What Medical Skills are Most Essential for Survival?

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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.

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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. The author continues to practice medicine in Akron, Ohio where she resides with her family and beloved golden-doodles. She is the author of 101 Ways to Save Money on Health Care: Tips to Help You Spend Smart and Stay Healthy.