BLS is an acronym which produces some confusion for people looking in to a CPR class. In an emergency medicine setting BLS typically stands for Basic Life Support in contrast to Advanced Life Support. Basic Life Support denotes a level care which patients will receive in an emergency. Often basic life support level care includes things outside the scope of a CPR class like oxygen administration, bleeding control, and splinting. Advanced Life Support care refers to more complex and invasive things like intravenous medications, breathing tubes, and cardiac monitoring. In the context of a CPR class, denoting that the class is “BLS” typically means it is designed for professional rescuers like paramedics, nurses, lifeguards, etc. Most people who just want the knowledge of CPR will be well served by taking a “lay rescuer”, “non-professional rescuer”, or “community” level class.
There are many organizations which offer CPR certifications. Essentially the certifications are either for professional rescuers or lay rescuers. The American Heart Association (AHA) is one of the main guiding forces for most CPR classes on the market so while different companies will call them different things most classes are based on the AHA’s curriculums.
From the American Heart Association there are three main basic life support level classes available for professional rescuers. They are HeartCode BLS, BLS for Prehospital Providers, and BLS for Healthcare Providers. The first of the three is a unique program conducted entirely online that allows students to develop and test their decision making abilities in a real time simulated healthcare environment. When paired with an offline skills test the HeartCode BLS program grants a BLS for Healthcare Providers CPR certification. The other two AHA programs for professional rescuers feature the same core curriculum but are customized to feature the unique challenges faced by prehospital or in hospital healthcare providers. Both classes cover the following topics:
- Critical concepts of effective resuscitation
- Automatic External Defibrillator use
- 1 and 2 rescuer CPR for adults, children, and infants
- Bag mask techniques for all ages
- Rescue breathing for all ages
- Choking for all ages
- CPR with an advanced airway in place (breathing tube)
The lay rescuer courses available from the AHA are called Family & Friends CPR and HeartSaver AED. Family & Friends CPR is for those who want the knowledge but do not need a certification or course completion card. The typical attendees are new parents, grandparents, baby sitters, students, and teachers. The course covers:
- Compression only CPR for adults
- Child CPR with breaths
- Infant CPR with breaths
- AED use in adults and children
- Adult choking
HeartSaver AED teaches adult CPR and AED use as well as how to address choking for an adult. The course is designed for someone with limited or no previous medical training who needs a CPR certification to meet job or other requirements. The class is delivered using a number of videos and skill direction by an instructor in a classroom. If you will be working in a day care or other location which is predominantly children or infants you should consider a class which includes those groups such as the Family & Friends CPR. If you will be working in the environment with kids but are required to have a certification, not just the knowledge, you will need to look at a course like BLS for Healthcare Providers. If you will be working outside of a healthcare environment that course will include content not entirely relevant to you but will be the most complete option overall.
The American Red Cross has a number of different classes beyond CPR and to help people select the right course they classify them as either “Workplaces, Schools, and Individuals”, “Professional Rescuers”, or “Wilderness, Sports, and Pets”. Most CPR classes, regardless of audience, from the Red Cross are similar to the AHA classes for that same audience. There are slight differences based on interpretations of the available research by the experts that advise the American Red Cross. The important thing to understand is why you are taking the class and how you will use that information. Based on those answers you can select the correct class to meet your needs and then just be sure to follow the guidelines given in your class.
If you are looking at available classes and it isn’t immediately apparent which class is right for you contacting the instructor or training center should clarify things quickly. Based on what you tell them about your needs they can suggest which class will fit your needs best.
Your knowledge and skills will fatigue over time so consider taking a fresh CPR class every year or every two years. Most certifications expire after 2-3 years so you will be required to take a refresher course to maintain the certification. Whoever the organization is that issued the original card will likely need to be the group that provides the refresher course. The refresher course is typically a little shorter than the original but meshes with the things taught in the original so a refresher from a different organization may not correlate to your original certification.