Which trauma training course is right for you? PHTLS vs. ITLS

Compare course scope, cost and general requirements for two EMS trauma course providers

By Chris Meyer, EMS1 Contributor 

When it comes to continuing education for first responders, PHTLS and ITLS (formerly known as BTLS) are among the most popular course providers. Most states accept either certification and the courses share similarities in terms of topics covered. Depending on who you talk to though, you may hear strong opinions from paramedics or EMTs loyal to the trauma training course they attended.

To help distinguish between PHTLS and ITLS, we’ll lay out a comparison of course length, topics covered, likely locations, cost, passing requirements and continuing education hours awarded for each program.

The PHTLS logo
The PHTLS logo (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

PHTLS—Prehospital Trauma Life Support

NAEMT or the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians is the sponsor organization of PHTLS. NAEMT bills PHTLS as a course dedicated to improving trauma care by focusing education on EMS practitioners’ ability to think critically. In addition to its “Provider Course,” PHTLS offers courses for other first responders. 

The classroom portion of PHTLS can be taken online in some cases, but the practical portion must be in-person.

Course Length: 2 days, 8 hours per day

Topics covered:

  • Pediatric and Geriatric Trauma
  • Various emergencies—drowning, lightning, altitude, hot/cold emergencies
  • Special situations such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks
  • Airway management
  • Scene and patient assessment
  • Circulation and shock

Likely locations: PHTLS is taught in 64 countries throughout the world. To find a course near you, you must go to the NAEMT website to fill out the form and have it sent to a course coordinator that will give you specific information on a PHTLS location.

Cost range: The PHTLS course cost will vary, but between $150 and $250 is a good ballpark range. That price may or may not include the PHTLS Provider Manual which costs between $30 and $50.

What it takes to pass: Passing the PHTLS course requires the attendance of the entire 16-hour course, completion of online work and the classroom course. Participants must also complete skill stations and scenarios depending on the requirements of the course.

The number of hours of CE: 16 hours for the PHTLS Provider course.

ITLS—International Trauma Life Support

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) endorses ITLS. One of the main focuses of ITLS is identifying conditions that require urgent hospital transport. ITLS also emphasizes the importance of practitioners being familiar with the newest equipment and techniques.

Course Length: 2 days, 8 hours per day

Topics covered: ITLS provides a variety of trauma training courses. Their website lists 12 different, accredited courses, not including their recertification courses. However, the basic ITLS course focuses on the critical issues involved in trauma care. A few of the issues highlighted by the ITLS course overview include:

  • Airway management
  • Rapid extrication
  • Emergency rescue
  • Mass shooting procedures
  • Evaluating likely victims of shock
  • Pre-hospital treatment of impaired patients
  • Pediatric and geriatric trauma

Likely locations: Spread across 41 countries, ITLS is made up of a system of 108 chapters and training centers. ITLS has 38 chapters and centers throughout the United States and another fifteen in Canada. Wherever you live in the United States, it’s unlikely you’ll have to go too far to find an ITLS chapter or training center.

Cost Range: You’ll have to call the specific chapter you’re looking into for accurate pricing, but courses range between $250 to $300. ITLS charges assessment fees to every student whether they pass or fail. The international fee is currently $15.

What it takes to pass: Students pass the ITLS course and become a certified provider after they’ve attended the skill stations, lectures and passed written and practical exams. You aren’t expected to test on every skill. But you have to pass a test of 50 questions with a minimum score of 74 percent.

On the practical part of the course, you’re required to use skills appropriately to manage simulated patients. The ITLS website indicates that you’ll be graded on “your overall management of the problem.”

The Number of hours of CE: 16 hours for the ITLS Basic Provider course.

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