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Combat Fatigue and the Psychology of Stress

In addition to their medical duties, field medics receive combat training to help their units in the field fight enemy forces. Unlike a purely combat soldier, though, the medic's duties don't end there. Exposure to both direct combat as well as its effects in the medical facilities day after day affects most people in a very fundamental way, causing them to react defensively. When things become overwhelming, it's human nature to turn off that part of your psychology that produces compassion and empathy, two of the most critical aspects of being an effective medic.

Added to that is the fact that Army medical personnel are often deployed without a permanent unit, so they lack the natural bonding and psychological support that goes with it [source: Schoomaker]. Having access to a solid support network to enable frontline medics to cope with this challenge is what makes the difference between a medical team capable of amazing resilience and one on the edge of burnout.

For centuries, the standard approach to meeting the field medic's challenges were more or less the same, and more patients died than needed to. In 1996, a workshop dealing with Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) produced a paper that changed a lot [source: Butler]. Working from that new beginning, the tools Army field medics have at their disposal are getting better and better. The challenges they face won't get any easier, but through improved tools, techniques and psychological care, they can approach their task better prepared than ever before.

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