What Are BCLS, BLS, and CPR-Heartsaver Certification Programs All About?

Overview of the BCLS and BLS Certification Program

Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) certification is a qualification demonstrating that someone has successfully completed a BCLS program.  The program may take up to 6-8 hours. This program reviews the risks for respiratory and cardiac arrest. Other topics such as stroke, first aide, choking – conscious and unconscious, use of the AED (automatic external defibrillator) and safety are often included in the certification programs.

The BCLS program is required for most healthcare professionals (HCPs) and must be retaken every two years.  Healthcare professionals are also required to learn and practice additional advanced skills. These skills include using advanced airways and breathing devices. The CPR skills tested are chest compressions, ventilations, and relieving the obstruction in a choking victim.   Proper use of the bag-mask-valve (AMBU bag) is also part of the training.  HCPs are trained to perform CPR alone, as well as with a second rescuer. The CPR procedures learned are different for adults, children, and infants.  To successfully pass the program one must be able to perform the skills according to the instructor’s expectations and pass a written multiple-choice exam. Upon successful completion of the skills and written exams you will receive a BLS certification card, which will be due for renewal in two years.

Healthcare providers, such as physicians, nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, respiratory therapists, physical and occupational therapists, physician’s assistants, residents or fellows, medical and nursing students, aides, medical and nursing assistants, police officers, and other allied health personnel, all take the healthcare professional BLS Program. The general public does not take the BLS program. The terms Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS), Basic Life Support (BLS), and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), can be used interchangeably when talking about the certification classifications for healthcare professionals, but now BLS is the most commonly used term for this.

What is CPR?

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is the basic term meaning to revive a person in cardiac (heart) and pulmonary (breathing) arrest. The victim’s heart has stopped pumping blood and their breathing has stopped. There are no signs of breathing or response to the rescuer.  If there is no breathing and no movement there probably is no heartbeat or pulse.  The rescuer will call the emergency medical services (EMS) first, then begin CPR, and continue until help arrives.

Overview of the CPR-Heartsaver Program and the AED

The CPR-Heartsaver program can be taken by anyone – the general public as well as healthcare professionals. There are variations of this program that may include infant and children life-saving techniques. Always ask the instructor how you should prepare for class and what skills will be taught for the different age groups. Healthcare professionals can take the CPR-Heartsaver program as well. Many hospitals and clinics require this program for those who care for adult patients. The general public is not expected to take the more advanced healthcare professional BLS program. Again, the difference with the healthcare provider BLS program and the CPR-Heartsaver program is that in BLS program, advanced interventions using the proper equipment are taught, and knowing the essential CPR skills for all age groups is also taught.

In all CPR programs, the participants will learn how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). The AED is a battery-operated device used to deliver a shock to the victim’s heart. The AED pads that are applied to the victim’s chest, while CPR is in progress, can also assess and determine the victim’s heart (cardiac) rhythm. The AED will audibly tell the rescuer to press the shock button at the appropriate time. Delivering an electrical shock with the AED can stop the heart that is quivering, and quickly restart it.

Finding a Certification Program

Finding the appropriate class for your needs is not difficult. You can contact the American Heart Association (AHA), or American Red Cross (ARC), in order to find training centers (TCs) in your neighborhood. Many ambulance and rescue services offer CPR training to the general community. You can easily check the community library, community colleges, or local hospitals for programs for the community or healthcare providers.  There are internet programs online as well. These online programs generally do not fulfill the requirement for healthcare professionals because they do not have “hands on” or skills training – which are required for certification.

How to Prepare for These Programs

To prepare for your BLS training there is plenty of reading material available – in print and online. It is also very important to search YouTube for videos – these are especially helpful. Ask the instructor for any specific study material ahead of time. You may also be expected to get down on your knees to perform chest compressions on a manikin for at least two-minutes at a time.  If you have any physical limitations be sure to tell your instructor so that accommodations may be made to assist you.  You can easily bring a cushion for your knees. Gardening knee-pads are great in this practice situation.

Conclusion

Once you successfully complete the program, and are certified, you may be interested in carrying your own personal pocket-mask, so that direct mouth-to-mouth contact ventilations can be avoided with a victim that you assist.  Current CPR research recommends “high-quality, fast-and-hard chest compressions” without the mouth-to-mouth ventilations. The chest compression is so important that if the victim is in a cardiac arrest situation outside of the hospital – it is best to quickly start and continue compressions only – and the advanced airway interventions will begin when the EMS arrive.

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About Michele G. Kunz

I am a nursing educator and AHA Certified Instructor and I specialize in providing AHA Certification classes in ACLS, BLS, and PALS to healthcare professionals and students. I am also a certified six-sigma green belt (CSSGB).

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