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ACLS in depth - A preview to taking the ACLS online course

Many lessons in medicine are uniquely designed for a specific type of caregiver. Doctors learn to suture, nurses learn long-term health management, EMS technicians learn to safely remove patients from cars, and so on. However when it comes to managing truly life threatening emergencies, all healthcare providers turn to the American Heart Association's (AHA) course: Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS).

What is learned during the ACLS program?


ACLS is an in-depth course for all providers which will teach all the important procedures and methods of treatment for patients on the brink of cardiac arrest or actually in cardiac/pulmonary arrest. While in the course providers will learn the necessary hands on skills of assessing patients with Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS). This will include the recognition of potentially life threatening cardiac dysrhythmias, the importance of proper drug and dosage administration for those with Myocardial Infarctions, and the need for proper airway management. Students will learn the criteria for determining a ST-segment elevated myocardial infarction, thus reducing the time it takes for a patient to reach a cardiac catheterization laboratory.

Acute cerebral vascular attacks (CVA) have become a critical part of ACLS. Students will learn the necessary skills for assessing and treating patients with strokes. The differences between a hemorrhagic stroke and an ischemic stroke will be highlighted. With more and more acute neurological centers opening up around the country, rapid stroke assessment and arrangement for transportation to definitive care has become more important than ever. Students will learn the criteria for a patient's fibrinolytic (clot buster medication) eligibility.

For many, ACLS is considered "the dead people course." While it is true that the management of patients in cardiac arrest is a large component of ACLS, that cliche` implies that all cardiac arrests are the same. That could not be further from the truth. For example, does someone whose heart has stopped beating need a dose of atropine? The correct answer is that it depends? Surely everyone in cardiac arrest gets defibrillated? Wrong again!

Time is of the essence!

While in ACLS, students will learn that there is only one universal truth in managing a patient in cardiac arrest. That truth is the need for immediate and high quality CPR. While drug administration and defibrillation are important steps in proper management, high quality CPR must be provided at all times in order for those procedures to have any effect. The AHA states that in order to provide the most effective CPR that there should never be a lapse longer than eight to ten seconds between chest compressions and ventilations. While that may sound easy to achieve, anyone who has had to manage a patient in cardiac arrest with less hands than that preferred knows this is not the case. It takes a concentrated and highly prepared team to effectively perform ACLS.

"No other course more adequately prepares you to deal with and manage the most life threatening medical emergencies."

Fast recognition of the nature of life threatening cardiac emergencies is the key for effective and successful treatment in ACLS. Much of this requires rapid cardiac rhythm recognition. The AHA has developed easy to use algorithms depending on the present cardiac crisis. These include: ventricular fibrillation/pulseless ventricular tachycardia, pulseless electrical activity, asystole, acute coronary syndrome, bradycardia, stable and unstable tachycardia (See the Cardiology Guide). For each algorithm there is a step-by-step process that will include CPR, proper airway management, synchronized cardioversion or defibrillation, and appropriate drug therapy.

Students will learn that in order to accomplish the successful management and potential resuscitation of cardiac arrest, it will take a team effort of highly qualified and prepared individuals. Team management skills are just as an important lesson as that of proper drug therapy. While in ACLS students will be broke up into teams and practice hands on scenarios of pre-cardiac arrest patients, cardiac arrests, and post cardiac arrest victims. Students will alternate roles on an organized team, but all will be required to take on the role of "team leader." This role places the student in charge of a life threatening emergency. It will be their job to rapidly assess the patient and provide instructions to their team members. Does this sound like a high pressure situation? Good, because it is much less stressful than the real thing. However through the lessons of ACLS students will learn and train, thus reducing the anxiety in real life scenarios.

Staying up to date with changes and current ACLS strategies

Ultimately there is a reason why most healthcare providers are required to take ACLS. No other course more adequately prepares you to deal with and manage the most life threatening medical emergencies. The AHA is constantly researching the best and most successful treatments and therapies for those with critical cardiac symptoms. New guidelines with the occasional slight tweak are released every two years. Providing you, the student, with the most advanced techniques that Western medicine has to offer.

Want to learn more about ACLS and how you can complete the program online? Take a look at the ACLS online course, designed to fit into the lifestyle of busy healthcare providers.

Written by: David Peck, EMT-P Star Ambulance
Contributing Author, Public Safety Degrees