How to Take Your First Aid Skills to the Next Level

I remember the first time I took a first aid course. I had just started taking my daughter (then 3) backpacking in the wilderness, and I was aware of the many things that could go wrong…

Sprained ankles…

Snake bites…

Knife wounds…

Crushing injuries…

The responsible thing to do was take a first aid course so I would know how to respond in these situations.

Even if you don’t go wilderness backpacking, I still believe that everyone should know first aid skills, the time that elapses from when you call 911 to help arriving can be critical. Knowing first aid skills could save your life or the life of a family member or stranger.

My First Experience with a First Aid Course

The first aid course was organized by my local community center. We covered all of the basic first aid skills, such as:

*Note that you can learn all of these first aid skills online. However, there is no substitute for learning first aid skills in person using dummies and the oversight of an instructor.   Reading about CPR is NOT the same as practicing on a dummy!

first aid course
Here is what you can expect to do in a basic first aid course.

But I Soon Realized that Basic First Aid Courses Are Inadequate

In the first aid course I took, each segment would give a series of steps to follow, and then the instructor would say, “Then you call 911.”

My hand shot up.

“Excuse me. But what if you can’t call 911?”

The entire class found this idea absurd.

Them: “What do you mean you couldn’t call 911?”

Me: “Well, I go backpacking in the wilderness a lot. It is my daughter and me completely alone.”

Them: “Then just use your cell phone.”

Me: “Umm…You can’t always get a cell signal in the wilderness! Besides, the nearest forest ranger might be miles away.”

I realized that introductory first aid courses would be severely inadequate. Not only could these people not imagine situations where you couldn’t call for help, but they couldn’t fathom that help might not always be available!

I needed to improve my first aid skills to feel secure and self-reliant. Here’s what I did to take my first aid skills to the next level.

1. Master the Basics

Before you start looking into advanced first aid skills or how to be self-sufficient with first aid, you need to master the basics.

That means taking a first aid course like I did. There are a lot of places where you can find first aid courses. Here are just some suggestions:

  • The Red Cross
  • YMCA
  • Other community centers might offer courses
  • Community colleges often offer courses
  • Your fire department might offer courses
  • Lifeguard training courses
  • Scuba diving centers often have first aid classes
  • Privately-run first aid classes

2. Refresh Your First Aid Skills Regularly

Here’s the thing:

I forgot half of what I learned within two days of taking a first aid course!

“Was it 30 chest compressions and 2 rescue breaths for CPR, or was it 60 compressions and 1 breath?” (It’s the first)

Because of this, I make sure to re-take a first aid course regularly.   There are some other ways to refresh your first aid skills too:

  • St. John of New Zealand has a refresher course (part of which is online). It isn’t free, though.
  • Emergency First Response offers many in-person first aid courses throughout the USA
  • You can buy a first aid guidebook and read it regularly
  • You can take many courses and quizzes at
  • The American Heart Association offers CPR courses (part of which are online)
The Red Cross recommends refreshing your first aid knowledge every 3 months.

3. Practice Mental Preparedness

Your first aid knowledge won’t mean jack if you don’t react properly, so you can put that knowledge to use. Thus, a big part of first aid training is mental preparedness.

As Jacob says in this post about Mental Preparedness Tactics,

“Mental preparedness is a way of getting your mind ready to cope with stresses in a survival situation. Navy Seals, Marines, SWAT teams, and law enforcement go through mental preparedness training so they can handle dangerous situations. However, mental preparedness is also important even in situations which aren’t life-or-death. Athletes use mental preparedness, as do lawyers, managers, and others who successfully work in high-stress situations.”

In short, mental preparedness gives you the cool needed to react quickly and accurately to a situation.

I highly suggest you read Jacob’s article because he gives 4 methods for building mental preparedness, including:

  • Emergency conditioning
  • Arousal control
  • Goal setting
  • Positive thinking
first aid drills
Soldiers regularly run drills to help them with mental preparedness

4. Take Specialized First Aid Courses

Once I mastered basic first aid skills, I started looking into more specialized first aid classes. This was the only way I was going to be able to take my skills to the next level.

Since my main goal was to keep my daughter and myself safe while backpacking, the first specialized first aid course I took was for wilderness survival.

I will list some specialized skills/courses you might want to take to improve your first aid skills. Unfortunately, these may not be available in your area.   I found it worthwhile to travel for some courses – even incorporating them into our family vacation plans.

Wilderness First Aid

Includes skills like snake bites, heatstroke, sprains, crushing injuries, broken bones and fractures, hypothermia treatment, anaphylaxis, lifting, patient carries, infectious wounds

Some courses include:

Lifesaving Sport

I love this organization because they make first aid training so much fun. They come up with all sorts of drills where you get to test your first aid skills. Mainly they cater towards lifeguards, but the skills you practice are practical for many situations. They even organize a competition every two years called the Lifesaving World Championships.

For example, in one drill run by a Canadian Lifesaving Club, you had to find a cell phone hidden on the victim (amongst other tasks to save the victim).

You can find the International Lifesaving Club website here.

EMT Training

Usually, EMT training is thought of something as just for healthcare workers and people who want paid paramedic careers. But EMT training is a great way to take your first aid skills to the next level.

What I love about EMT training is that they really stress mental preparedness. You have to be mentally prepared to act quickly and stabilize the patient.

There are many places to take paid EMT training courses. I’ve listed some free EMT training and more affordable options here.

EMT training
Knowing how to transport a victim safely is an essential first aid skill that you learn in EMT training

Trauma First Aid Courses

Trauma injuries include gunshot wounds, stab wounds, knife injuries, crush injuries, concussions, etc. These injuries don’t happen so often, but they are the ones you better be prepared for!

I recommend focusing on trauma injury training to improve your first aid skills. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to find courses on this. Here are some places you might find a specialized trauma first aid course:

  • Shooting ranges often offer trauma first aid courses with a focus on gunshot wounds
  • Wild Medical offers a Battlefield Medical Response course
  • MirCosta College in Southern California offers Tactical Combat Casualty Care Certification as well as many other specialized courses

5. Become a Rescue Volunteer

Hopefully, you won’t ever actually be called into action. However, with the increasing rate of disasters, your help could be crucial in the aftermath of a hurricane, earthquake, flood, or another disaster.

I also know a lot of good-hearted people who’ve gone abroad to help in rescue missions after disasters.

When you join a volunteer rescue squad, you not only get training and practice on your first aid skills, but you also get to meet a lot of amazing people. These people can be so inspiring and will become lifelong friends.

rescue mission drill

6. Teach Others First Aid Skills

One of the best ways to learn and refresh your skills is to teach them to others. So, if you have instructor certification in a first aid skill, I suggest you teach it to someone else.

Not only will you be improving your skills, but you’ll be helping the community as a whole get better prepared!

How are you improving your first aid skills?

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