RUSH medical students teach a fellow Chicagoan how to do CPR at a recent class. Credit: Ariana Baldassano

CHICAGO — Local medical students have designed a course to prepare Chicagoans to help people who are overdosing or have been shot.

Rush University’s RUSH 9-1-1 program provides free training so people can give CPR, administer Narcan, help people who are hemorrhaging and more in a bid to keep more people alive while first responders arrive, said Dr. Nicholas Cozzi, a Rush professor and assistant EMS director overseeing medical students who teach the courses across Chicago.

The one- to two-hour trainings are designed to teach bystanders lifesaving skills without sometimes costly and time-consuming certifications, Cozzi said. Demand is increasing as neighborhoods grapple with the opioid overdose crisis and violence, Cozzi said.

“Chicagoans are starting to realize that these skills are relevant to everyone,” Cozzi said. “We get requests every week for more classes.”

The group tries to do at least three or four trainings a month and has a wait list through mid-June, Cozzi said.

Classes have 10-30 people and can be taught anywhere in the city, Cozzi said. The program has been brought directly to high school students, teachers, senior living facilities, community nonprofits, people in recovery and city social workers, among others, Cozzi said.

People interested in hosting a class can email with basic information about the number of people expected to attend, an available space to use and times that work for them, Cozzi said. The trainings are free and available in English and Spanish.

Students are taught how to identify different types of traumatic bleeding, where to apply pressure and how to put on a tourniquet. Credit: Ariana Baldassano

Most classes have been on the South and West sides, Cozzi said, pointing to a recent study that found Black and Hispanic people are about 10 to 15 percent less likely to have CPR bystander training than white people.

“We need to bridge the gap so people can be the help before help arrives,” Cozzi said. “We’re trying to increase access in any way we can, even if it’s just with a sheet and a portable projector.”

Cozzi was pitched the program by third-year medical student Sam Shuman, who started a similar program in Houston as an undergraduate at Rice University.

Shuman partnered with fellow medical student Brian Goldberg to get the trainings off the ground in Chicago, and now the 9-1-1 team has a rotating cast of medical students teaching the courses in any time they can spare, Cozzi said.

The students at Rush have partnered with the Chicago Recovery Alliance for trainings in Narcan, a medication that can reverse overdoses. Narcan access has expanded rapidly as fentanyl fuels Cook County’s deadliest year of overdoses, but advocates say there is still a sizable gap between supplies and those willing and able to learn to use them.

RUSH University medical students are teaching people how to administer Narcan. Credit: Ariana Baldassano

A shooting in December at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen, which is near Rush University Medical Center, also pushed medical students to give the trainings at high schools, Cozzi said.

“Every student needs to be taught how to stop bleeding,” Cozzi said. “It’s a reality that gunshot wounds, stabbings, cardiac arrests happen in schools, so this kind of community engagement needs to happen. Right now, it’s up to us to be more active.”

Cozzi said the goal of the “beginner’s version” courses is to make anyone comfortable to step in and help in the crucial minutes and seconds that could save a life.

“Getting people certifications and trainings by professionals is great, but it’s also prevented more people from learning to intervene,” Cozzi said. “We need to reduce barriers.”

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