Nurses’ knowledge and skill retention following cardiopulmonary resuscitation training: a review of the literature


Rosemary Hamilton,
Newham University Hospital NHS Trust,
Professional Development Nursing Team,
Newham University Hospital,
Glen Road,
London E13 8SL,


Aim.  This paper reports a literature review examining factors that enhance retention of knowledge and skills during and after resuscitation training, in order to identify educational strategies that will optimize survival for victims of cardiopulmonary arrest.

Background.  Poor knowledge and skill retention following cardiopulmonary resuscitation training for nursing and medical staff has been documented over the past 20 years. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation training is mandatory for nursing staff and is important as nurses often discover the victims of in-hospital cardiac arrest. Many different methods of improving this retention have been devised and evaluated. However, the content and style of this training lack standardization.

Method.  A literature review was undertaken using the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, MEDLINE and British Nursing Index databases and the keywords ‘cardiopulmonary resuscitation’, ‘basic life support’, ‘advanced life support’ and ‘training’. Papers published between 1992 and 2002 were obtained and their reference lists scrutinized to identify secondary references, of these the ones published within the same 10-year period were also included. Those published in the English language that identified strategies to enhance the acquisition or retention of Cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills and knowledge were included in the review.

Results.  One hundred and five primary and 157 secondary references were identified. Of these, 24 met the criteria and were included in the final literature sample. Four studies were found pertaining to cardiac arrest simulation, three to peer tuition, four to video self-instruction, three to the use of different resuscitation guidelines, three to computer-based learning programmes, two to voice-activated manikins, two to automated external defibrillators, one to self-instruction, one to gaming and the one to the use of action cards.

Conclusions.  Resuscitation training should be based on in-hospital scenarios and current evidence-based guidelines, including recognition of sick patients, and should be taught using simulations of a variety of cardiac arrest scenarios. This will ensure that the training reflects the potential situations that nurses may face in practice. Nurses in clinical areas, who rarely see cardiac arrests, should receive automated external defibrillation training and have access to defibrillators to prevent delays in resuscitation. Staff should be formally assessed using a manikin with a feedback mechanism or an expert instructor to ensure that chest compressions and ventilations are adequate at the time of training. Remedial training must be provided as often as required. Resuscitation training equipment should be made available at ward/unit level to allow self-study and practice to prevent deterioration between updates. Video self-instruction has been shown to improve competence in resuscitation. An in-hospital scenario-based video should be devised and tested to assess the efficacy of this medium in resuscitation training for nurses.