10 Important Facts About Army Medical Training

Dustoff Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan.
Dustoff Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The topic of Army medical training may conjure up thoughts of combat medics working amid peril or airlifting the injured to safety.

True, these trained professionals brave war zones, but they also do much more.

Unlike the past, today's Army medical professionals provide an array of services -- ranging from mental health to dentistry -- focused on the overall health of soldiers and their families.

Whether we're referring to combat medics' work on the frontline or Army Reserve physicians at home, working in a military environment demands special training.

So what makes Army medical training different form other health professions?

First, we'll look at whether Army medical training includes the boot-camp basics. Read on to learn more.


Boot Camp

Health Care Specialists, also known as combat medics, endure the 10-week basic combat training program, also called "boot camp." In addition, these soldiers receive 16 weeks of individual medical training, which enables them to provide emergency medical care on the battlefield and in transit to base hospitals [source: U.S. Army].

For medical positions such as Medical Corps officer, however, Army medical training typically doesn't require boot camp [source: U.S. Army].

But before assuming Army Medical Corps officers lack the skills to perform their jobs well abroad, it's important to recognize their responsibilities and other training they receive. Instead of boot camp, these medical professionals attend an Officer Basic Leadership Course, which focuses more on medical leadership and basic Army mentality.

Some join the service for love of country, whereas others enjoy the competitive pay and flexibility of working in the medical sector of the military.

Like other branches of the military, the Army maintains a stable hierarchy, even for its medical practitioners. Find out how this changes training efforts on the next page.


Group Mentality

Army medics at home and abroad not only have to adhere to a strict hierarchy, they also must perform under pressure in fixed units -- both figuratively and literally.

Although their jobs differ greatly, on-site experts still consider themselves as members of larger groups. And like other soldiers, they too work within the orders of their superiors. Medical training, in this respect, requires staff to work alongside or under others rather than make the rules themselves. This is why Army medical work differs from physicians in charge of individual practices.

At this time, the Army maintains nine medical centers and several clinics in the United States, Europe and Japan. Medical services are managed under five specific "commands" [source: U.S. Army Medical Department].

On the other hand, Army medical training requires people to perform as a group in the literal sense. Army medics often hone and practice their skills on the go and work proficiently in portable labs and clinics to overcome logistical challenges, such as lack of space or traditional medical equipment.

One could guess this adversity contributes to the specialization of Army medical training today, in which positions are compartmentalized and individuals have specifics tasks rather than one person doing the bulk of the work.

Another important fact about Army medical training focuses on previous experience. Read on to find out more about the requirements.


Prior Experience

Who is eligible to receive Army medical training?

The answer to this question depends largely on the position you're considering. Most physician appointments, for instance, require recruits to obtain a doctorate in their specific field from an accredited institution as well as a license from one U.S. state beforehand. This may also include receiving a degree from an independent or joint medical program between the U.S. Army and academic institutions.

There are, however, many training opportunities for people without doctorates. Many vital positions, including combat medics and operating room specialists, require basic training and weeks of individual training. Other specialties -- such as serving as a physician assistant or dietician -- require a degree in a specific field and civilian certification [source: U.S. Army].

Medical professionals usually enter Army training by enlisting in an active position or as a member of the Army Reserve, in which soldiers serve part-time and may be called to active duty when necessary [source: U.S. Army]. Some even maintain private practices while serving in the reserves.


Working Midair

Along with other branches of the military, the Army has specialists dedicated to serve soldiers in flight.

Flight surgeons must know how to do their jobs while airborne [source: Department of the Army]. Usually, these experts have a specialty or knowledge of aerospace medicine, or a branch of medicine focusing on how atmospheric factors affect human health [source: Aerospace Medical Association].

These pros usually conduct routine check-ups for pilots and crews, occasionally riding alongside patients midair. When needed, they provide treatment to ill or wounded soldiers onboard a plane or helicopter. Because of the nature of the profession, flight surgeons receive special training and must be physically fit.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army began to depend on helicopters to transport sick and wounded soldiers. Because of the deafening sound of these airborne machines, combat and flight medics had to act quickly to avoid further injury from the enemy [source: U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine]. In addition, these medics were trained to perform their jobs amid helicopter noises and vibrations, an environment that makes monitoring patients' vital signs difficult and inserting intravenous catheters a challenge [source: Koyle].

Head over to the next page to read about Army medics and self-defense.



Medical staff members stationed with Army units are equipped to defend themselves and their patients when under attack. Combat medics may carry a firearm such as a basic rifle or pistol for self-defense, not for assaulting others [source: Coltharp].

