Students and staff work together to save a life

An innovative staff-student collaboration at the University is training student volunteers and aims to teach basic life-saving skills to more than 1,200 local residents in Autumn this year. Undergraduate medical student Ross Gillespie has secured one of the first LITE Student Education Catalyst Funds to strengthen this programme and to evaluate its educational benefits.

Save a Life

Cardiac arrest is a serious medical emergency in which the heart stops working and is unable to pump blood around the body.

Research has shown that survival after cardiac arrest is improved when bystanders complete the following step as soon as possible:

  • Recognise cardiac arrest – unresponsive, not breathing
  • Call for help – call 999
  • Start chest compressions – push hard and fast, in the middle of the chest
  • Apply a ‘Heart Restarter’ (Defibrillator) – follow the verbal instructions.

One in five people may come across such a situation, where completing these simple but crucial steps is necessary.

Ross Gillespie, LITE Student Catalyst Fund project lead

AUTHOR: Ross Gillespie, LITE Student Education Catalyst Fund project lead

If these steps are not completed and we rely on specialist medical care – paramedics, hospitals – alone, outcomes are likely to be much worse.


This year over 100 students were trained to teach these essential skills to members of the public at two events during October as part of World Restart a Heart Day – in Leeds City Centre and at Leeds University Union.

The training programme armed students with teaching skills such as adaptive language to suit learner needs, emphasising key messages through repetition as well as summarising and use of demonstration for practical components.

The teaching approach was developed with an evidence-base and has been demonstrated to improve confidence and ability among members of the public in reacting to cardiac arrest emergencies.

Students as Educators

Whilst the direct intended impact of the project is clear, there are further benefits to a community-based teaching project that are yet to be explored.

Student volunteers gain skills and experience by teaching members of the public.

What’s more, the learner-teacher duality suggests that the teacher is likely to learn more about their subject through teaching, hence students are likely to improve their own skills and knowledge by participating in the project.

Teaching is recognised as an essential skill for doctors, but opportunities for undergraduates to learn and practice teaching skills within a structured learning environment is limited.

Students often seek opportunities through informal channels such as societies or peer-groups.

Community-teaching projects offer an opportunity for students to hone these skills in a supervised setting and encourages students and community-members to take responsibility for their local health needs.

READ: About LITE’s other Student Education Catalyst Fund projects


I am a final-year medical student at the University who feels passionate about opening opportunities to peers to enable enthusiastic students to develop skills beyond the standard curriculum.

I have been awarded one of the first LITE Student Education Catalyst Funds to support the development of this community-based teaching project by evaluating the educational impact for student volunteers.

The findings will inform future direction of the project by exploring motivation for involvement and highlighting opportunities and barriers to engagement and relevance to future careers.

With support from the School of Medicine and Clinical Skills Education Team, I am conducting a series of focus groups throughout the duration of the project.

The collaborative approach between staff and students ensures appropriate supervision, facilitates access to resources and formalises the evaluation process to ensure the project is effective for students as well as the institution.

I hope to build on the evidence-base for incorporating community-based teaching skills into the curriculum.

If applied to a national-scale, there is potential for community-based teaching to generate real impact on public health and allow medical schools to be proactive in protecting and improving local health.

To find out more about the project contact Ross.