First Aid Courses

Basic first aid courses are pretty much the same no matter where in the world the class is presented. The two main goals of the initial care techniques taught in these classes are the same everywhere – to preserve life and to prevent further injury.

To achieve these two goals, first aid courses teach simple ways to quickly assess the medical needs of an injured or ill person. In fact, the method taught is as simple as ABC. Professional emergency responders, even those on the job for many years, rely on the ABCs of first aid every time they evaluate a new patient.

The ABCs of first aid courses stand for airway, breathing, and circulation. These concerns are the very first a first aid rescuer looks for and are the first issues to be addressed if any of them is in jeopardy.

When a person's airway is obstructed, it must be cleared immediately to preserve the life of the patient. Once the airway is cleared, the patient should usually be turned on his or her side, to prevent additional choking problems if stomach contents should be regurgitated. This move prevents further injury and should almost always be done when a person is unconscious as this is a common cause of death to unconscious patients.

While the simplified ABC checklist addresses breathing, some first aid courses expand on this step, advocating 3Bs (breathing, bleeding, and bones) and others emphasize 4Bs (breathing bleeding, brain, and bones).

Circulation problems occur when cardiac arrest causes the heart to stop beating but it can also mean dangerous bleeding. When cardiac arrest is the problem, CPR should be administered. When bleeding is life threatening, as when an artery is severed, the bleeding must be stopped immediately.

In first aid courses, students will be trained to check the ABCs and the 3/4 Bs in sequential order. In most cases, this sequence of checks works beautifully. In some cases, however, the sequence of checks must be adjusted to suit the injuries presented and sometimes two issues must be addressed simultaneously.

For example, great care must be taken when unblocking the airway of a patient who appears likely to have a spinal cord injury. Clearing the airway is vital but turning the patient onto the side, to prevent the possibility of further choking, can have devastating effects on the damaged spinal cord.

A cardiac arrest patient needing assisted respiration and chest compressions is an example of addressing two issues at the same time.

Some organizations teaching first aid courses even take the ABCs a step further, adding a D step to help rescuers remember to check for deadly bleeding or the need for defibrillation.

Using ABCs as memory guides may seem to oversimplify the situation but everyone responds differently to an emergency. The easier it is to remember what to do, the more likely the patient will experience a favorable outcome.

Some emergency medical situations involve more than one patient, too. The challenge of helping as many people as possible until the emergency medical staff arrives can test one's memory and one's resolve. The easier it is to remember the appropriate steps and procedures, the more likely the first aid rescuer will be to achieve those two main goals – preserving life and preventing further injury.