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  • Writer's pictureSaving Grace Medical Academy Ltd

Primary Survey: A Guide for Nursing Students

A Canada Goose attacking a golfer
Canada Goose gets revenge!

We all know that the world is full of crazy events that sometimes defy logic and understanding. With this, a nursing student must be prepared to handle almost anything that walks through the Emergency room doors. Lets take a look into what a Primary Survey is, and how to do a rapid assessment of a patient to ensure the highest survival rates.

The primary survey is not a one-time task; it should be repeated periodically and whenever the patient's condition changes, especially if it deteriorates. A good practice is to repeat the primary survey every 5 minutes during a critical event.

The primary survey involves these simple steps:

  1. Check Responsiveness

  2. Airway

  3. Breathing

  4. Circulation

In simple terms, you are assessing the patient's responsiveness and the ABCs: Airway, Breathing, and Circulation.

Regular reassessment ensures that any changes in the patient's condition are promptly identified and addressed. There is also a difference in performing a Primary Survey "In Hospital vs Out of Hospital"

The Adult Chain of Survival - Heart & Stroke Foundation
Provided by the Heart & Stroke Foundation - Basic Life Support Provider CPR Manual - The Adult Chains of Survival.

Understanding the "Primary Survey" is crucial, especially if you haven't taken a First Aid Course before. Even for those not specializing in Emergency Medical Services, remembering the specific steps in an emergency can be challenging.

Think of the "Primary Survey" in terms of the body's most critical need: oxygen.

Firefighters performing CPR on a mannequin in a funny setting.

Oxygen is essential for life. If the victim is breathing but unconscious, place them in the recovery position. If the victim is not breathing, start CPR immediately.

In essence, the "Primary Survey" boils down to determining if the victim is breathing or not.

To perform the Primary Survey and address the primary need, follow these three steps:

  1. Check the Scene for Safety, Then Check the Victim

  • Determine if they are breathing or not breathing.

  1. Call 911

  2. Care for the Victim

With this basic 3 step approach, this can help you as a student understand and prioritize the most critical aspects of an emergency and raise the chance of survival.

“This material is for informational purposes only and is taken from The Canadian Red Cross, Alberta Heart & Stroke Foundation, and Alberta Health Services. This information should not replace medical advice, technical guidance, or treatment. If you have questions, consult your local physician or safety training facility.”


  • Protect Yourself!

  • Call 911!

  • Don’t Waste Time!

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