AHA vs. Red Cross CPR Training Programs: What’s the Difference?

If you’re planning to get your CPR certification, you have a lot of options. But two of the best known and most widely recognized are the American Heart Association and the Red Cross.

So if you’re sure you want to go with one or the other, how do you choose? The truth is that while there are both benefits and drawbacks to choosing one of these programs to an online certification program, there isn’t a huge amount of difference between the classes and training offered by the AHA and the Red Cross. Both offer very in-depth training for healthcare professionals as well as programs for laypeople. There are a few key differences, however.

First, the American Heart Association (AHA) is a research organization in addition to providing CPR training. Its role is both to research and establish the guidelines for CPR training around the country—guidelines followed by both online and traditional providers of CPR training—and to promote the learning of CPR through its research. The American Red Cross, like most other CPR training programs, adheres to AHA guidelines in designing its training materials.

Both the Red Cross and the American Heart Association offer classes at varying levels—for laypeople and community members, corporate CPR training, healthcare providers, and others.

American Heart Association Courses

The American Heart Association’s most popular classes for laypeople and corporate clients include:

  • Heartsaver CPR AED
  • Heartsaver First Aid
  • Heartsaver CPR, AED, and First Aid

There are also community-oriented courses for specific situations including:

  • Family & Friends CPR
  • CPR Anytime (Adult or Adult & Child)
  • CPR in Schools Training Kits
  • Hands-only CPR

These options are generally designed for non-healthcare professionals—including teachers, coaches, camp counselors, babysitters, and others who might need CPR as part of their employment requirements, or who just want to learn.

The AHA also offers a wide range of courses for medical professionals— nurses, doctors, physical therapists, EMT’s, dentists, and others. These in-depth training programs include:

  • Basic Life Support / HeartCode BLS
  • Heartcode Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
  • Pediatric Advanced Emergency Assessment, Recognition, and Stabilization (PEARS)

Red Cross Courses

The Red Cross also offers first aid, CPR, and AED training at various levels—for individuals, corporate training programs, and healthcare providers.

Part of what they do includes in-person or blended-learning training programs for non-medical professionals. These programs typically incorporate CPR, AED, and First Aid training and certification—but aren’t limited to that. They include:

  • Babysitting and Childcare: a suite of classes in professional-level childcare skills and building a childcare business.
  • Swimming and Water Safety: Swimming lessons for kids and adults, as well as water safety and training for swim coaches and teachers.
  • Lifeguard Training and Preparation: This program offers lifeguard certification and training across the country.

Their main offerings for healthcare professionals include:

  • BLS for Healthcare Providers
  • CPR for Healthcare Providers
  • Advanced Life Support (ALS)
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)

Among these, BLS for Healthcare Providers is the most commonly-required certification for healthcare providers.

The Red Cross also offers Certified Nursing Assistant training. This is an in-person program, taught by experienced licensed nurses, that prepares students to pass the state competency exam and be listed on the Nurse Aide Registry in their state.

In addition, in 2019, the Red Cross introduced a new curriculum specifically for healthcare professionals in partnership with HealthStream. The courses include:

  • Basic Life Support
  • Advanced Life Support
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support

These courses are available via HealthStream’s platform, and those who complete the courses are issued a Red Cross certificate.

AHA vs. Red Cross: Pricing and Course Structure

Both organizations offer traditional classroom training, online classes, and blended learning options. Non-certification courses for laypeople can be taken entirely online; however, if you’re earning a certification, you’ll need to undergo skills testing and evaluation on-site with a licensed instructor—even if you opt to take the rest of the course online.

And it’s the same for renewals. Although some classroom learning for CPR certification renewal can be done online, you will still need to take your skills test in person as you did when you first got certified. This is one of the more significant benefits of online CPR training and continuing education—the convenience. However, both the American Heart Association and the Red Cross have an extensive network of instructors and facilities, both nationally and worldwide.

The American Heart Association licenses training centers throughout the United States. When you take a blended-learning, certification-focused class with them, you pay for three things separately:

  • The online course (these vary in price from around $15-$30. Some are more; HeartCode ACLS, for instance, costs $132)
  • The skills check (varies depending on the facility; general prices are around $40-$60)
  • The manual (usually costs between $17 and $30)

The manual situation can surprise some people. The manual isn’t optional; you’re required to buy it and bring it to your class or skills check—it’s available as an ebook or hardcopy. If you don’t have a manual, you can’t get certified.

The American Red Cross also licenses training centers throughout the United States, where you can take either the entire course or a skills test. However, it also runs its own courses directly through the organization itself. While prices vary depending on the location, it tends to be a little more expensive if you take a course through one of the facilities run directly by the Red Cross, rather than a licensed provider.

With the Red Cross, all costs are included in the up-front price—including the skills test and manual. Depending on the type of class and your region, prices may range from around $60 to $115 (some may cost as much as $300). But everything you need is included in the price.

Red Cross vs. American Heart Association: Difficulty Levels and Acceptance

The American Heart Association’s courses are sometimes said to be a bit more difficult and in-depth than those at the Red Cross, and are often more widely required for healthcare professionals. However, this depends on which courses you take, your employer’s preference, and who you ask.

There may be something to the rumor that the American Heart Association has the more challenging program, however. The Red Cross requires a passing percentage rate of approximately 80% on its certification exams, while the American Heart Association requires a rate of 84-85%.

As for employer acceptance, both organizations are widely accepted throughout the country. The American Heart Association’s CPR certification is sometimes said to be more widely known and accepted, but there are plenty of exceptions to this rule.

Be aware, though, that although the courses offered by the American Heart Association and the Red Cross are generally equivalent in length, difficulty, and content, many organizations in the healthcare field will accept one or the other—but not both. Be sure to check with your employer to see which one is preferred, or whether both are acceptable.

In general, the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association offer equivalent classes—with a few small variations, you will learn the same techniques. Both are accepted at many hospitals and healthcare facilities. Check with your employer before signing up, and you should be able to choose the one that’s right for you.

(Last updated June 4, 2019)


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