How do you make a positive difference in a real life, high pressure First Aid situation?

performing first aid under pressure
Book recommendation – Peak Performance Under Pressure

There’s no doubt that everyone should learn life saving skills — but they need maintaining too. And we need to be prepared if we are to have the most positive impact we can on our casualties. We can give ourselves the best chance of performing first aid under pressure (and performing well) by gaining knowledge and learning life saving skills which have been proven to work in the real world.

But dealing with real casualties during real incidents can still put us under a lot of pressure – so what can we do?  

Thankfully there are tools and techniques we can utilise, to give ourselves (and the person we’re trying to help) the best possible chance. 

  • Checklists – can be really useful to make sure nothing is missed and things are done in the right order. We provide checklists of some description on all of our courses to use in real situations. They can also be useful to refer to during rehearsals and when we’re periodically refreshing our knowledge.
  • Cognitive Reframing – humans are emotional, and emotional responses happen fast. Cognitive reframing is essentially a method to reassess a situation with the aim of achieving an accurate and more rational judgement of what is actually going on. Take a few moments before getting involved (potentially whilst putting your gloves on), to mentally rehearse what to do next.
  • Controlled Breathing – this can be used to try and control our ‘fight or flight’ response, reduce our heart rate and anxiety levels. Inhale for two seconds, hold your breath for two seconds, exhale for two and hold your breath for two seconds. This reduces stress and anxiety levels, leading to better performance.
  • Mental Rehearsal – remember the Primary Survey – DR<C>ABC(DE)? Go through it in your head – or even say out loud – to remind yourself of the steps you’re about to take. You can also mentally rehearse wherever you are at any time. Mental rehearsals are good — but actually rehearsing practical skills regularly is also a great idea.
  • Shared Mental Model – often we’ll be surrounded by other people when we’re trying to help others. Ensuring that everyone is aware of what is going on, the challenges faced and the actions required ensures everyone can be effective in achieving the same goal. Good, concise communication is key, ensuring that we check each other’s understanding.

Reference: “Peak Performance Under Pressure: Lessons from a Helicopter Rescue Doctor” by Dr Stephen Hearns.

For further information, check out the author’s website ‘Core Cognition” for resources and online learning too:

We say it at the end of every course, but everyone who puts themselves forward to learn First Aid to help others, deserves support. This is especially important when someone has had to deal with a stressful real life situation. Reach out for support if you need it and remember to reach out to other people involved if you feel able to support them too.

The importance of a quality debrief can’t be underestimated. Talk through what happened with someone you trust. We’re not trained counsellors, but we’re always happy to talk through real life situations to help someone process a situation and also identify any learning points. We’ve done this very recently with customers who had to deal with a cardiac arrest.

If you’ve read the book, let us know what you think! If you have any other suggestions – let us know!

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