BLS, or basic life support training, equips people within certain professions to provide immediate medical attention to life-threatening emergencies, primarily through cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), automated external defibrillators (AED), and choking relief.
Upon completing BLS training, students receive a certification typically required for their line of work. If you’re on a career path that calls for a BLS certification, stick around!
In this post, we explain everything there is to know about BLS training and BLS certification.
Who Needs a BLS Certification?
Most first responders and healthcare providers need a BLS certification to legally and safely perform their job.
If you’re planning on pursuing one of the following careers, you will more than likely be required to undergo BLS training at some point:
- Police officer
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
- Nursing Assistant
- Dental Worker
However, BLS certifications are not only available to people in the above professions. Many civilians and parents become BLS certified to keep their friends and families safe.
Additionally, some people in the following careers choose to obtain a BLS certification out of caution.
- Child care workers
- Flight attendants
- Personal trainers
- Medical sonographers
If you need or are considering earning a BLS certification, keep reading!
How Do You Earn a BLS Certification?
To become certified, you must sign up for and pass a course that tests your ability to provide basic life support.
Most courses are single-day in-person classes that provide both textbook and hands-on training.
At the end of the course, students take a written test and perform the skills they learned on a CPR manikin while a trained instructor proctors.
If they successfully pass the written test and skills portion, they receive a physical and electronic BLS certification card.
Select programs have a hybrid model where students learn the material online but perform their skills in person. Despite the course structure, becoming BLS certified takes four to five hours.
Once you obtain your BLS certification, you probably won’t need to get recertified for two years, but this can vary by program.
Once your BLS certification expires, you will take an abbreviated course designed to sharpen your skill set and renew your certification. Recertification courses contain any new practices implemented since your last training.
Now that you know how to obtain a BLS certification, let’s discuss what a BLS training course includes.
What Does BLS Training Include?
BLS courses teach a wide range of skills that equip first responders and healthcare providers to provide immediate, life-saving treatment until advanced medical care becomes available.
For example, emergency medical service (EMS) professionals often provide basic life support until they reach a hospital.
There’s an abundance of BLS courses to choose from, but you’ll find that nationally accredited courses adhere to the American Heart Association’s (AHA) guidelines.
Therefore, the content taught across BLS courses is similar. You can expect to learn the following:
- How to recognize a medical emergency and assess a patient
- How to deliver solo and team-based CPR to adults, children, and infants
- How to administer CPR with a breathing tube in place
- The AHA chain of survival
- When and how to use an AED on adults, children, and infants
- How to identify and address an opioid overdose
- How to ventilate with a barrier device
- How to clear airway obstructions in adults, children, and infants
- Legalities to be aware of
While most BLS certification courses teach the same content, the type you choose may still matter. Let’s discuss how to identify and enroll in the best BLS course for you.
How To Choose a BLS Certification Course
If your employer requires a BLS certification, they may mandate that you obtain it through a specific organization. AHA and American Red Cross are the most popular certification programs, and both are widely accepted.
However, the AHA published the official CPR and emergency cardiovascular care committee (ECC) guidelines. For a BLS certification course to be nationally accredited, it must closely adhere to the guidelines. For example, even American Red Cross crafts curricula based on AHA guidelines.
So, what makes the AHA so special? Well, next to the federal government, the non-profit is the largest funder of cardiovascular research projects that continue to inform widely-accepted policies within the field of medicine.
All this is to say that it’s more common for employers to require an AHA certification than any other type.
If you’re unsure of your workplace’s requirements, ask them for a program recommendation or send them the program information so they can verify its acceptability before you enroll.
If you’re just a good samaritan hoping to be in the right place at the right time or don’t have any program requirements, you have a little bit more flexibility but should still choose carefully.
We recommend still opting for a nationally-accredited program that adheres to the AHA guidelines. An accredited course ensures you’re receiving the most up-to-date and accurate instruction.
More importantly, if you plan on using your BLS certification in a future career path, it’s more likely to be accepted.
Students seeking their BLS and advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS) or pediatric advanced life support (PALS) certification simultaneously is a common scenario. In this case, opt for an accredited BLS program that rolls the curricula for both certifications into one.
Be careful to avoid online BLS certification courses. Currently, there are no accredited online courses. Additionally, these online courses will not provide you with the hands-on practice you need to confidently perform basic life support skills.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s check out more questions about BLS certification to make sure you have all the information you need.
Is BLS the same as CPR?
Many people confuse BLS and CPR training. While CPR is one of the main subject matters taught within a BLS course, it is not the only one.
BLS courses are much more comprehensive and equip people to provide the care you might see within a medical setting, such as an ambulance or emergency room, hence the reason BLS certifications are common amongst first responders and health care providers.
If you’re debating between a CPR and BLS course, ask yourself why you’re obtaining the certification.
If it’s so you can be prepared in the face of a family emergency, CPR is likely sufficient. If it’s to advance your career or make the people you serve at work feel safer, opt for a BLS course.
Is becoming BLS certified hard?
As previously mentioned, becoming BLS certified only takes four to five hours, so it is generally not considered hard. However, if you’re unfamiliar with medical terminology, the training may feel technical at first.
Difficulty can also vary by program. For example, AHA BLS courses require a written and skill exam score of 84 percent, while the American Red Heart BLS courses require a passing score of 80 percent.
How much do BLS courses cost?
Most employers will cover the cost of their staff’s BLS training, but if yours does not, you need not worry as it is inexpensive. With materials, courses range from $40 to $100.
This price is typical of renewal courses as well. Get the most value from your dollar by enrolling in a certification program that lasts two years.
BLS course costs usually include a wallet, physical, and electronic copy of the BLS certification, as well. Additionally, some programs offer free exam reviews and retakes if students do not pass.
Do I need to become certified in my state?
BLS certification courses require hands-on testing, so getting it outside your state of residence may prove difficult. Luckily, as long as you have nationally-accredited BLS certifications, you won’t have to get a new one if you move.
For instance, if you earned your certification in Arizona for a job in California, you won’t need a new one unless your license is expired.
When it comes to BLS, the only requirement that varies per state is whether or not your job requires a certification.
What is an example of BLS?
Once you earn your BLS certification, you’re prepared to identify and address cardiac and respiratory emergencies, such as choking, drowning, and cardiac arrest.
As previously mentioned, BLS providers administer life-saving precautions until advanced life support (ALS) or hospital attention is available. In other words, the treatment provided is non-invasive.
For instance, BLS providers cannot administer drugs or intubate patients. Basic life support examples include the following:
- Providing CPR
- Accurately supplying oxygen or glucose
- Performing the Heimlich maneuver or other abdominal thrusts
- Monitoring breathing and heart rate
Before You Go
In this article, we’ve learned that BLS training is primarily tailored to first responders and healthcare providers, such as EMS professionals. Typically, employers require the certification and are willing to cover the cost.
However, good samaritans can easily enroll in and pass a course if interested. Those certified are licensed to sustain a person’s health in potentially life-threatening emergencies until the patient can receive advanced life support or attention from a nurse/doctor.
Nationally accredited BLS courses that adhere to the AHA guidelines are widely accessible, and the certification is quick and easy to obtain.
Kate is the communications director for the American Medical Resource Institute, where they’ve trained over a million healthcare professionals to study for, earn and maintain life support certifications that allow them to better respond to cardiac emergencies. When not in the office, you can find Kate practicing her tennis skills. She also frequents live music venues and is always looking for her next creative hobby.