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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 well 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. Most people who have undergone training with both organizations will tell you that there is very little difference in terms of course content.

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. The American Heart Association offers three main classes, as follows:

  • BLS for the Healthcare Professional
  • Heartsaver AED
  • Heartsaver CPR

Among these, BLS for the Healthcare Professional is the most in-depth. This course is generally for healthcare professionals—nurses, doctors, physical therapists, EMT’s, dentists, and others. The Heartsaver CPR course is 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 three most common American Red Cross classes include:

  • CPR for the Professional Rescuer
  • CPR for Schools and the Community
  • CPR for the Workplace

Among these, CPR for the Professional Rescuer (sometimes referred to as “CPR Pro”) is the most in-depth, and generally seen as the equivalent to the AHA’s BLS for the Healthcare Professional. The other two programs are designed for non-healthcare professionals who still need to know CPR as part of their jobs—corporate and industrial safety officers, lifeguards, and others—and laypeople who want to develop these skills. CPR for Schools and the Community is designed for teens as well as adults. The Red Cross also has a few more specialized courses, such as CPR for pets and CPR for coaches.  

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. For example, 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%. Once, the Red Cross’s classes were known to be considerably longer than the American Heart Association’s, but this is no longer the case.

Generally the prevailing wisdom is that the American Heart Association is more difficult and better suited to healthcare providers, while the Red Cross offers broader training and is generally best for those who do not have a healthcare background. However, this is fairly subjective and not all who have trained with both would agree.

The American Heart Association offers a two-year certification period for those who take their training and pass the exam, while the Red Cross offers only one year of certification for most of its courses, except for CPR for the Professional Rescuer, which also offers a two-year certification period.

Both courses are relatively inexpensive, although some people take the courses through private companies and that can increase the price. Both organizations sell manuals that cost approximately $10 or $15; for the AHA, some private companies include the manual in the class price.

Both organizations offer traditional classroom training as well as online instruction. The American Red Cross in particular has a well-developed online learning system that allows students to learn and practice the skills online. However, neither of these organizations offers a certification process that is entirely online; skills testing and evaluation generally still needs to be done on-site with a licensed instructor.

Renewals also are mostly done in person; 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.

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, most 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. The American Heart Association may offer more in-depth courses by a small amount, but their courses are still widely taken by non-healthcare professionals and laypeople—and the American Red Cross is still 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.


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