Learn the differences between ACLS, BLS, and PALS in nursing, and when you'll need to get certified.
Currently, there are nearly three million registered nurses in the United States. As the population ages and the medical industry continues to expand, this figure is expected to become even greater. Being a nurse can be an incredibly rewarding career that will help all kinds of different people. However, in order to secure a job as a registered nurse and remain in good standing, you need to make sure you have all the proper certifications.
ACLS, BLS, and PALS are all certifications that nurses may need to apply for. The exact certifications you need to apply for will depend on many different variables including the hospital/state you work in, the specific type of nursing you plan to do, and the environment you plan to work in.
Fortunately, ACLS, BLS, and PALS recertifications can all be easily obtained online via websites such as eMedCert. In this article, we will discuss the most important things for nurses to know about these certifications and will attempt to answer some of the most common questions that aspiring (and practicing) nurses might have.
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Do Nurses Need to Have ACLS, BLS, or PALS Certification?
BLS Certification—which stands for Basic Life Support—is required for all registered nurses, regardless of where they are working or the type of patients they will typically be working with. BLS courses teach nurses a wide range of skills (many of which were already covered extensively in nursing school) such as administering CPR, using an AED, clearing airways, and others.
ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support) will be required for some nurses, but not all. ACLS certification, which covers many BLS topics but goes further in-depth, is required for nurses working in the intensive care unit (ICU) and nurses who are working with adults at risk of a cardiovascular emergency. PALS certification, as you might guess, will be required for nurses who work in the pediatric unit or are otherwise frequently working with children.
If you are unsure about the requirements specific to your position, be sure to clarify with your current (or potential) supervisor. Below, we will further explain what each of these courses will cover.
Related Article: What Certifications do Nurses Need for Working in the ER?
What is BLS Certification for Nurses?
Basic Life Support (BLS) certification is a requisite for all registered nursing positions. It is also required for many other professions, including EMTs, most doctors, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and numerous others. A BLS certificate will help nurses learn how to administer CPR to all types of patients, including infants, children, and adults.
Other skills include understanding the AHA “chain of survival”, administering two-person CPR, the “ABCs” of life support, ventilation skills, and the proper use of an AED. Currently, the American Heart Association offers an advanced healthcare course that many nurses will be required to complete (the “layperson” course is offered for teachers, lifeguards, and other professionals not working in a hospital).
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What is ACLS Certification for Nurses?
ACLS certification is more advanced than BLS certification. While there is a significant amount of overlap between these courses, most nurses working with adults will still need to complete both courses.
In an Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) course, nurses will review basic BLS skills, learn to recognize and manage cardiac arrest, learn advanced airway management techniques, learn about recognizing and managing strokes, and build effective communication skills. Even in non-intensive nursing programs, these situations will emerge quite frequently, which is why it is so important for nurses to stay up to date with their certification.
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What is PALS Certification for Nurses?
Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) is designed to help nurses learn how to administer life-saving treatments to infants and children (who, due to their small size, need to be treated differently from adults). The topics covered in these courses will be very similar to the topics covered in ACLS courses and will include things such as the use of a child AED, recognizing possible cardiac problems, and learning how to effectively communicate as a team.
Because children are more likely to be scared and infants will be unable to communicate, addressing trauma and identifying the underlying issues will be especially important. PALS certification is usually only required for nurses working specifically with children, though it may also be required for nurses who might see children on a somewhat regular basis (such as nurses working in the ER). Again, because certification requirements can vary, be sure to check with your supervisor in advance.
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Obtaining Required Nursing Certifications Online
Whether online ACLS, BLS, or PALS certification will be accepted will depend on your specific employment situation. However, even in cases where hospitals require an in-person training session for your initial certification, these hospitals may be more lenient and allow for online certification or recertification.
ACLS, BLS, and PALS certification will need to be renewed every two years. With each renewal, you will be tested to make sure that you are still familiar with all of the information covered by the initial course.
You may want to take a practice exam to make sure you are still completely up to date. The course material—which is usually determined by standards laid out by the American Heart Association—does occasionally change over time, which is exactly why renewing your certification will be very important. Fortunately, online recertification options typically allow you to work at your own pace and familiarize yourself with any recent changes to the recommended treatments.
Depending on the hospital you are working at and the type of nursing you will be doing, you may be required to obtain ACLS, BLS, and/or PALS certification. BLS certification will be required for all nurses, but ACLS and PALS certification will only be required for some nurses. For more information about which course is best for you, send our team a message.