These days, it depends.
The BLS certification has to be renewed every two years. It’s a professional certification designed primarily for healthcare providers, and it’s in the industry’s interest to make sure medical professionals keep these skills current. Everyone from doctors to firefighters who are required to maintain this certification have to go through the renewal process.
BLS Certification vs BLS Recertification
In the past, it was fairly common across the board for CPR training providers to offer a shorter version of the initial BLS certification course for those seeking to renew their certification. This BLS recertification course could often be completed in about half the time, and was only for those who had a current BLS card that was set to expire soon.
Not all providers did their recertification this way, of course—but both the Red Cross and American Heart Association (AHA) offered abbreviated classes for certification.
As of 2016, however, the American Heart Association discontinued that practice. They now offer only one BLS certification course, and you need to take it both for initial certification and recertification. The Red Cross still offers a shorter BLS course for recertification only.
So what does this mean for people looking to get their BLS certification renewed? Not that much, unless your employer specifically requires you to earn and maintain your certification through the AHA.
There are a lot of very reputable organizations beyond the AHA that provide BLS training. Some of these offer a different course for BLS certification and recertification, while for others, it’s the same course. That was true before the AHA made this change, and it’s still true today.
If you’re working with a provider that offers two different courses, the recertification course often takes about half the time to finish—this varies, though, as every provider’s program is different. But in general, it may be a more condensed version of the initial certification course designed to refresh your skills, not teach you everything all over again.
A lot of providers stay compliant with AHA guidelines for content and training materials—so even if your recertification course is a different length than the AHA’s classes, you’re still learning and reviewing very similar content.
Many recertification courses require you to have a valid BLS card. If you’ve let your card expire, most providers will ask you to complete the initial certification course again.
Both the Red Cross and AHA have made some progress in incorporating online learning into their programs. These days, both organizations let you earn and renew your BLS card either in person or online. If you choose the online option, however, you have to take an in-person skills test.
However, plenty of respected organizations offer both BLS certification and recertification completely online. This includes programs like ours that are compliant with AHA training content guidelines, and use highly qualified, AHA-trained instructors. You’re not missing out on quality by looking outside the AHA or Red Cross for your training.
So the difference between BLS certification and recertification depends on the program. With some, the recertification is a different course that may not take as long to complete; with others, there’s no difference. The right training program for you depends on your schedule, your employer’s requirements, and what you’re hoping to get out of the course—a quick refresher or a more thorough review.