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CPR training video misses its mark

Sex sells, but that doesn’t mean we should use it for bystander CPR training

A German social welfare and first aid organization has produced a video that some news outlets have called “sexy” to raise awareness of bystander CPR. The five minute video is a compilation of modern pop songs whose lyrics have been changed to explain the benefits and mechanics of compression only CPR.

Although the campaign attempts to connect with people 25 and younger by using songs like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and Beyoncé's “Single Ladies,” the decision to dress the actors in a way that mimics the actual music videos causes the central message of the campaign to be lost.

As someone not far removed from the campaign’s target audience, the appeal of using modern pop stars to disseminate life-saving information makes sense. But to imagine it as the best alternative is doing a disservice to not only the target audience, but women in general.

Why does this matter to EMS
EMS has a female problem. As an industry, women are an underrepresented minority in the workforce. Perhaps worse than their low numbers is the reality that women are more likely to be lower level providers and less likely to stay in the profession as opportunities to advance would naturally present themselves. This means that although the pay gap within many EMS organizations is smaller than other industries, this is in part due to the glass ceiling women face when attempting to enter positions of higher responsibility.

Never is this more pronounced than at EMS conferences. Where, not only are there a limited number of women in the audience, there are even fewer on stage. Based on personal experience at recent industry events, I’d estimate that less than 1 in 6 conference presenters are female.

The idea that women can succeed in EMS can only happen when there are positive role models that up and comers in the industry can look up to. Women like Jullette Saussy, MD, who not only led her employees through one of the worst man-made disasters in history, but ten years later showed that stepping down can be an example of stepping up; or Fiona Moore, MD who is a shining example that one of the busiest services in the world can succeed in the new age of EMS with a woman at the helm; or Nicole Carlton who has shattered her glass ceiling by being the first female sworn in as the City of Cleveland Commissioner of the Division of EMS.

Perhaps more importantly are the every day women of EMS. Whose names and faces will likely never appear beyond their organization’s website or Facebook page. The women that, in some cases, have paved the way for the next generation through a torrent of sexual harassment and gender-based degradation, only to come out a better provider, manager and leader on the other side.

Sadly, not all women in EMS have access to strong female role model with the ability to guide, mentor or provide them the social support that any young provider needs. And when that’s the case, it’s not surprising that most of those at the top have a Y chromosome.

Role of negative advertising
Around the same time the CPR video was making waves in the EMS community, another video surfaced. This campaign, #WomenNotObjects, advocates against most everything within the CPR video, skillfully putting a reverse spin on the objectification of women in advertising.

Public safety isn’t above having the same issues that less service-oriented industries might fall prey to. As this most-recent CPR training video suggests, and previous others like it have blatantly propagated, sex can be used to send a message even when the final goal is altruistic. But that doesn’t mean sex should be used as the message.

It’s possible to create tasteful campaigns, whether educational or otherwise, so EMS must be willing to rise above the temptation to take the easy way out. When women aren’t being portrayed in a way that highlights their professional accomplishments over their personal characteristics everyone loses.

Catherine R. Counts, PHD, MHA, is a health services researcher with Seattle Medic One in the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She received both her PhD and MHA from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Counts has research interests in domestic healthcare policy, quality, patient safety, organizational theory and culture, and pre-hospital emergency medicine. She is a member of the National Association of EMS Physicians and AcademyHealth. In her free time she trains Bruno, her USAR canine.

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