First Aid: From Witchdoctors & Religious Knights to Modern Doctors

Medical Author: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD.
Medical Editor: Dennis Lee, MD

Stop ten people in the street and ask them, "What is first aid?" Their responses might range from "It's putting on a Band-Aid" or "It's giving CPR" or "It's calling 911." All of these answers would be appropriate because first aid encompasses the entire gamut of help and medical assistance that someone gives -- not only to an injured person -- but to a person who is sick.

First aid applies to a broad range of medical situations. First aid is not just a set of skills. It also involves the ability to determine the appropriate response to a specific illness or injury. In some cases, the appropriate first aid measure is enough in and of itself -- for example, putting a Band-Aid on a cut or ice on a superficial burn. This type of first aid can be described as self-sufficient.

There is also a broad category in which first aid literally means providing the "first" aid -- initiating a procedure such as CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or defibrillation for a heart attack -- which will then taken over by medical professionals as soon as they become available. This is classic first aid.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2014