An Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) cardholder is a health care worker who has completed a training course sanctioned by the American Heart Association (AHA) and is thus approved to act as an ACLS provider. Basic Life Support (BLS), also known as basic first aid, teaches paraprofessional health care workers, such as nursing assistants, and non-health care workers, such as teachers and coaches, how to complete airway, breathing and circulation checks, basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) technique and how to use automated external defibrillators (AEDs). An ACLS provider has successfully completed a quite advanced version of (BLS) training that provides instruction on emergency evaluation and invasive treatment of cardiac arrest, also known as a code. These providers are physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists usually working in an emergency or critical care environment, or first responders such as paramedics or firefighters.
Instructors in ACLS classes presume their students to already be proficient in all aspects of basic life support and CPR. In addition, beginning students are expected to recognize and identify basic cardiac electrical rhythms, be proficient in starting intravenous lines, be familiar with the medications used during a cardiac arrest and have memorized basic procedures. ACLS provider students are trained in keeping a critically ill patient alive via a series of algorithms. These decision trees are memorized for immediate and reflexive response in most conceivable situations. Algorithms are used to determine whether to begin certain treatments, which treatments are necessary, what medications to administer and what dosages to administer.
Training for an ACLS provider includes inserting airways, chest tube placement and medication management for a patient requiring urgent care. In addition, the student learns how to use manual defibrillators — as opposed to AEDs — based upon the patient's cardiac rhythms and vital signs. All treatment methods are practiced in situational drills using mannequins.
ACLS provider students are then tested in both practical tests and written exams. Having successfully completed a two-day ACLS class and the examinations, graduates are certified for a period of two years. ACLS certification classes are offered by a number of third-party providers, in person and online, as well as directly from the American Heart Association. All programs and all tests, however, must meet stringent AHA requirements to ensure standardization and proficiency. The AHA recommends that an ACLS provider student take the class in person.