have a local medical school, go to their bookstore and see what they’re using for anatomy and physiology. Although biochemistry and pharmacology would also be useful, they are not as immediately applicable. A fair amount of medical education is theoretical and/or cutting edge, but practical is where I’d start.

      I’m sure there are computer-based courses to learn anatomy nowadays. I may have to take a trip out to the local medical school myself to get your a few recommendations.

      If possible, spend some time volunteering in a medical environment – a local doctor might allow you to observe if you are a student of any kind.

  6. Pete says:

    Wayne, one further comment… it is important to get experience if you can. Once you have an EMT-B certificate, and CPR skills, you may be able to pick up some hours as a volunteer fireman or perhaps at your local clinic, ER, or other facility. Strive to work around others who can teach you what you want to know, and take it from there.

  7. Wayne says:

    First – Thank you Dr. Koelker for putting this web site together – well done……

    Mr. Farmer – your article is spot on. I think you have identified the biggest skill gap most preppers have when it comes to preparedness. I look forward to your articles especially on how to obtain more training and practice. I have taken the basic Red Cross and CERT classes but am having trouble finding a way to move past the basics to the next level of skills without having to go back to school to become an EMT (already have a full time job).

    Thank you for taking the time to share your knowlege with us.

    • Would anyone be interested in an in-depth course on preparedness, either hands-on or a series of teleconferences? If so, which would you prefer? Due to the investment of time and possibly supplies, tuition would be required. If interested, please reply to this comment below.

    • Pete says:

      Wayne, I encourage you to look into an EMT class. Most junior colleges offer them, and many courses can be done in the evenings, two nights a week plus Saturdays for lab when necessary. There is also an outfit called Medical Corps, which offers survival medicine courses which can be done in a long weekend, and for very reasonable rates. The man who runs the program is a former navy corpsman, and he has some very reputable physicians on this staff. Finally, you can accomplish a great deal on your own via self-study if you are disciplined and go about it in the right way. Above all, learn and know your limits – personal, medical, legal and all the rest. Good luck.

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