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"Which CPR course do I need to take?"

That is the question I've heard over 20,000 times.

For folks who don't teach CPR classes for a living, it can be especially frustrating to register for a course - as there are so many of them. To understand this, you have to realize a few things. First, there are a ton of different organizations (think of these as the companies who make the cards) out there. There are the big boys like the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Red Cross (ARC), and there are smaller ones. Some of these would be the Health and Safety Institute (HSI), The National CPR Certifications (NCC), and the Emergency Care and Safety Institute (ECSI). The big boys are constantly attempting to retain their title as a big boy, and the smaller ones are trying to play with the big boys.

The first answer as to why there are so many different names for CPR courses is that each of these companies want to stand apart from the others. They don't want people to confuse an AHA course with another (lesser) course. Therefore, the AHA came up with special names for their community courses, which are called "Heartsaver" courses. If you see a card that says the word "Heartsaver" on it, there is no question that it's an AHA course. The unfortunate part is that each of the companies is doing the same thing, so the naming conventions of these courses can get a little muddy. For the sake of standing apart from their competitors, these companies have made it an anxiety-filled nightmare for a layperson to figure out which course will fulfill their needs.

The second reason for all the different courses is the existence of state and local requirements dictating the education of employees and workers. As the years have gone on, more and more rules have been added into the list of requirements for people who work in certain industries. In California for example, if you're a preschool teacher or an in-home daycare provider you need First Aid and CPR training. If you're a high school football coach, same thing. Construction worker, yep. Dental assistant, you need it as well. However, due to all the different regulatory bodies, each of the people I just mentioned above need a different "title" on their CPR card. Literally none of these people will end up with the same CPR card. One needs Pediatric CPR, one needs a Heartsaver for K-12 schools, one needs a traditional First Aid CPR card, and the other needs a Basic Life Support Provider card.

Is there a difference in the information that's being taught in all those different courses? The short answer is no. As somebody who has been an instructor for the past 15 years and somebody who has performed CPR on hundreds of patients over my career, I can confidently say that CPR is CPR. It doesn't matter what industry you're in. CPR is the same whether you're working in a preschool or working at a dental office. It's important to understand that all of these courses are the same (as far as the information is concerned). The only difference is that you're going through one organization versus the other. Think of these organizations the same way you would think of any retail store. Do you shop at Target or Walmart? Those would be the big boys we've discussed above. Or do you shop at TJ Maxx, Kmart, or Ross? Those are the smaller ones. They generally have all the same stuff, but it just depends on whether you're interested in the name brands or not.

Before we get into the different courses, there is another very important thing to understand. When was the last time you walked into a massive office building that had "American Heart Association" plastered all over the outside of building? My guess is that you've never done that. These organizations don't really teach classes to students. Instead, they train people to teach these classes in the way that they want them to be taught. Once they train these people to be instructors, the instructors are free to teach classes under any name they wish. For example, in 2008 I became an HSI instructor and officially started Kiser CPR & First Aid. I wasn't doing any scientific research on cardiac arrest, I was simply allowed to teach CPR because HSI said I was. They don't care what name I'm doing business as. They just want me to start teaching so they can make money off all the CPR cards I'm buying from them.

However, as the years passed, I realized I was missing out on a ton of opportunities. Most hospitals wouldn't accept my cards. In fact, most people who work in the medical field couldn't take my classes. This was because these businesses (despite the fact that my courses were compliant with state regulations) only wanted their employees to be taking classes from the name brands; the big boys. That's when I made the decision to expand my potential and get certified to teach under the big boy names: the AHA and the ARC. Were the classes different? Absolutely not. Were they better? Definitely not. Yet, that's what my customers needed because some non-medical person in an HR department said that they only accepted cards from the big boys.

The reason I bring this up is because it's extremely important for students who are choosing a company to go to. All of the local companies (like me) are "affiliated" with these larger organizations. Unfortunately, your employer may only accept CPR cards from a few of them. If you're a personal trainer at a tennis club your employer likely doesn't care where the card comes from as long as it says the words "CPR" on it. If you're a nurse at a level one trauma center, they may ONLY accept cards from the American Heart Association. Therefore, as a student you need to make sure you're taking a class that will fulfill the requirements of your employer.

As most of our offices are located in California, I'll only speak to that (we do have an office in Medford, OR and the regulations are likely the same but I'm not 100% sure). The first course we'll discuss is the traditional CPR/AED course.



This is the most basic course you can take. It goes by several names depending on the organization you're going through. The AHA call this course Heartsaver CPR/AED, the ARC simply calls it CPR, and HSI calls it Adult/Infant/Child CPR/AED. Regardless of the name, this course is designed for non-medical providers who need training in CPR but they do not need training in Basic First Aid for whatever reason.

