What are the Different Types of ACLS Course?

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  • Written By: Toni Henthorn
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Advanced life support training opportunities that offer targeted instruction to various medical staff include courses in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), and Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). Advanced Cardiac Life Support is a system of treatment by which trained medical personnel deliver live-saving interventions in situations involving respiratory or cardiac arrest. An ACLS course is restricted to licensed health care providers, such as physicians, nurses, and paramedics, because ACLS demands that the practitioner be able to start intravenous lines, read electrocardiograms, identify abnormal heart rhythms, administer emergency drugs, and properly insert breathing tubes. In addition to the standard ACLS course, some hospitals and other training facilities offer ACLS for the experienced provider (ACLS-EP), which provides more in-depth information regarding critical care situations. Also, ACLS Instructor Development courses help physicians prepare to train other medical professionals in ACLS.

The American Heart Association (AHA) publishes guidelines for the ACLS course that offers certification in ACLS. These programs combine comprehensive online or classroom instruction with practice on specialized mannequins. An ACLS course may provide extensive training for first-time certification applicants or just a refresher course for those wishing to renew their certifications. Renewal classes allow practitioners to update their life support knowledge and techniques in accordance with any changes made in the guidelines by the AHA. Some courses only impart knowledge but do not lead to certification.


Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) prepares members of a health care team to take care of critically ill or injured children, from the first few minutes of emergency care, to transport, to a tertiary treatment facility. Instructors demonstrate a systematic method of pediatric assessment that enables members of the team to identify and manage respiratory and cardiac arrest in the pediatric age group. A PALS course, like the ACLS course, emphasizes appropriate methods of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, treatment of abnormal heart rhythms, and fluid administration in children. An applicant who successfully completes the course receives an American Heart Association PALS certification that is valid for two years.

Developed by the American College of Surgeons, Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) is a system that educates physicians and nurses to handle trauma cases. A key element that is taught in the ATLS course is the primary survey, in which physicians evaluate injured patients using the mnemonic, ABCDE. The first three items on the list, which are airway, breathing, and circulation, are similar to the steps taught in the ACLS course. Finally, physicians complete the survey with an assessment for disability and environment, which involves not only a neurological examination to assess the patient for traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries but also care for hypothermia or toxic exposures. After completion of the primary survey, physicians undertake a comprehensive head-to-toe evaluation of the patient.

The ACLS-EP course gives experienced clinicians the opportunity not only to renew ACLS certification, but also to broaden their knowledge and capacity to handles specialized emergencies, such as drowning cases, poisonings and toxic exposures, electric shocks, and electrolyte imbalances. Other subject areas include trauma, hypothermia, and cardiac arrest in pregnant mothers. At the successful completion of this advanced level ACLS course, the physician receives an AHA ACLS-EP card in place of the standard AHA ACLS card.


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