According to rules put forth by the Geneva Conventions, Army combat medics are considered to be noncombatants, and are supposed to be protected from attacks [source: International Humanitarian Law]. But in situations where opposing forces attack Army medics, they may act in self-defense. Unlike military medics in earlier conflicts, such as the Civil War and World War I, medics no longer bear a red cross symbol on their uniforms -- namely because opposing forces would target them, ignoring humanitarian rules [source: Coltharp].

In addition, combat medics, doctors and physician assistants receive training to protect themselves and their patients from chemical and biological weaponry through the use of masks, special clothing and other protective equipment [source: Takafuji and Kok]. These medical professionals must also be trained to understand when to advise others to use protective equipment, as well as knowing what the acute and chronic signs of exposure to chemical and nuclear weapons look like.

Up next: Performing medicine abroad poses many dangers, but what about ones not created by the enemy?


Diseases and Working Conditions

With soldiers stationed across the globe, doctors and health specialists are equipped to understand foreign diseases and possibly dangerous environmental conditions.

For instance, Army medical professionals receive education and training in how to lessen exposure to infectious diseases such as avian influenza and malaria for soldiers abroad. Most of this prevention occurs before leaving the United States, though. Medical staff also must know the ins and outs of keeping patients healthy in freezing temperatures, scorching heat and at high altitudes [source: U.S. Army Medical Department].

Like civilian medical professionals, Army medical teams are trained to treat traumatic brain injuries as well as more troublesome strains of staph bacteria that can cause infections in patients.

Learn more about ways in which modern Army medical training adopts a high-tech spin on the following page.


Training With Technology

Modern Army medical training embraces technology.

Beginning in the 1990s, programs sought to provide training through Internet programs [source: Koyle]. This approach not only allows Army medical staff to pursue training at their own convenience, it standardizes the ways in which principles and techniques are presented.

Technology also allows students and soldiers to practice what they learn firsthand. Today, instructors use eerily realistic mannequins and dummies to simulate injuries for students to practice on. Many of these computerized models bleed (fake blood, of course) and respond to appropriate treatment.

On the battlefield, advances in technology have also led to better treatment for the sick and wounded. Many of these developments coincide with those of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in the civilian world.

Medical assistance isn't only for the front lines. Read on to learn about other Army medical services.


Broad Medical Services

Combat medics' support for soldiers abroad is not the only medical service provided by the Army. Many specialists also provide treatments to off-duty soldiers as well as their families.

Despite training emphasizing combat medicine, more focus was placed on disease and wellness in the second half of the 20th century. Today, treatments range from psychiatric care to dentistry. Clinics in the United States and around the world also provide care to soldiers' families, too.

In the past decade, mental health has become a primary concern for Army medical experts, as programs have trained medical professionals to identify signs psychological issues. The Army has also recruited psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers in greater numbers to treat conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder people may experience after a traumatic event.

Despite its historical roots, Army medical training is constantly changing -- read more on the next page.


Continual Change

Similar to fields in modern medicine, training for Army personnel evolves all the time. From World War II to the present, medical training has received multiple overhauls.

Today, methods of adult education allow more hands-on learning and practicing skills directly tied to a given job rather than solely taking written exams.

Army medical training has also evolved closely with EMT training, with both fields setting the bar. In the '50s and '60s, the Army was ahead of the curve for trauma care. But in recent years, civilian medical providers are leading the way [source: Koyle].

And similar to other forms of modern medicine, Army staff takes more preventive approaches in helping patients. This may include more health screening, a greater focus on well-being and diet, and more attention given to mental health disorders.

Last but not least, Army medical training requires knowledge of treating common combat injuries. Check out which skills medics need on the next page.


Battle Injuries

Combat medic training focuses on techniques to stop bleeding from injuries, apply splints and tourniquets, bandage wounds, start an intravenous line and evacuate soldiers in the event of an emergency [sources: Koyle; Coltharp].

Combat medics must also be trained to understand field sanitation and the most efficient ways of transporting the wounded to facilities with more resources and experts.

Knowledge of trauma, shrapnel and bullet injuries is also necessary, especially considering the short amount of time medics have to stabilize a patient or stop bleeding.

Army medics must receive training to assess patients' conditions within a framework called triage. This usually consists of medical staff surveying and examining injuries among a group of patients and prioritizing which ones should receive medical care first.

Interested in learning more about Army medical training? Check out the resources on the following page.


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