SPOKANE – Performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, in a real emergency is stressful, even for medical professionals. But does practice on a dummy really help?
Heart-pounding experience
WSU College of Nursing Professor Suzan Kardong-Edgren says her first heart-pounding experience came two years ago during Spokane’s “First Night” New Year’s Eve celebration. She was in a downtown art gallery when her husband came rushing up to her with news that a man had collapsed outside.


The victim “had fallen hard. He’d split his nose and knocked out some teeth,” Kardong-Edgren told her audience during a recent lectur. She said she tried to determine if the man’s heart was still beating as a crowd of onlookers gathered. She directed one person to call 9-1-1 as she evaluated whether she needed to perform CPR.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘I really don’t want to have to do this.’ I was trying to stay calm and think about what I needed to remember,” she said. “This never happens in the same type of place as where you’re trained,” referring to her adventure on a crowded sidewalk in bone-chilling cold. Her part of the emergency ended a few minutes later when paramedics arrived.
More effective?
What’s interesting is that Kardong-Edgren has been studying whether nursing students become more effective at CPR if they practice the procedure regularly.
She and her colleagues tested more than 600 students at 10 U.S. nursing schools, including WSU’s College of Nursing. During a one-year period, the students spent six minutes a month practicing three skills on special manikins. They compressed chests. They used special bags to restart respiration. And they performed CPR as if they were the only rescuer; that means chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration. The manikins provided extensive verbal feedback, coaching the students’ efforts.
The results
Kardong-Edgren says it appears regular practice and testing improved the students’ skills. They pushed chests down farther and blew more air into the manikins. But Kardong-Edgren says the study also found that students’ skills faded rapidly if not practiced, sometimes within only a few months. And she says only 60 percent of the participants ever managed enough chest compression to actually do any good.
Extending study to paramedics
Now that the study of nursing students is complete, Kardong-Edgren and her colleagues have turned their attention to paramedics in Oregon and California. They’re also making plans to test the CPR skills of practicing nurses. 
A successful round of CPR often means a person’s life is saved. But Kardong-Edgren says that can be a mixed blessing. Done correctly, “it probably will crack ribs, maybe lacerate a liver,” she said. “You don’t want to have CPR performed on you, if you can avoid it.”