Who needs this course:

There are only three people who need to take this course. The first are personal trainers. They are almost never required to have first aid training for their jobs. The second are new teachers who are seeking credentialing in the state. These are folks who have not started teaching yet and are simply getting their teaching credentials. The third and final group are people who are just wanting to take a CPR class because they want to know how to do it. This is pretty typical of first time parents who are wanting to learn how to save their child.

Adult Basic First Aid, CPR/AED

This is BY FAR the most common course that people need to take. It is designed for non-medical providers who need training in CPR and first aid and they don't find themselves supervising children under the age of five very often. This course also goes by many names. The AHA calls this Heartsaver First Aid CPR, the ARC calls it FA/CPR/AED, and HSI calls this the Adult First Aid, CPR/AED combo course (commonly called the "combo class"). Essentially, if you're a non-medical person and your job is telling you to take a CPR and First aid Course (and you're not a preschool teacher or daycare provider), this is the course you need.

Who needs this course:

It is almost impossible to create a comprehensive list of industries that are required to take this class, as it's so far-reaching, but I'll try. If you build things, you need this class. Meaning, if you're an engineer, contractor, construction worker, electrician, road worker, equipment operator, plumber, surveyor, or sign-holder you'll need this course. If you work outside for a living, like those in the lumber or forestry business, you need this course. If you're a coach for any middle or high school, you need this course. There is one caveat. In general, if you do ANYTHING in the medical industry this is not the right course for you. However, if you work in the IHS field (meaning you're a in-home care worker) this is the course you need. If you work as a CNA doing in-home care, this is the course you need. If you work in a setting that does behavioral or crisis care, this the course you need. Outside of that, if you work in healthcare, you'll need a different course.

Pediatric First Aid, CPR/AED

This course is designed for folks who regularly work with kids under the age of five (with a single exception). Some genius at the state level about eight years ago decided that if you work with little kids your card should say the word "pediatric" on it. Is the class different? No. Do you still learn how to care for adults in this class? Yes. However, the word "pediatric" is in the title. Like all the others, this course goes by several names. The AHA calls this Heartsaver Pediatric First Aid, CPR/AED. The ARC is a holdout and doesn't really have a specific course that fits this criteria but they are approved in California to teach this class. Finally, HSI calls this class the Pediatric First Aid, CPR/AED all ages course. Another frustrating addition is that this course is regulated by the California EMS Authority (and they need their money too). Therefore, anytime you take a class in this category, the instructor must put two stickers on the card that indicate that this is an approved "Pediatric" course in the state of California. There is a single exception to the "sticker" rule. If a student takes a course from the American Heart Association, a sticker is not required. Outside of AHA courses, if a student takes a course from ANY other organization, the instructor is required to give you a Cal EMSA CPR Sticker and a Cal EMSA First Aid sticker that you have to put on your card.

Who needs this course?

Again, there are three people who need to take this course. First first two I've mentioned several times: preschool teachers and in-home daycare providers. The exception that I mentioned earlier is that the third person who needs to take this course are California School Bus Drivers.

Basic Life Support

This is the easier one. Very simply, if you work in the healthcare field at all, this is the course you need. This course goes by several names as well. The AHA and HSI call this course Basic Life Support, but the ARC still calls it BLS/CPR for Healthcare. You'll also see this course listed as CPR Pro or CPR for the Professional Rescuer.

Who needs this course?

The obvious ones are EMT's, Paramedics, Firefighters, Peace Officers, Nurses, Respiratory Therapists, Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, Phlebotomists, Pharmacists, etc... If you work in an allied health field you'll also need this course. Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, Dental, lifeguards, everyone. With the single exception of in-home care workers, if you work in the healthcare field at all, this the course you'll need.


In Closing, I hope this was able to clear the murky waters, if only a little. The best piece of advise I can give you is this: if you're unsure of what class you need, just give the local company a call. I actually laugh about this all the time. A student will call me and try to explain to me what they need for three or four minutes.

My response is always the same, "what are you taking the class for?"

They reply with, "Well I need it to get into my nursing program".

Or maybe, "I'm looking to go sign the books with the electrical union."

"Okay, you need..."

We do this for a living. We know what class you need to take. All you have to do is tell us why you're taking the class and we will point you in the right direction. After teaching over 25,000 students in the past 15 years, there isn't a single industry I don't know. Just let me know why you're doing it and we'll make sure you get the correct card at the end of the day.

  • Austin

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