The term “medic” can apply to any sort of medical practitioner, but most people use it to refer specifically to a combat medic, a soldier who is also trained to provide medical care. On the battlefield, medics are extremely important, stabilizing patients and providing first aid to ensure that their patients reach field hospitals for more extensive medical care. A medic may also provide general and basic health treatment to his or her unit, and many modern medics are highly trained; in some cases, they are actually fully qualified doctors.
The history of medics in combat is quite old. As long as humans have been making war, they have been injuring each other, and the convention of a team of soldiers tasked with providing medical care has been around for a long time. Historical medics had varying levels of training and accessible tools, sometimes limited to only a few weeks or days of basic first aid training and sometimes much more extensive medical training. All medical personnel recognize the need for quick care in medical treatment, and medics have grown much more sophisticated as a result.
As a general rule, medics are treated as noncombatants, although they may carry side arms or other weapons for self defense. Medics also wear insignia which clearly identify them in battle; most commonly, the insignia is red religious symbol such as a cross or crescent against a white background. Firing on medics is treated as a war crime under the Geneva Convention, and medics are generally treated with respect by soldiers of both sides.
All medics are trained as soldiers so that they are capable of defending themselves and assessing situations. At the most basic level, a medic may be trained like a civilian paramedic, capable of providing immediate medical care to patients in urgent distress. Medics can start intravenous lines, administer medications, and perform other basic medical interventions which are designed to get a patient safe for transport. In a situation where a patient cannot be moved because he or she is trapped by battle activity, the medic remains with the patient to keep him or her stable until evacuation is possible.
Modern warfare has radically changed medics, who make survival of even catastrophic injuries possible thanks to new medical tools and much better training. The Second Gulf War has seen dramatic advances in battlefield medicine, all of which are focused on getting patients stable and sent off for treatment at more advanced facilities. Injuries such as battlefield amputations are commonly survivable, a marked contrast from previous military injuries. Ironically, this increased quality of medical care has placed a heavy burden on military hospitals and health care personnel, by increasing the number of patients requiring treatment. As a result, several militaries have extensive recruitment campaigns aimed at doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel.