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?