Advanced Trauma Life Support

Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) is a nationally recognized course offered through the American College of Surgeons. The course teaches a systematic approach of assessment, intervention and evaluation in caring for the acutely ill trauma patient. ATLS instructs physicians to assess, intervene and evaluate treatments of the trauma patients they will care for. Surgical and trauma residents are required to attend the course as they enter residency for an initial education on what types of patients they will be expected to treat. It is an expectation of emergency physicians to be ATLS certified. The need for the program and for sustained, aggressive efforts to prevent injuries is as great now as it has ever been, and to ensuring our physicians and residents are treating patients with the newest information will ensure better outcomes for our patients.

This course is intended for Continuing Education Credit (CME/ONA).

Course Description

The ATLS course emphasizes the rapid initial assessment and primary treatment of injured patients, starting at the time of injury and continuing through initial assessment, lifesaving intervention, reevaluation, stabilization, and, when needed, transfer to a trauma center. The course consists of precourse and post course tests, core content lectures, and interactive case, presentations, discussions, development of lifesaving skills, practical laboratory experiences, and a final performance proficiency evaluation. Upon completion of the course, participants should feel confident in implementing the skills taught in the ATLS course.

Curricular Goals

The Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course provides its participants with a safe and reliable method for the immediate treatment of injured patients and the basic knowledge necessary to:

  1. Assess a patient’s condition rapidly and accurately.
  2. Resuscitate and stabilize patients according to priority.
  3. Determine whether a patient’s needs exceed a facility’s resources and/or a doctor’s capabilities.
  4. Arrange appropriately for a patient’s interhospital or intrahospital transfer (what, who, when, and how).
  5. Ensure that optimal care is provided and that the level of care does not deteriorate at any point during the evaluation, resuscitation, or transfer processes.

Upon completion of the ATLS student course, the participant will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate the concepts and principles of the primary and secondary patient assessments.
  2. Establish management priorities in a trauma situation.
  3. Initiate primary and secondary management necessary within the golden hour for the emergency management of acute life-threatening conditions.
  4. In a given simulated clinical and surgical skills practicum, demonstrate the following skills, which are often required in the initial assessment and treatment of patients with multiple injuries:
    • Primary and secondary assessment of a patient with simulated, multiple injuries
    • Establishment of a patent airway and initiation of assisted ventilations.
    • Orotracheal intubation on adult and infant manikins
    • Pulse oximetry and carbon dioxide detection in exhaled gas
    • Cricothyroidotomy
    • Assessment and treatment of a patient in shock, particularly recognition of life-threatening hemorrhage
    • Venous and intraosseous access
    • Pleural decompression via needle thoracentesis and chest tube insertion
    • Recognition of cardiac tamponade and appropriate treatment
    • Clinical and radiographic identification of thoracic injuries
    • Use of peritoneal lavage, ultrasound (FAST), and computed tomography (CT) in abdominal evaluation
    • Evaluation and treatment of a patient with brain injury, including use of the Glasgow Coma Scale score and CT of the brain
    • Assessment of head and facial trauma by physical examination
    • Protection of the spinal cord, and radiographic and clinical evaluation of spine injuries
    • Musculoskeletal trauma assessment and management
    • Estimation of the size and depth of burn injury and volume resuscitation
    • Recognition of the special problems of injuries in infants, the elderly, and pregnant women
    • Understanding of the principles of disaster management

Assessment & Outcomes Measurement

Currently there is no repeat assessment performed. The certification is good for four years, at which time the participant may renew the certification at a 1/2 day refresher class. Students who do not successfully complete either or both of these phases of the course, the written posttest and the Initial Assessment Skills test, should be given the opportunity to retest at the course, time permitting. If time does not allow for retesting, the student has 3 months in which to complete the remedial testing.

Outcome measures will be monitored by how well they are able to pass the post course exam as well as how well they perform in the case scenario, with the provided assessment tool.


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Sally Griepentrog
Clinical Education Scholar
OSF HealthCare