CPR 4 U (& me!)

Students breathe new life into CPR training, benefiting the School of Medicine and its neighbors


Through the instructor training, the students learn teaching skills.

IT TAKES JUST 4 MINUTES for the brain to begin to deteriorate when someone stops breathing.

During cardiac arrest, a person’s chances of recovery decline by 10 percent every minute that emergency care is delayed. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation saves lives. With proper training, CPR is easy to learn and use, and it can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation. In a new community outreach program, students at the School of Medicine have joined forces with the American Red Cross to learn CPR and then pass that knowledge on.

First-year students banded together in 1999 to form Community CPR, a student-run program that offers CPR training to medical students and staff of the Medical Center and to residents of the neighboring community.

Such an endeavor calls for cooperation from many sources–the university, students, community organizations and the American Red Cross. But it wasn’t difficult to convince these partners to combine their efforts. All agree—you can’t say “no” to Adit Ginde, second-year student and founder of Community CPR.

Second-year student Adit Ginde, right, founder of the Community CPR program, and Yoon Kang, MD, faculty adviser for the group.

“If you met Adit and saw the enthusiasm that radiates from him, you would know why I had not a moment’s hesitation about backing the program,” recalls Leslie E. Kahl, MD, associate dean of student affairs and associate professor of medicine.

Ginde, a well-trained veteran of CPR instruction from his undergraduate years at Rice University and his experience as an ambulance volunteer in Houston, impressed everyone with his plan.

In fact, when Ginde sent out a “feeler” e-mail to his new classmates, he was dubious that any would be willing to relinquish some of their scarce free time. To his surprise, 25 students volunteered to make a two-year commitment to the program. Ginde reluctantly surrendered to the limits of his training budget, selecting just 10 of the volunteers to form the core group.

Less than a month after walking into Kahl’s office, Ginde and his chosen 10 purchased their own equipment, received instructor training from the American Red Cross, and were on their way to teaching others in both the St. Louis and Washington University communities.

The American Red Cross in St. Louis certifies about 39,000 people each year in CPR and/or first aid. And yet, according to Ginde, less than 5 percent of people in large cities who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive. This low survival rate is partly attributable to a lack of available and accessible training for those who would like to learn these life-saving skills, but cannot afford the cost of standard training.

Though the Red Cross strives to reach all community sectors, Ed Carty, community education specialist for the group’s St. Louis area chapter, admits that some populations are simply difficult to target. When Washington University medical students approached him with their plan, he quickly realized that a partnership would be an ideal chance to further the American Red Cross mission.

“When Adit came along with his program that focused on underserved parts of the community, we thought it was an excellent opportunity to fulfill our national goals and obligations and to help support his endeavors,” says Carty.

The American Red Cross has been dedicated to teaching CPR and first aid for 83 years. Through the Community CPR program, it has gained some highly qualified and committed volunteer instructors.

Though already convinced of the impressive caliber of students here, Yoon Kang, MD, instructor of medicine and the faculty adviser for the group, says she has been amazed at the efforts of these aspiring young clinicians.

“Among the many rewards that students receive from participating in this program, two in particular stand out in my mind,” says Kang. “First, there is the sense of community spirit and giving directly to the community which is inherent in the field of medicine but is difficult to convey as part of formal course work. Second, through the instructor training, the students learn teaching skills. Many are naturally gifted teachers, and I am curious to see if this will be borne out later in their careers.”

Assuming a leadership role—in the Washington University community and outside the medical setting—is a huge confidence boost for students just starting out in what can be an intimidating medical environment.

“Physicians have a responsibility to both promote health and cure diseases,” explains first-year student Ian Hagemann, part of this year’s newly trained group of volunteer CPR instructors. “When you’re in your first year, you can’t cure diseases yet. So it’s nice to know that we can begin to fulfill our duty to promote health. It’s empowering to feel that you could save someone, and even more so to help someone else feel that way.”

John Pachak, director of Midtown Catholic Community Services, thinks the students provide just that feeling for the people he serves. “The CPR training not only helps improve skills for both our staff and our participants—it also improves their self esteem,” he says.

Most importantly, working with neighborhood residents and institutions promotes a connection between them and the medical presence in their backyard.

“These are the people who will be part of our patient population at Barnes-Jewish Hospital,” Ginde says. “It makes a big difference to them to see us out there caring in the community right next door to us. And it is a way for students to get our feet wet and relate to different populations of people that we might not have had contact with before.”

The students are now in high demand. Beyond their work in the community, they taught at the “Mini Medical School” held last year, and have held several classes in-house to train School of Medicine administrative staff. Eventually, the group hopes to offer classes to the entire medical community. Already, the program has inspired similar efforts—Carty and his colleagues are now developing a program on the Hilltop Campus.

For more information about the Community CPR program or to arrange a course, contact Adit Ginde at gindea@msnotes.wustl.edu.