Medical students in Boston are teaching local high school students about CPR, and the younger students say they feel better prepared to help in cases of cardiac arrest, should the need arise.

The PumpStart program was started by students from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) as a volunteer effort for doctors in training to visit nearby high schools and spread awareness about CPR.

“Getting the general public to feel comfortable performing bystander CPR is vital to overall improved survival from cardiac arrest events,” Anita Knopov, a medical student at BUSM who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

Hands-only CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, involves administering rapid, rhythmic chest compressions to a patient in cardiac arrest to help deliver blood to the heart and brain while the heart is stopped.

When CPR is started immediately, patients have the best chance of survival. But administration of CPR by bystanders is inconsistent.

“Some of the biggest barriers to performing CPR that came up in the sessions were that students lacked the confidence to do CPR and didn’t know how to do it,” Knopov told Reuters Health.

In the PumpStart sessions, “We addressed not only how to perform CPR but we (also put students) . . . in role-playing situations where we had mannequins with hands-on practice . . . So it was a very tangible skill they were learning,” Knopov said.

Before and after the sessions, high schoolers completed anonymous surveys. On questions about CPR technique, the average score was 37 percent before attending the CPR workshop and 89 percent after the session, according to data collected during the first year of the program.

After the sessions, 72 percent of students said they felt more comfortable with the idea of performing CPR, Knopov and colleagues report in the Journal of Education.

“It appears that this PumpStart program can be translated to other settings to improve knowledge, and hopefully use, of CPR in other large cities,” Dr. Graham Nichol, an emergency physician at the University of Washington in Seattle, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.

The medical students conducting the classes faced some challenges, particularly logistical ones, because scheduling sessions that were convenient for both themselves and the high school students proved difficult, coauthor Dr. Nikita Kalluri told Reuters Health over the phone.

Kalluri, now a pediatric resident physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center, participated in the program as a medical student.

There is a risk that students may forget what they learned at a single session, the authors acknowledge.

Going forward, Knopov said, the PumpStart team wants to develop a refresher course for the high schoolers.

Dr. Kathleen Ogle, an emergency medicine physician at The George Washington University Hospital and the Washington VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., told Reuters Health by email, “This program certainly has value and is an excellent first step to address some of the challenges currently existing as barriers to layperson CPR for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.”

But, she added, “Further study and different assessment methods are required to assert that these learners have actually learned the skills rather than simply broadening their knowledge.”

In the meantime, said Kalluri, “We’re not offering CPR certifications that need to be renewed. We think that there are benefits of even just introducing the concept and raising awareness.”

More information about CPR is available from the American Heart Association.