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What Are the Different Types of First Aid Qualifications?

By Susan Abe
Updated May 17, 2024
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In the US, there are several different types of first aid qualifications and certifications offered by two primary agencies: the American Red Cross® and the American Heart Association®. Classes are designed for the general public; individuals in certain occupations or positions; and healthcare professionals, such as nurses, firefighters and paramedics. Study requirements may be completed in an afternoon or require several hours of classroom attendance in addition to significant home study. In addition to the commonly known cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, other available first aid qualifications include basic life support (BLS), pet first aid, wilderness first aid, blood borne pathogen training and lifeguarding classes.

First aid qualifications available and designed for the general public include CPR, automatic electronic defibrillator (AED) use, and pet first aid. CPR first aid qualifications are earned by individuals as an indication that they are able to provide emergency chest compressions and respiration to those who have suffered respiratory and cardiac arrest. An alternate form of this first aid training involves providing chest compressions only until emergency first responders arrive. AED training allows a student to correctly attach publicly available automatic defibrillators to unconscious patients and apply an electrical shock if necessary. Pet first aid trains pet owners in basic animal first aid until a veterinarian can treat the animal.

Some occupations or volunteer positions require or strongly encourage earning other available first aid qualifications. The American Red Cross® offers volunteer training for those who wish to participate in their disaster relief program, locally, nationally or internationally. Scout leaders, summer camp counselors and others involved in the outdoors can study and receive certification in a wilderness first aid course. Lifeguards are often required to have passed training in lifeguarding and water safety courses, while coaches and trainers can receive training in sports-related first aid. Finally, individuals who provide care to infants and children can receive training and certification in childcare giving, babysitting, and infant CPR.

Professional first aid qualifications include certification in basic life support (BLS), which is available to firefighters, ambulance drivers and first responders. BLS classes cover adult CPR, infant CPR, manual and automatic defibrillators and basic first aid topics. Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) is an advanced course for nurses, physicians and paramedics involving adult and infant CPR, manual defibrillation, cardiac rhythm recognition and medications involved in a code blue, or cardiac arrest.

Most classes and first aid qualifications require the student to be at least 14 years old. Completion of any first aid qualification provides the student a card or certificate attesting to successful course completion. This certification card is usually valid for a period of two years.

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