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What is Traumatology?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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Traumatology is a medical specialty pertaining to the study and treatment of trauma. While this term usually refers to physical trauma, in some regions, it is also used to discuss emotional trauma. Training for specialists in this discipline varies depending on where they practice and what kind of trauma they focus on treating. For physical trauma, traumatology is usually taught to surgeons like dental surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, and general surgeons. Psychological trauma is the provenance of psychology and psychiatry.

Physical trauma can be incurred in seconds and may be highly devastating. Traumatology includes the management of patients on scene, the safe transportation of patients to medical facilities, evaluation of patients prior to surgery, and treatment of patients in surgical suites, postoperative care units, and long term rehabilitation facilities. One challenge with traumatology is that injuries can be diverse and severe and surgeons must be able to identify pressing problems in order to prioritize treatment. For example, a biker could have a very unpleasant-looking open fracture, but an altered level of consciousness indicative of head trauma is of more concern.

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One of the forerunners in the field of trauma surgery is the military. Militaries must be prepared to deal with a wide variety of severe physical trauma in diverse settings ranging from battlefield hospitals to advanced care facilities on home soil. Military surgery is often the most advanced in the world and a number of developments made in military medical facilities have later made their way into the civilian world, from protocols for triage to new medical devices.

Psychological trauma can be the result of a range of experiences, including physical trauma; many people experience psychological problems in the wake of car accidents or injuries acquired in military service. Traumatology focused on psychological issues looks at how such trauma is acquired and how to treat it. Treatments can include medications to stabilize patients along with psychotherapy to help them process and work through experiences of trauma.

One area of psychological traumatology with growing numbers of researchers concerns trauma experienced by care providers. People who work in trauma medicine can experience psychological trauma, especially if they are working under stress as military surgeons often are. Medical practitioners recognize the need for psychological debriefing after mass trauma incidents or other medical situations where people become stressed or emotionally attached and the use of exit interviews to monitor people for signs of psychological complications when completing traumatic cases is increasingly common.

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