What is ACLS?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) is a protocol for handling patients who are experiencing serious medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest. The term also refers to the skills and training necessary to use the protocol safely and properly. Because ACLS involves advanced medical skills, certification and training is only offered to medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, since lay people do not have the necessary knowledge and skills. Several organizations offer training and certification, which is required in many hospitals and health care environments.

The principles of ACLS are an expansion on Basic Life Support (BLS), which includes Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and other simple measures to stabilize a patient until he or she can receive more experienced medical care. Much like CPR, ACLS relies on the ABC's of first aid, in which the Airway of the patient is secured, Breathing is assessed and stabilized, and Circulation is closely monitored. Unlike more basic care providers, people who are certified in advanced techniques can provide many more interventions.


Medical interventions such as intubation to open the airway and shocking with a defibrillator to regulate heart rhythm are one part of ACLS, as is the administration of pharmaceuticals which are intended to assist with resuscitation. A provider must be able to rapidly and accurately read data like electrocardiograms, and make decisions for the patient based on this data. ACLS certification also includes training in how to start intravenous (IV) lines, giving medical personnel quick access to the patient's veins. Surgical intervention such as the placement of central lines and chest tubes is also included in training.

Anyone who works in an emergency room will be trained in ACLS, and most medical students around the world take certification programs so that they are prepared on their rotations. In addition to resuscitation, the goal of ACLS is to begin to identify what is wrong with the patient, so that a long term treatment plan can be created. The guidelines are constantly changing, due to new information in the medical field, and frequent recertification is required for people after they are certified. Recertification also ensures that the material is always fresh, so that a healthcare provider can confidently make the right decision in a critical moment.

Guidelines for ACLS are published in major medical journals around the world, and they are also usually available through organizations like the American Heart Association. These guidelines may vary from nation to nation, because different countries have different approaches to resuscitation, and some may have a wider array of legal and available drugs and tools. In all cases, the fundamental practice of keeping up chest compressions and using timely defibrillation are a core tenet of ACLS.


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Post 7

What does "life before ice" mean?

Post 6

I'm a dental assistant and I have to take it. I can get the crash cart and can do cpr. I don't think it's something we need to take.

Post 5

Moving a crash cart does not require any special skill, handling, or licensure requirement. There is absolutely no reason for *anyone* in a designated area to not know where a crash cart is, or how to get it to the right place when needed. Anyone who works in a health care facility anywhere is expected to know basic CPR and be a first responder. Crash carts contain materials needed for BLS as well as ACLS, and most RNs are not trained in ACLS unless they are in a critical care area.

Post 4

everyone who works in a healthcare facility should know basic stuff, like where the crash cart is kept. when a code is called, stop what you are doing, run to the crash cart and push it to the area mentioned in the code. no special skills are needed. I'm also a receptionist, but I assist with MRI's sometimes also. I am in nursing school so I'm learning new things all the time.

I have to ask why you think they would need a scapegoat? It sounds to me like they are just making sure that you are prepared to help in an emergency but if you are that uncomfortable with it you might want to find another job outside of health care.

Post 3

Also, since you applied at a healthcare location, you automatically care for patients' lives, even as a receptionist. So you too must be alert for a code blue. In fact, you should also know when to initiate a code blue because a person might pass out while talking to you...what would you do then?

So expect code blues (sounds horrible, but realistic it is).

Kids know where to locate fire extinguishers... would you expect that only firemen should know that?? It's the same for a crash cart.

Post 2

Clarify what it is they are actually asking of you. It may be just to push the cart over to the *code blue* room... why won't you hear the *call*? It's repetitive and you really won't be able to hear anything else. So you quit what you're doing and get the cart down there because that patient automatically takes priority over what you're doing at the desk or answering another patient's family's request for ice and stuff like that.

Use judgment. Life first before ice.

Be safe. You're not a scape goat.

Post 1

I was wondering if it is allowed for anyone other than a Certified ACLS person to handle a Crash Cart? I have been put in a situation at a Health Care Facility and they want me to handle a Crash Cart to a Code Blue within the designated area. I am a Receptionist at the Facility and all I can see happening is them putting me in a Situation that could have me terminated if by chance that I don't hear the Code Blue and I don't arrive at the location and the person having the Code expires due to the Crash Cart not showing up in time to save a person. It looks to me that I'm going to

be their Scape Goat, this is something that they are planning to place under my Job description. The facility is in California and I was wondering if they have that right to do so. What does the State say in regards to this matter considering I am not a Certified ACLS Certificate holder??

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