What is ACLS Certification?
ACLS stands for Advanced Cardiac (or Cardiovascular) Life Support. These are clinical techniques used to treat patients who are experiencing stroke, cardiac arrest, and other medical emergencies. It requires the caregiver to have the ability to open and manage a patient’s airway, start an IV, read and interpret electrocardiograms, and have a basic knowledge of emergency pharmacology. One area that may require additional certification and training is for pediatric practices. Many countries and employers will require that you take a second training course specifically geared toward pediatric patients.
How is ACLS Different from BLS?
ACLS is a more advanced level of certification than basic life support (BLS). While healthcare providers who are BLS certified can provide CPR and defibrillation, those who have an understanding of the ACLS protocol can also respond to someone who is unconscious, determine courses of treatments, and generally take more advanced clinical steps. This may include the use of tools such as electrocardiograms and intubation.
Another big difference is that BLS providers are not allowed to administer any pharmaceutical medications (though they can help a patient take their own medications). An ACLS provider will often use medications to help resuscitate a patient who is suffering from a trauma, drug overdose, or heart attack.
In general, those providers who have received their ACLS certification are already certified in CPR and BLS techniques. If you are applying for a job that requires these certifications, the ACLS credentials that you have should be more than adequate to cover those requirements.
Who Needs ACLS Certification?
Many professionals need this certification as part of their job requirements, including:
- Nurse practitioners and nurses
- Patient aides
- Respiratory therapists
- Advanced emergency medical technicians
How to Get ACLS Certification
In order to obtain this credential you will be required to either attend classes online or in a classroom. The American Heart Association offers a number of pre-courses as well as a foundational course program. Attending AHA ACLS classes in person is generally considered to be the best and safest way to acquire your credential. These classes will usually cost anywhere from $150-$200.
Alternatively, you could also opt to take training for the ACLS online. If you choose this option, you will need to be especially careful about the program that you choose. You will need to carefully check to ensure that your course is accredited by the American Heart Association. Often, online courses that are not accredited will say that they are “recommended by” or “approved by” physicians or the AHA, but this does not mean the same thing as being accredited.
If you do choose ACLS online certification, the AHA does offer an online self-driven learning program via CD. This will cost around $120 and in addition to the advanced cardiac life support classes the CD includes CME/CE credits as well. This course is broken down into two parts. During the first half of the course you will learn the required curriculum and you will learn at your own pace. Part two will require an additional $50 payment and will consist of a hands-on skill evaluation session. Another option is to take an ACLS pretest or purchase a study guide to further your grasp of the material.
Classroom Training versus Online Certification
In general, classroom training is considered to be the safest form of training. This is because you will be able to learn the hands-on skills from your instructor in person, and have more of an opportunity to practice. This is particularly important for skills such as starting an IV and airway management. To make things even easier, the AHA offers a number of precourses, including:
HeartCode ACLS Part 1 – these computer based lessons allow students to make their way through 12 hospital-based cases where they can assess and formulate treatment for patients in cardiopulmonary arrest.
ECG and Pharmacology – this focuses on specific drug treatments and specific ECG recognition skills in order to give students a head start on the knowledge they’ll need to demonstrate in order to obtain their goal.
Airway Management – this gives students the opportunity to practice the airway management skills they will need to know for the certification.
As stated before, when it comes to online classes, ensuring that your course is approved by the AHA is vital to receiving a valid credential that will be widely recognized. Even after certifying through an accredited ACLS online course, you may want to take additional classroom courses so that you will have an opportunity to practice your newly-acquired skills in a hands-on environment.
One of the major benefits of receiving your ACLS online certification is that you can complete the courses on your own time. This is particularly helpful for those who have lower-level certifications and are already busy in their current job. Online training is far more convenient for already busy professionals.
In general, the main difference between receiving your initial certification and your recertification classes will be your experience level. If you have been through training before and still hold a valid certification card, you will be able to take a simpler course to recertify. If, however your certification has expired (certification must be renewed every two years), you may be required to go through a full training class again.
While many professionals find having to continually undergo ACLS recertification tedious and unnecessary, it is important to remember that medical equipment and procedures are constantly being refined and improved. By renewing your certification every two years as required, you can ensure that you remain up to date on all of the latest equipment and techniques, even if you are using your skills every day in the course of your employment. It can be easy to believe that you already have all of the skills that you need, but newer techniques can help you provide your patients with a higher level of care. Requiring all healthcare officials to hold a valid credential ensures a quality and standard of care. When this is the result, a few hours of classes is a small price to pay.
For those healthcare providers who are particularly busy with their regular job and personal/family life, one solution may be to complete your ACLS recertification classes online. Taking advantage of the wealth of online training that is available allows you to keep your certification up-to-date on your own time in smaller segments. Your other option is to schedule a single-day recertification course at your local AHA office. Remember, the advanced cardiac life support certification is only good for two years, so it is important to keep track of when your last certification is dated.
The ACLS certification is a highly valuable course that is an absolute must-have for any healthcare provider. Even lower-level providers such as firefighters and first responders could benefit from this course, however. With modern technology advances, receiving your credential is easier than ever. Online classes allow you to complete your training in your own time while still acquiring all of the skills necessary, as long as you’re sure to use a program that has been accredited by the American Heart Association. If you do opt for a classroom course, you can usually receive your credential in a single day-long classroom session, particularly if you have invested in some pre-classes, pretest, study guide or if you have been previously CPR or BLS certified.
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