A Vision for the Evolution of “First Aid”

In the 1870’s Dr Peter Shepherd got serious about teaching civilians real medical skills.  He was a British military surgeon who had seen action in South Africa.  He recognised that to make a difference in low resource places you need to use whoever you have around you.  

The medical profession was not keen on the idea at all.  They felt that lay people could not safely be taught medical skills and that these should be reserved for doctors only.  But Dr Shepherd won his struggle and taught the first ever public first ad course in a hall in England in 1878.

How far have we come since?

Dr Shepherd wrote a manual – we still do that today.  He taught people in a “classroom” – we do that today.

What else do we do to prepare the layperson today?

Actually not much and mostly not mainstream.  We do have some improvements in simulation, moulage to mock-up wounds for example, but outside of specialist settings, like intense training in the military, these simulation techniques are not widely used – and not used well.  

We do have plastic “Resusci-Annie” dolls to practice on, but these are notably for CPR use.  An enormous amount of effort has gone into CPR since the mid 20th century – a pursuit we have grave doubts about because it simply hasn’t made a difference in outcome statistics.  What’s more, CPR is useless in the wilderness, where medical evacuation times are many hours.

It’s time we really took stock and re-evaluated what we are doing. 

Some skills are highly accessible to the non-medical layperson, some are not so easy.  We know a lot now that we didn’t know in the 19th century.  We understand how humans learn and improve their performance.  We also have information technology unimaginable in 1878.  We have communications technology straight out of Star Trek. 

The question is – how are we using it?

We believe that First Aid is not a destination.  We believe that it was the first step in a journey – a journey to diffuse medical knowledge and skills from its epicentre in the medical profession, out to all people everywhere in the world, wherever it is needed.  Democratising medicine as a “life-skill.”  

That’s a vision we can get behind.

It’s time to start thinking about First Aid 2.0, which in our minds means coining a new term.  First Aid should no longer be hand-holding and some comfy padding whilst we wait for the ambulance.  It may at times not be “First” aid at all – it might be the “only” aid needed or available.  It’s just medical. 

We believe that we need to embrace the challenge to get very good at helping laypeople get very good.

In the world’s Protected Areas we have nobody there other than Rangers and tourism professionals.  We either use non-medical people or we throw up our hands and say we can’t do anything.  

We aren’t prepared to do that.

So we figured out how to train people using today’s tools.

We believe we understand what Dr Shepherd envisioned 140 years ago.

We believe he would approve.