Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certification indicates that the physician, nurse, or other health care professional has fulfilled two requirements: she/he has attended an ACLS teaching class, and he/she has passed the ACLS written test and the ACLS skills exam. An ACLS certification class can be traditional classroom-based or online: either is acceptable and both offer identical content.
The test and the skills exam are offered in an ACLS certification class, and the certification class is given separately from the teaching class. This allows first-time students time to study, and it allows students who have had ACLS certification but need a renewal time to review. The certification class is 6-8 hours: the students are tested on:
Management of acute coronary syndromes
Management of acute stroke
The skills test is a bit more demanding. The skills test is a hands-on demonstration of your ability to use and apply ACLS in a medical emergency. The skills test is often referred to as a mega code. In the mega code, cardiac rhythm simulators and CPR mannequins are used to present complex medical emergencies such as acute stroke, cardiac arrest, etc. The test proctor, will describe the emergency and ask questions during the “emergency” about what should be done and why, and you must a) respond with the appropriate treatments for each emergency, and b) be prepared to answer these questions. Each emergency requires specific care, but if you want to perform well on the skills exam, you must be flexible: the test proctors almost always begin the mega code by describing one emergency and then “switch” emergencies. For example:
The patient has symptomatic bradycardia. You give atropine but the patient doesn’t respond. However, before you can attach the pacemaker the patient develops pulseless ventricular tachycardia and you must now follow the algorithm for pulseless VT. After a successful resuscitation it is discovered that the patient has an acute myocardial infarction.
The mega code tests your knowledge of the ACLS algorithms, your knowledge of pharmacology, and your ability to use airways, oxygen, IV equipment, and defibrillators. More importantly, it tests how well you can recall and use that information under pressure, and that is why you need ACLS. Advanced cardiac life support, by definition, is an extension of basic life support (BLS) and used for emergencies.
Many people are finding that online an ACLS certification class is easy and convenient and provides many advantages over the traditional classroom-based course certification because the class content is identical and the costs are essentially the same.