Saturday, June 27, 2009

Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) Training

Regular readers of this blog have probably surmised from my posts (or lack thereof) that I am starting residency now. Part of the prerequisites to starting internship is Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification. Therefore, I recently took an ACLS course and became certified.

The ACLS course I took was structured to be taught over 2 days, from 8 AM to 5 PM. At the end of the course, there was a practical and written exam. If we passed those, we received our certification, stating that we were ACLS certified for two years.

The course cost was approximately $200 (covered by my program). Additionally, one must purchase the ACLS provider manual for approximately $40 (maybe I'll be reimbursed someday?). In reality, the course ran from 8 am to about 4pm the first day, and 8am to about 1pm the second day. It could have been even shorter, but I think they were required to keep us there for a certain amount of time.

Preparing For The Advanced Cardiac Life Support Training

While preparing for the course is not 100% essential, it is very very helpful. I messed up here, because the email I received only mentioned the preparation in an attachment, not the body, of the email. Furthermore, when I called to confirm my course registration, all the person said on the other end was that I had to show up and wear comfortable clothes. Regardless, what I should have done is purchase the Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support Provider Manual published by the American Heart Association, read all the cases beforehand, and taken the pre-tests. The AHA ACLS Manual is the only official training manual for these courses, so it pays to get it early. Also, on the first day, when you register, they ask you for your pre-test scores. If you do not have passing pre-test scores, they explicitly state that they cannot guarantee that you will receive certification by the end of the two day course.

Advanced Cardiac Life Support Training Day 1

As I stated above, I arrived the first day in comfortable clothes... but without a Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support Provider Manual. I scrambled to buy one and began to read through the cases as introductions were made. Needless to say, I didn't get much out of the first hour. After introductions, the large group of us taking the course (about 30) were split into groups of 5 or 6. These small groups are where we received the bulk of our training.

The rest of the first morning was spent going over cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) basics. Nowadays, this is also referred to as basic life support, or BLS. The last time I trained for BLS was in 8th grade, but I remembered a reasonable amount. Still, the ACLS course explicitly states that ACLS certification is not the same as being BLS certified. To me, that makes no sense as one cannot pass the ACLS course without showing some proficiency in BLS. The morning overall though went fairly well, as we practiced doing CPR and using an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). You have to show proficiency at both to pass the course, meaning they watch you do the entire sequence one time of CPR followed by AED use without any guidance, and then pass you.

Following lunch, we spent the afternoon going over the pulseless resuscitation pathway. The sequence has many details but the takehome point is that if they have fibrillation, then you defibrillate; otherwise, you do not. Pretty simple, right? Heh.

After Day 1, I went home and tried to cram the rest of the cases into my head, but was too tired and fell asleep.

Advanced Cardiac Life Support Training Day 2

I woke up extra early to try to finish off the cases and do the pre-tests. Unfortunately for me, I didn't finish the cases and did poorly on the pre-tests. Fortunately for you, I'm here to tell you that if you are awake and pay attention during the course instruction, you will pass the course easily. Still, it really really helps to have read the cases beforehand and memorized the drugs / doses.

Day 2 primarily consisted of going over what to do when the person does have a pulse but has a worrisome rhythm. My group was lucky to have a great instructor who basically went over all the scenarios twice for all of us during this session. He even told us that the test would be exactly the same, except that instead of making comments he would grade us. We then broke for lunch, after which we returned and took the exam. As our instructor said, it went exactly as before, except that he made no comments this time. After a short break, we took a written exam.

The written exam was 25 questions long, concerning mostly material from the ACLS provider manual. However, one could easily pass if they had just paid attention during the training. You could miss up to 4 questions and still get a passing grade. The pass rate according to the trainers was nearly 99%, and needless to say, everyone in my group passed.

Overall, it was a good experience and useful training. It surprises me though, that we are allowed to go into clinics in the US and through medical school without receiving this training beforehand. If you are still a medical student and are interested in cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, anesthesia, or critical care, I would highly recommend that you take this course so that you look like a rockstar to your attending and teams. I feel that by being ACLS certified, I am now a more competent doctor. Now, I just have to figure out a way to remain sharp at it without ever having to use it =)

Updated 2015-12-18


  1. Oooh! ACLS training does make you feel like a real doctor- handling emergencies and all! \m/
    Its bad that they don't have it in Med School. Heck, here, its not even compulsory for the resident doctors! So its basically trial and error learning of the CPR for them :O

  2. Looking forward to more posts doc! :)

  3. Thanks for the post! I'm starting my 3rd year rotations on Monday and they just taught us BLS, but I felt like picking up ACLS would be extremely helpful. Thanks for confirming it and telling about your experience!

  4. Sure, I hope detailing the experience will let people know what to expect and how it is useful. I think anyone going into practice should take it at least once, just so you know what to do in case the unexpected arises.

  5. is a free website helping people prepare for ACLS. There is an ACLS Megacode simulator. ACLS Quizzes, and tips for remembering ACLS 2005 Algrithms are also there.

  6. In emergency medicine, advanced cardiac life support is "the use of sophisticated methods and equipment to treat full or impending cardiopulmonary arrest. Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) includes the use of specialized equipment to maintain the airway, early defibrillation and pharmacological therapy." It is sufficiently resource-intensive that it will not be attempted under most triage systems for mass casualty incidents.

  7. provides Chicago ACLS classes, Chicago CPR Classes, and Chicago PALS classes

  8. I appreciate your post, thanks for sharing the post, i want to hear more about this in future

    I like your article and it really gives an outstanding idea that is very helpful for all the people on web.

    great blog! i learn few things in this post, thanks for the share.

    nice posting keep blogging,

    these pictures are awesome!

  9. I got my ACLS certification at medtrain( and they had a great instructor that was knowledgeable and very dynamic! Absolutely recommended!



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