By Julia Konow
Worcester State University nursing students have been taking their medical knowledge and skills outside of the classroom and into the community in an effort to raise awareness and save lives.
Students have been participating in the hands-only CPR competition throughout the school year, a challenge founded by the American Heart Association where local nursing students compete to determine who can teach the most students, community members, faculty, and staff about hands-only CPR. This challenge, which is locally sponsored by UMass Memorial Medical Center and Medstar Ambulance, propels all interested universities and colleges with nursing departments within the city of Worcester to train as many people as possible the practice of hands-only CPR.
Worcester State University has participated since the 2016-2017 academic year and the competition spans from roughly Sept. to March each year. Whichever college receives the most signatures from hands-only CPR participants wins the competition as well as a trophy.
“The hands only CPR is a competition between nursing programs in the Worcester area to see who can raise the most awareness about the benefits of learning hands-only CPR,” said Stephen Healy, a 19-year-old sophomore studying nursing at Worcester State University. “Hands only CPR is CPR with only compressions and no breaths are involved. This is an easier way to teach and it avoids the awkwardness or uncomfortableness of doing breaths.”
CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is defined by the American Heart Association as an emergency lifesaving procedure that is used when a person’s heart stops beating. CPR keeps the blood flow active, extending the opportunity for a successful resuscitation when trained medical staff arrive.
Due to the importance of knowing CPR, Worcester State University nursing students teach community members about hands-only CPR throughout the school year at a variety of locations, including blood pressure screenings, classrooms, local public schools, on-campus gymnastic meets, Student Nurses’ Association sponsored events, Worcester 78’s basketball games in the Wellness Center, and more. These types of events are chosen because they provide access to the public. Besides community members, these events are also open to fellow nursing students, staff, faculty, and any interested people.
“Each college is given hands-only CPR dummies and signature sheets,” said Liang Dzindolet, a junior studying nursing and working as a secretary of the Student Nurses’ Association at Worcester State University. “The school with the most signatures wins, and the winning school receives a trophy.”
In the Worcester State Wellness Center, attendees of numerous Worcester 78’s basketball games this year could find a group of nursing students at a table outside the gymnasium. Dummies were set up on the table along with information about hands-only CPR and a signature sheet. Community members approached this table, where nursing students explained hands-only CPR and demonstrated it before allowing people to practice compressions on the dummies. Young children, teenagers, and adults of all ages visited the CPR table to learn about the life-saving practice.
“The hands-only CPR initiative is one that educates community members on how giving simple chest compressions is effective enough to potentially save an individual’s life,” said Kara Balboni, a 21-year-old student studying nursing and president of the Student Nurses’ Association at Worcester State. “Many people may hesitate at the chance to attempt CPR if they believe they have to administer mouth breaths to a stranger or simply lack confidence in the steps to properly do CPR. It is our hope that educating the public on both of these matters may increase the likelihood that an individual steps up in an emergent situation and can save a life.”
The American Heart Association reveals that cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the world. Each year, about 475,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is defined by the AHA as an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat that disrupts the blood flow to the brain, lungs, and other organs. Cardiac arrest claims more lives globally than breast cancer, prostate cancer, auto accidents, firearms, colorectal cancer, influenza, house fires, and pneumonia combined. Roughly 90 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside of the hospital die, and about 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in homes. Nearly 10,000 cardiac arrests occur in United States workplaces each year. Immediate CPR has the ability to double or triple a person’s chances of survival following cardiac arrest.
“Absolutely everyone should know CPR, even middle schoolers or high schoolers,” said Paula Bylaska-Davies, an associate professor of nursing who has worked at WSU for 13 cumulative years. “Everyone should know CPR because, as a first responder, you can really save a life by knowing compressions and doing them until professional first responders, like EMS, arrive.”
A 2014 study by the AHA revealed that about 45 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims survived due to a bystander administering CPR. Globally, over 22 million people are educated by the AHA in first aid, CPR, and automated external defibrillator training. Hands-only CPR differs from traditional CPR practices. With traditional CPR, the practice involves chest compressions and breaths, which provides additional oxygen to circulate the body.
In contrast, hands-only CPR involves pushing hard on the center of the chest of the person in cardiac arrest 100 to 120 times per minute for the first few minutes that someone is experiencing cardiac arrest in order to push the remaining oxygen through the body until a medical professional can arrive. The Harvard Health Letter also explains how hands-only CPR is easier to practice than normal CPR. Due to its simplicity compared to traditional CPR practices, Worcester State nursing students teach hands-only CPR to community members.
