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REVIEW: Medicine for the Outdoors

April 17, 2010

NB: I received a free copy of this book in order to review it.


Title: Medicine for the Outdoors: The Essential Guide to First Aid and Medical Emergencies (5th Edition), by Paul S. Auerbach, MD
Publisher: Mosby /Elsevier www.elsevierhealth.com
Cost: $24.95 USD            Availability: Amazon $ 16.47 US

Best for: Laymen and healthcare workers heading into the great outdoors. I suggest reading subsections relevant to the environment you will be visiting is most helpful, then, carry the guide as a field reference when you need to fill in the gaps


A long overdue review! You would think I was lost in the wilderness, based on the amount of time it took me to get to this book which was released in its 5th edition in June 2009. But, I’m glad I finally did! Medicine for the Outdoors: The Essential Guide to First Aid and Medical Emergencies is not a pocket guide. This 562 page tome of knowledge covers topics ranging from building a superb first aid kit to dealing with an animal attack to how to safely approach a helicopter when air-evacuating a patient.

Author Dr. Paul Auerbach, past-president of the Wilderness Medical Society, is regarded by many as the top authority in the field. His blog, Medicine for the Outdoors, offers more tidbits and stories of true adventure medicine for the keen among you. It’s clear that considerable experience went into formulating the guide. Divided into five main sections, it covers some General Information, Major Medical Problems, Minor Medical Problems, Disorders Relating to Specific Environments, and Miscellaneous Information.

The introductory section stresses preparedness, safety, and per the Outdoor Adventurer’s Pledge, not doing anything stupid! A review of CPR is no substitute for a practical course, but it’s a good place to start. Critical presentations, such as chest pain, fractures, and infectious disease are explored in detail. In the Major Medical Problems section, differential considerations and practical approaches to treatment (often in numbered, step-by-step fashion) empower the reader to safely and properly do something quick, reasonable, and probably life saving.

Throughout the book, black-and-white sketches enhance the text. Poisonous mushrooms, instructions for making a stretcher with ski poles and a mummy sleeping bag, and how to drain a periodontal abscess with a swiss-army knife are just a few of the gems illustrated. Hiccoughs, hemorrhoids, and flatus all star in the Minor Medical Problems section. Again, helpful illustrations aid understanding while the text gives a smooth overview of the topic and clear guidance for treatment. The writing leaves little difficulty in the interpretation – for example, in the middle of a 4.5 page section on blisters,

Any blister with murky fluid, that is draining pus, or that is associated with warm, red skin or red streaking toward the heart may be infected. If the blister appears to be infected, it should be unroofed entirely, an appropriate dressing applied, and the victim treated with dicloxacillin, erythromycin, or cephalexin for 5 days or until the skin appears normal . . .

That’s pretty clear (not murky!) for me, and I reckon pretty clear for anyone else reading it. Combined with careful descriptions like this, there are numbered steps for treatment and caveats for special circumstances, i.e. don’t give up on the ‘dead’ appearing individual who experienced cold-water drowning (my paraphrasing – Dr. Auerbach isn’t that cheeky.)

In the fourth part, unique environmental hazards are covered; find yourself in a wild fire? too high in the Himalayas? treating someone struck by lightning? You’ll have the awareness to proceed with confidence. A book of this size only works because of a comprehensive glossary and index, appendices including knot-tying and quick drug lists – and it works well.

Medicine for the Outdoors is a comprehensive guide, best explored before arriving at the destination, and tucked carefully in a ziplock and kept close-at-hand while there. The back cover has had to employ a microscopic font, in order to display the numerous glowing reviews from major players in wilderness medicine. This, and the fact that it’s in its fifth edition, are testament to its utility and clarity.

Buy it and keep it. It’ll be in my backpack when I return to Nepal this fall, and ready again for my winter rural elective. This is the probably the only book you’ll need on the subject. And you won’t be using any of its pages as fire starters, T.P., or silly-origami-hat-making material.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. pat permalink
    June 20, 2011 10:29 am

    Hey thanks for this review! I came across it while I was googling for this book. I don’t suppose you might know the answer to this question, but I’ll be a third year med student but I’m interested in getting this book. But do you think it’d be better for us to get Dr. Auerbach’s other book Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine? Or do you think this book is pretty sufficient? Thanks in advance!

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