This article contains generic information – not legal advice. If you find yourself in a questionable or problematic situation, seek professional legal counsel.

Shock advised: as a premed student, you have an ethical obligation to learn CPR. Here’s why…

How many times have you seen on television or in a movie a character “flatline” and then be hastily revived by medical professionals with shock paddles? Has your opinion about the efficacy of CPR been influenced from watching television or movies? What is your perception of the success rate of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?

Some years ago, researchers at the Durham VA Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center and University of Chicago published a study in The New England Journal of Medicine where three popular television shows were analyzed. The study determined that the shows portrayed a fictional survival rate of 77% for characters receiving CPR immediately after cardiac arrest. Sadly, the high success rate of CPR portrayed on screen does not reflect reality. In stark contrast to the entertainment industry’s representation, the American Heart Association (AHA) statistics cite that 92% of cardiac arrest victims die before reaching the hospital. In other words, cardiac arrest victims only have about a 7% chance of survival outside a hospital setting.

This low survival rate is, in part, because most cardiac arrest victims do not live long enough to be reached by medical professionals. Factors that contribute to this alarming statistic consist of dispatch delays, traffic, lack of resources, and geography. Consequently, bystander CPR is oftentimes the only hope of survival for the majority of cardiac arrest victims. In fact, the AHA states that “Effective bystander CPR provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival, but only 32 percent of cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander.”

In 2013, King County in Seattle, Washington had a 62% cardiac arrest survival rate – the highest in the world. The county has been progressive in policies and procedures to achieve such success, including implementing widespread CPR training for local residents. According to a USA TODAY article, the city of Seattle saves 45% of “saveable victims” while cities like Washington, DC estimate only 4% of cardiac arrest victims are saved. The study concludes, “If every major city increased its save rate to 20%, as a number of cities have done, a total of 1,800 lives could be saved every year.” That’s a lot of potentially saved lives.

As premed students, we have an ethical obligation to learn CPR in the event that we are the bystander to a cardiac arrest. Acquiring medical skills, such as CPR, to aid others when an emergency arises is an important aspect of our premed journey. Someday, we will take the Hippocratic Oath. In the meantime, we can embrace the spirit of the oath to the best of our ability. One relevant line from the historic creed states: “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.”

With some basic training from a free CPR certification course, you could possibly save a life someday. Considering the AHA reports that 4 out of 5 cardiac arrests happen at home, chances are the cardiac victim will be a loved one. Check out the below resources and consider signing up through your local Red Cross…


  1. Find a Red Cross CPR Course:
  2. American Heart Association Hands-Only CPR Video:
  3. AHA CPR Statistics:
Headshot of Erin FortnerErin Fortner is a licensed attorney in Georgia where she practiced pharmaceutical product liability law and was a special victims unit prosecutor. She lives in the D.C. metro area and is attending a full-time post-baccalaureate program. Ms. Fortner also recently earned her EMT certification.