All actors should have to take a CPR class


The doctor sprinted to the side of the bed and slapped her interlaced hands over the man’s heart.  What made his heart stop remained a mystery, but she knew she had to get it beating again. She pushed her hands into his chest, an internal metronome pacing her efforts. After every few pumps, she glanced up at the cardiac monitor. Still no pulse.

“Well, it’s obvious why he’s dying, isn’t it?” I exclaimed to my fiancé, who lounged beside me on the couch.

“What? What disease does he have?” he looked away from the action to me.

“Look at those chest compressions!” I ignored his question. “Those are the most ineffective compressions I’ve ever seen! She’ll never get him back that way.”

He smirked and returned his attention to House, M.D. My annoyance lingered.  This television show prides itself on accuracy of obscure medical knowledge. How could the producers let this authenticity slip by allowing the characters, supposedly well-trained, highly intelligent physicians, perform CPR with bent elbows, no backboard, and abysmal shoulder placement?

“All actors should have to take at least one CPR class,” I grumbled.

Although I didn’t mean much by it at the time, my half-joking gripe stayed with me the rest of the day. Could an actor’s portrayal of correct CPR do more than assuage my irritation? Could it save a life?

Multiple studies suggest that high-quality chest compressions, along with minimal interruptions in compressions, optimize a patient’s chance of regaining a pulse. In the event of a public cardiac arrest, if medical dramas’ appallingly low-quality compressions jump to the bystanders’ minds, the collapsed person will never recover. If, instead, a beloved character had used effective resuscitation efforts, the pulseless peer might have a fighting chance.

Which begs the question: How much, if any, can a viewer internalize of correct CPR form embedded in a television series?

A viewer intent on understanding effective CPR who watches a short instructional video would undoubtedly learn more successfully; however, I would venture that most people prefer to watch television in their free time than teach themselves CPR. Even for trained viewers, seeing correct form on their favorite show could only reinforce former teachings. A passive lesson is better than no lesson at all.

Depicting effective CPR on television may not save a life, but it couldn’t hurt. At the very least, it would lend credibility to the show … and allow my loved ones watch medical dramas with me in peace.

Caroline Tredway is a medical intern.

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