PALS Vs. ACLS: What’s the Difference?

PALS Vs. ACLS: What’s the Difference?

If you are working in a medical setting, you may be required to undergo advanced
certifications that equip you with life-saving skills. Every year, more than 400,000 people in
the US die due to cardiac arrest. While CPR and basic life support certifications are
important, working with children, in the ICU, and in other cases where you may need to
provide more advanced techniques require higher certifications. This is where PALS and
ACLS come in, but do you know what the main differences between them are?
Understanding these two certifications helps you understand which one you should opt for to
be better prepared in your own work setting.

Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)

ACLS is a certification that provides detailed guidelines for healthcare professionals on the
steps they need to take in certain emergency situations in relation to adult patients. These
situations are usually life-threatening, which means immediate actions need to be taken by
the healthcare professional. The ACLS certification includes guidelines on various types of
life-threatening events, such as cardiac emergencies, as well as arrhythmias.

There are different individuals who can benefit from an ACLS certification. Inside the
hospital, this may include physicians, specialists, and nurses. EMTs, as well as paramedics,
also require these skills outside the hospital when responding to emergency calls.

In one research report, it is reported that up to 79% of individuals who experience an event
of cardiac arrest survive when they have undergone cardiac arrest while in the hospital.

Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)

The PALS certification primarily focuses on providing support for life-threatening
emergencies that can happen among younger patients. This includes infants, toddlers, and
children. The skills that PALS certification equips you with become critical in situations where
you work with children affected by serious illnesses. Your goal is to save the lives of these
pediatric patients should they face life-threatening complications or emergencies.

The certification has been developed based on scientific research, clinical studies, and
through the knowledge of experts in the pediatric medical field. This has helped to create
certain guidelines that provide updates on the best practices and protocols that should be
used to deliver life-support solutions to the patient.

You’ll also receive the knowledge and skills you need to effectively detect certain symptoms
that signal respiratory failure, cardiopulmonary arrest, and other serious complications in

Key Differences Between ACLS and PALS

One of the main differences that you’ll note between PALS and ACLS certifications is the
subject in mind – the patient that you are going to perform certain protocols. With ACLS, the
main focus is on using certain techniques to save the lives of adult patients who are facing

cardiac events. A PALS certification will educate you on the protocols you should turn to in
the event that a child faces a life-threatening emergency.

With both of these certifications, it’s important to understand that you’ll need to be recertified
at certain intervals. The American Heart Association and other authorities regularly make
updates to their guidelines surrounding the best protocols for cardiac emergency situations.
This ensures you keep up to date with the latest guidelines.

Understanding the ACLS Workflow and Course Structure

When taking a course for basic life support training, there are a couple of essential topics
that will be covered. You’ll undergo training in CPR, first-aid, and AED use. ACLS goes into
more detail and gives you access to advanced techniques that can be used in emergency

While the course does cover some topics that you may feel familiar with if you completed
basic life support training, the more advanced procedures discussed give you the skills you
need in serious cases.

The American Heart Association authorized the use of Advanced Cardiac Life Support
certifications and courses to equip medical professionals with the necessary knowledge.
When opting for an ACLS certification, two of the primary topics that will be discussed
include the Chain of Survival, as well as EKG Interpretation.

The Chain of Survival generally focuses on the patient’s chances of surviving a cardiac
event. It is broken into two different parts, starting with early access to protocols, followed by
the use of CPR at an early stage.

The use of an AED to provide defibrillation in cases of emergencies is also discussed, as
well as the more advanced life support protocols that are used in the ACLS model. A primary
goal here is to ensure you understand the important role of early intervention and what
methods need to be used.

The course also goes into more detail about EKG interpretation. Understanding and the
capability to interpret EKGs (electrocardiograms) is critical in emergency situations. The
course provides guidelines on considering the specific situation and to then determine
whether protocols like defibrillation might be a possible approach.

As a respondent, you’ll need to combine your knowledge of ACLS methods and your ability
to effectively interpret findings of an EKG, while also assessing the patient’s vital signs. This
allows team leaders and other respondents to make appropriate decisions at the moment.

PALS Course Structure And Completion Requirements

PALS also helps to educate you on the protocols used in cases where pediatric patients are
in an emergency situation. With this said, this particular course sometimes requires
classroom attendance, and you have to pass through multiple learning stations.

To obtain a PALS certification, there are a couple of requirements that you will need to meet.
The criteria require an 80% or higher score on the written examination. You’ll also need to
pass multiple case scenarios before you can obtain this certification.

Some scenarios that you may need to pass include upper and lower airway obstruction,
bradycardia, obstructive shock, and lung tissue disease. The idea is to expose you to some
potential emergency situations you may come across when attending to pediatric patients.
There are also skill stations, including infant and child CPR, as well as AED, that you need to
pass to ensure you are able to effectively respond to emergencies related to the respiratory
system, the heart, and more.

Do You Need ACLS and PALS Certifications?

There are some situations where obtaining both PALS and ACLS certifications is a good
idea, but you have to consider your work situation. If you work with pediatric patients on a
regular basis, then a PALS certification may be necessary.

On the other hand, if you are usually solely involved in environments where adult patients
are being taken care of, then an ACLS certification is a good option. While there are some
similarities between the two courses, some healthcare professionals do prefer both

When you work in a hospital, for example, you may come across both children and adults in
emergency settings. By having both certifications, you can easily adjust the guidelines you
follow in certain situations based on the patient you are attending to.


Both ACLS and PALS certifications play important roles when it comes to certain medical
settings. Nurses and other staff who often work with children should consider equipping
themselves with the PALS certification. The ACLS certificate can also be useful in cases
where you frequently find yourself in the ICU and other areas where you may need to attend
to critically ill patients. With this said, paramedics and several other healthcare professionals
can also benefit from these certifications.


CPR Facts & Stats. American Heart Association.

C. Herrmann. Cardiac advanced life support-surgical guideline: overview and
implementation. AACN Advanced Critical Care. Published 2014. https://
N.M. Tofil, S.L. Gaither, et al. Observational Study on the Effect of Duration from Pediatric
Advanced Life Support (PALS) Certification on PALS Performance in Pediatric Interns in
Simulated Cardiopulmonary Arrest. ResearchGate. Published July 2021. https://

J.P. Duff, A.A. Topjian, et al. 2019 American Heart Association Focused Update on Pediatric
Advanced Life Support: An Update to the American Heart Association Guidelines for
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care. Journal of Circulation.
Published 10 December 2019.


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