“Most people who don’t receive immediate CPR after suffering a heart attack don’t make it,” said Healy. “By using hands only, we increase the probability that a passerby will be able to give effective CPR. Also, by teaching hands-only, we increase the probability that a passerby will be willing to give CPR. Hands-only CPR is just the compression of CPR and, compared to regular CPR, hands-only is easier to learn and to do.”
The AHA also revealed that music has the ability to save lives when it comes to CPR. If a person suddenly collapses, the bystander performing hands-only CPR before the emergency medical professionals arrive may more easily remember the correct rate of compressions when thinking of the beat of a familiar song. Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line,” the Bee Gees’s “Stayin’ Alive,” and Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” are all songs that can help people to perform CPR more successfully because the beat of the songs corresponds with the correct hands-only CPR rate of 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute.
“Every year, UMass Memorial Medical Center celebrates Heart Month with a theme and this year we chose hands-only CPR,” said Debora Spano, a media and public relations manager at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “We have an active social media presence so we thought that we would kick off the campaign this year with a challenge to involve multiple departments. We launched, with our Information Services division, a performance of lip sync for “Stayin’ Alive” because the beat of the song matches the rate of compressions recommended for CPR.”
This initiative of promoting effective and practical CPR methods in communities is a priority to many healthcare workers, as well as to local nursing students. Nursing students at Worcester State are required to get certified in basic life saving CPR training prior to their sophomore year in the program, which also allows them to be qualified to teach CPR training to non-nursing students for the hands-only CPR competition.
“The goal of the competition is to spread awareness of hands-only CPR,” said Dzindolet. “Most cardiac events happen around untrained bystanders and a lot of people die because no one knows what to do. A lot of people don’t know CPR or don’t want to do the mouth-to-mouth breaths with a stranger. Hands-only CPR can still save lives even without the mouth-to-mouth because it still circulates the blood through the body.”
Hands-only CPR is to be used on adults and teens, while traditional CPR is for anyone, including adults, teens, children, and infants, who are experiencing cardiac arrest, a drug overdose, drowning, or breathing problems that lead to collapse. Because heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States of America, organizations like the AHA strive to educate the community on CPR practices, which Worcester State nursing students have supported.
“It’s important that WSU nursing students are involved in community outreach because it allows us to spread helpful knowledge and training that people might not have access to otherwise,” said Healy. “I enjoy getting out in the community and teaching others skills that are helpful to have and that could potentially save a life.”
In 2017, the AHA’s Central Massachusetts division named Worcester State University as the winner of the second annual CPR Challenge. The eight participating colleges and universities trained around 2,000 faculty, staff, students, and community members within the duration of the school year. Worcester State University nursing students hope to win the challenge once again this year, even though winning is not the primary objective in many of the nursing students’ perspectives.
“As nice as winning a trophy is, our main goal is to spread education in the community about hands-only CPR,” said Balboni. “Going forward, WSU Student Nurses’ Association looks to continue our participation in the competition and come up with even more events to teach hands-only CPR at.”
While the participation in Student Nurses’ Association events, like the hands-only CPR competition, are not mandatory for Worcester State nursing students, it is highly encouraged in order to promote community outreach. The Worcester State University Student Nurses’ Association chose to participate in this competition because getting fellow nursing students actively involved with outreach programs is very important for sharing knowledge, Balboni explained. However, the hands-only CPR challenge is not the only community outreach activity that Worcester State University nursing students participate in.
“As future nurses, it is important for us to be involved in the community,” said Dzindolet. “We actually have a Leadership and Advocacy Community Awareness committee whose purpose is to create events that reach out to the community in some sort of nursing aspect.”
Worcester State nursing students run blood pressure clinics, food collections, blood drives, mitten drives, and more events that are are open to the public, Dzindolet explained. Another public outreach program that many sophomore nursing students have been participating in is the 15-40 program. This program spreads early detection and cancer awareness to members of the community. Worcester State public outreach programs run by students, like the hands-only CPR competition, help to educate the local community about healthcare topics while simultaneously teaching students about the importance of applying their medical knowledge to impact the public in a positive way outside of the classroom.
“The hands-only CPR competition showcases WSU and the nursing program in a positive light as it shows how our students have the drive to take time out of their already very busy schedules to help enrich the Worcester community,” said Balboni. “While we strive to educate the public we do a large majority of hands-only CPR education on campus, which means we are helping our fellow students learn new skills that they may have never thought to learn. The competition allows for students to come together and learn from each other.”