Becoming A Medical Asset, Part 2

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In Part 1, we discussed the importance of the medically responsible member of a family or survival group to put together a “status assessment”.  In this assessment, the prospective medic must ask themselves certain important questions (and answer them honestly).  We considered some of these factors last time.  If you missed the article, find the link below:

Here are a few more important considerations:

How Long Do You Expect To Be The Sole Medical Resource?

Some catastrophes, such as major damage from tornadoes or hurricanes, may limit access to medical care for a relatively short period of time.  A societal breakdown, however, could mean that there is no availability of advanced medical care for the foreseeable future.  What do you expect to be the event that tips society over the brink?  If you’re only concerned with the rogue storm, your medical supplies can be relatively basic.

The longer you will be the healthcare resource for your group, however, the more varied the supplies you will have to stockpile.  If the catastrophe means a few days to weeks without medical care, you probably can get away without, for example, equipment to extract a diseased tooth.  If it’s a true long-term collapse, however, that type of equipment will become quite important.


Spend some time thinking about all the possible medical issues you might face as the end of the line caregiver for your family. Prepare a plan of action to handle each one. Remember to plan for issues that may occur further down the road, such as birth control issues for a daughter who has not yet reached puberty. Remember that some way to prevent pregnancy, at least in the early going, is a very important aspect of being medically prepared.  You’ll need everyone at 100% efficiency in a survival setting; ask someone who has been pregnant, and you’ll find that they were anything but 100%!

How Do You Obtain The Information You Will Need To Be An Effective Healthcare Provider?

A good library of medical, dental, survival and nutritional books will give you the tools to be an effective medic. Even if you were already a doctor, let’s say a general practitioner, you would need various references to learn how to perform surgical procedures that you ordinarily would send to the local surgeon.  If you’re a surgeon, you would need references to refresh your knowledge of the treatment of diabetes. Even the most resourceful homesteader or educated medical school professor can’t know everything!

Luckily, medical reference books are widely available, with tens of thousands on sale at online auction sites like EBay or retail sites like on any given day.  Often, they are deeply discounted.  If money is tight, many libraries have a medical section and many local colleges have their own medical library.

Don’t ignore online sources of information.  Take advantage of websites with quality medical information; there are thousands of them.  By printing out information you believe will be helpful to your specific situation, you will have a unique store of knowledge that fits your particular needs.  I recommend printing this information out because you never know; one day, the internet may not be as accessible as it is today.

The viral video phenomenon, at sites like YouTube, has thousands of medically oriented films on just about every topic. They range from suturing wounds to setting a fractured bone to extracting a damaged tooth. You will have the benefit of seeing things done in real time. To me, this is always better than just looking at pictures.  Here’s my classic video on learning to suture:

An effective homestead medic is going to have to know not only conventional healing, but the various alternative remedies available.  Remember that, one day, the pharmaceuticals will run out and only those with a medicinal garden will have “medical” supplies.  Get your hands a little dirty and start growing some medicinal herbs.  Some grow like weeds anywhere and others require tender loving care.  Learn their uses and how to process them (making them into teas is easiest).

The number of medical resources, conventional and alternative, is almost endless; take advantage of them. I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching video and print resources on both conventional medicine and alternative remedies.  I published an extensive list in the second edition of “The Survival Medicine Handbook”. Review them and consider adding them (and, forgive the shameless plug,  maybe our book) to your library.

How Do You Obtain Medical Training?

There are various ways to get practical training.  Almost every municipality gives you access to various courses or other opportunities that would help you function as an effective healthcare provider.

EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) Basic: This is the standard for providing emergency care. The courses are set out by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and are offered by many community colleges.  The course length is usually several hundred hours.

I know that this represents a significant commitment of time and effort, but it is the complete package short of going to medical or nursing school for four years.   You will receive an overview of anatomy and physiology, and an introduction to the basics of looking after sick or injured patients.

These programs are based around delivering the patient to a hospital as an end result. As medical facilities may not be accessible in the aftermath of a disaster, these classes may not be perfect for a long-term survival situation; nevertheless. You will still learn a lot of useful information and I highly recommend them.

It should be noted that there are different levels of Emergency Medical Technician.  EMT-Basic is the primary course of study, but you can continue your studies and become a Paramedic.   Paramedics are taught more advanced procedures, such as placing airways, using defibrillators, and placing intravenous lines.  In remote areas, they might even take on the roles of physicians and nurses to give injections, place casts or stitch up wounds.  These skills, and knowing when to use them, are highly pertinent during a disaster.

Most of us will not have the time and resources to commit to such an intensive course of training. For most of us, a Red Cross First Responder or CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) course is the ticket.  These programs cover a lot of the same subjects (albeit in much less detail) and would certainly represent a good start on your way to getting trained. The usual course length is 40-80 hours.  A number of community outreach groups also offer the course.

Of course, the American Heart Association and others provide standard CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) courses and everyone should take these, whether or not they will have medical responsibility in times of trouble.   You may not be able to do much about a cardiac arrest in a grid-down scenario, but you can successfully resolve an obstructed airway with training.

There are a number of “specialty” courses provided by private enterprises which might be helpful. Wilderness EMT/Tactical EMT courses are programs meant to teach medical care in a potentially hostile environment. Sometimes, they have a prerequisite of at least EMT-Basic.

There are many wilderness “schools” out there, however, that will offer some practical training to non-medical professionals that might be useful in difficult times.  It pays to research the schools that provide this training, as the quality of the learning experience probably varies.

All of the above education may be somewhat less than optimal, as I suggested earlier, to someone preparing to be medically responsible in a long-term survival setting.  The goal of every type of medical training above is to stabilize the sick or injured individual and transport them as soon as possible to the next highest medical resource.  Of course there are no higher medical resources in a TRUE long-term survival setting. You have to be ready to be the end of the line if you have nowhere else to turn to.

Desensitizing yourself to the sight of the ill and injured is a good first start.  Volunteer programs at a local emergency room are a great way to get over that initial paralysis of seeing an arm or leg out of joint or learning how to handle someone with a possibly infectious disease.  If you’re very lucky, your municipality will allow you to ride along with paramedics during their shifts.   You won’t get to do much, but you will become more accustomed to the idea of seeing wounds.

As you take some of the above courses, be sure to absorb the strategies taught for normal times.  In the back of your mind, however, formulate an alternative strategy for each medical issue as if the buck stopped with you.  In these uncertain times,  one day you just might be the highest medical asset left.

Joe Alton, M.D. aka Dr. Bones, the Disaster Doctor


Are you ready to deal with medical issues in times of trouble?  When modern medical help is not on the way, can you handle injuries and illness?  With a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook“, you’ll get a head start on keeping your family healthy in these uncertain times.

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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