5 steps for training officers to learn the AHA 2015 guidelines

Early preparation and information gathering will ensure you and your field personnel are ready when the AHA instructional materials are released


The 2015 American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines are scheduled for release on October 15. These guidelines form the backbone of adult, child and pediatric cardiorespiratory care provided by all EMT’s and paramedics.

EMS personnel will be looking to their training officers and EMS faculty for guidance, instruction and certification in the new standards. Here are five tips that EMS educators can use to learn and master the new standards in advance of those questions and requests from field personnel.

1. Learn when the new AHA courses and materials will be available

The American Heart Association has posted their 2015 Guidelines Preliminary Product Release Schedule. BLS and ACLS courses are scheduled for release in March/April of 2016 and PALS is slated to be released in July/August 2016. Instructors should mark their calendar so they will know when it is time to update to the new standards. Instructors should also plan on ordering the textbooks as soon as they are available to avoid any potential shortages as everyone clamors to get the new materials.

2. Read the new textbooks in their entirety

This may seem obvious and simple, but the fact is many instructors do not read the updated materials in their entirety. Many instructors consider the mandatory AHA instructor update training courses as sufficient. Training officers and EMS educators need to hold themselves to a higher standard and make sure they understand the material in its entirety. They must also be intimately familiar with the materials they will be providing to students. Students ask lots of questions and this familiarity with the new AHA textbooks is a real asset.

3. Create handouts

Creating handouts is an excellent way for instructors to learn if they really understand the updates. These handouts will also be a valuable reference tool for instructors as they work toward mastery of the new standards.

An excellent handout format is to divide a sheet of paper in half vertically. On the left side of the paper, place the 2010 AHA specific algorithm in simple bullet form. On the right side, place the new 2015 version, also in simple bullet form. Highlight the changes in the 2015 version for easy identification.  

Add notes at the bottom of the page to discuss what was omitted from the old algorithms as well as other key instructional points. Making handouts in this side-by-side format will make it easier for instructors to quickly identify the key changes to field personnel. These handouts will be beneficial “go-to” guides for instructors until the new algorithms are ingrained. They can also be given to students as a study guide.

4. Practice

Once instructors have studied the new guidelines sufficiently, the next step is to relearn crucial psychomotor and kinesthetic habits. Instructors should spend an afternoon or entire day simulating patient encounters using the new guidelines. This is an excellent way to unlearn the old and assimilate the new. Memorization alone isn’t sufficient; the muscle memory needed for the new guidelines needs to be developed as well. EMS faculty can do this together as a group to “sharpen the saw” and to validate the accuracy of handouts. Simulation will also help you identify and anticipate problems students are likely to have during their update courses.

5. Start early!

Transitioning to the 2015 AHA guidelines is a major effort that encompasses nearly every course taught in an EMS education curriculum. This simply cannot be done last minute. The sooner EMS educators begin the process of transition, the more time they will have to make the necessary changes, and the smoother the transition will occur.  

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