Essential Medical Skills to Acquire: Introduction

The following article was originally published in  Click HERE to read this and other articles on SurvivalBlog by Doc Cindy.

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If society collapses and you’re on your own, what medical skills seem the most essential? The answer likely depends on your age, health status, and stage in life.  For those of child-bearing years, midwifery skills may be paramount.  For those advanced in age, diagnosis and treatment of chronic disease becomes primary.  For the otherwise young and healthy, treatment of injuries and infection tops the list.

Our current compartmentalized society has deemed that doctors should perform these tasks, though turf wars abound over what nurses, physician assistants, pharmacist, paramedics, and others should legally be permitted to do.  Recent decades have also seen the trend toward home care for I.V. therapy, nebulizer treatments, dialysis, and much more.  The take home lesson is this: the layman can acquire many skills once considered the purview of health professionals alone.  Thus, the first step in acquiring these skills is believing that you can do so.

The next question is to identify what skills you’d like to acquire.  Though an unknown future presents unknown threats, common injuries and diseases will no doubt persist.  Patients suffering lacerations, infections, sprains, and broken bones fill the ERs.  Infections, diabetes, asthma, pneumonia, chest pain, arthritis, GI disturbances, urinary problems, STDs, and assorted rashes comprise the majority of medical problems.  Learning how to diagnose and treat these problems is a good place to start.

To be more specific, needed skills include the ability to suture, to apply a splint or a cast, to administer an aerosol or needed fluids, to check urine for infection, to identify common rashes, to have a working knowledge of antibiotic usage, and much more.  Such a list is daunting and may dissuade a person from attempting anything – but remember:  doctors take a lifetime learning the practice of medicine.

So pick your favorite topic and start somewhere. Medical apprenticeships have been the time-honored mode of learning for thousands of years.  Even now a great deal of medical training is accomplished in this fashion, from medical school through specialty fellowships.  “See one, do one, teach one” is the tongue-in-cheek but very real motto among physicians.  An apprenticeship need not be formal.  Find someone who knows more than you do and ask them to teach you.

For those who learn well from books, nearly every resource available to doctors is available to you.  The Internet provides a medical education in itself – just be careful to visit legitimate sites.  YouTube videos are effective tools for learning the basics of many medical procedures.

The Internet is also an excellent starting point to find live training/workshops to expand your medical skills.  I have personally attended Chuck Fenwick’s and Dave Turner’s Operational Medicine Course, and would recommend it to both the layman and allied health professional.  Also, in response to requests from my readers, I offer several live workshops throughout the year as well (see for current learning opportunities), where we cover suturing, splinting, casting, and basic labs, as well as treatment of infection and disease.  For those interested in all aspects of survival training, the July Total Survival Weekend at Stone Garden Farm and Village offers another option, and features one full day of hands-on medical teaching (primarily splinting and casting), one day of outdoor survival skills training with Tom Laskowski of, and one day of homesteading skills learning with farm owners Jim and Laura Fry.

(Click HERE for current training opportunities.)

In future articles I will cover essential skills in detail one at a time, beginning with suturing.

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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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