Advanced Cardiac Life Support, or ACLS, describes a specialized set of skills and interventions used to treat a patient during a life-threatening emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke. Most healthcare providers require certain key personnel to have ACLS certification, and to renew this certification every two years. ACLS certification consists of specialized training followed by testing to ensure that the physician, nurse, or other professional has the necessary skills to effectively administer ACLS. Since medical knowledge and technologies change quickly, ACLS recertification ensures that the professional administering treatment has the most accurate and up-to-date knowledge of effective treatment protocols.
Generally, a healthcare professional must have certification in Basic Life Support, or BLS, before they can become certified in ACLS. BLS includes administering CPR and initial stabilizing treatment; it is similar to first-responder training, such as that required for emergency medical technicians working on an ambulance. ACLS goes beyond this training to include teaching how to detect and identify different heart rhythms, as well as when and how to properly use a defibrillator. ACLS training also includes knowledge of commonly administered emergency medications and their dosages. ACLS recertification every two years ensures that skills are refreshed and new information is imparted to those who need it most.
Certification is given by the school or organization that provides the training, after the applicant completes coursework and passes a recertification exam. There are many ACLS recertification programs available; some require the participant to attend classes and perform testing on a mannequin, while others are completed entirely online. While online classes offer much more convenience, their certification may not be accepted by all employers. In the United States, many employers require certification through a program approved by the American Heart Association; these programs generally require live testing on a mannequin.
Traditional ACLS recertification coursework typically has two components. The first is traditional textbook learning, followed by a written exam consisting of multiple-choice and short answer questions. The second component is hands-on clinical testing, in which the student is given several different scenarios for a patient’s presenting symptoms, vitals, and previous treatments. The student must verbalize the correct course of action for each scenario and perform the interventions on a mannequin. Some online courses offer the option of taking the clinical portion of the test with an approved clinical instructor to better comply with AHA requirements.
ACLS recertification requirements may vary from one employer to the next, but generally recertification is required at least every two years.
Since recertification is simply a brush-up on existing skills, the coursework does not usually last as long as the initial certification program. Many programs require only one day of learning and testing. Applicants should always check with their employer for specific recertification requirements before enrolling in a program.