Are Online CPR Certifications Valid?

Can you get certified in CPR while sitting at your computer?

Man using laptop
Kristen Curette/Stocksy United

If you drop the term "CPR" into any Internet search engine, you're going to get a ton of links to sites promising online CPR certification. For a few bucks and a computer, any number of websites will let you print out an official-looking card suitable for your wallet, proclaiming you certified in the basics of CPR. That's a great time-saver, but how valid are online CPR certifications?

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards do not accept online-only certifications where CPR training is required for employees.

Many employers, especially in healthcare organizations, accept only a certification from the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association. Those cannot be obtained by online-only training. Check your employer's requirements before purchasing an online-only training course.

Online CPR Training Is a Farce

First of all, there's really no way to learn​ CPR online. As a way to learn the skill and be proficient, online CPR classes are useless. You can't learn how to do a motor skill well without doing the motions. If you never get down on the floor and push on a manikin's chest with an instructor giving you constructive feedback, you aren't learning CPR (which, by the way, is true in a classroom setting as well).

Back to the question at hand, assuming you would only get an online CPR certification to fulfill some sort of job requirement, online CPR certification is as valid as an employer says it is.

If your job accepts an online CPR certification, it counts. If not, it doesn't. But if they are required to have employees trained in CPR due to OSHA regulations, they should not accept online-only certifications.

Is CPR Training Regulated?

If you want to be a doctor, you have to get your training at an accredited medical school and pass the boards.

Want to be a nurse, an EMT, or a paramedic? Similar process. There are laws in all 50 states defining what it means to be licensed to do any of these professions. The dirty little secret of CPR and first aid training is that nobody's watching.

CPR certifications are unregulated. Nobody is shutting down online companies, even if their certifications aren't accepted by OSHA-regulated employers. OSHA doesn't state which organizations can provide CPR training, only that online-only training is insufficient. There isn't any national CPR accreditation process to vouch for the legitimacy of any organization. That's true of the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, or Jerry's CPR and Muffler Shop.

American Heart Association vs Jerry's CPR and Muffler Shop

What makes Jerry and the American Heart Association different is their motivation. Jerry is in it for the money. He's being an entrepreneur, identifying a hole in the market, and filling it. What Jerry sees is that you need CPR certification and figures he can fill that need in a way that satisfies you and your employer. Whether or not you actually learn CPR doesn't matter to Jerry.

The American Heart Association, however, wants to teach you a life-saving skill and promote saving lives.

They spend time and money trying to figure out the best way to motivate you to learn and then to teach you in a way that you retain the information for as long as possible. The American Heart Association also wants CPR to be as effective as possible, which means studying the procedure and constantly refining it to be a better tool for saving lives.

For example, the American Red Cross offers online, blended learning, and in-person CPR and AED classes. But they only provide full certification for the in-person and blended learning classes. They won't certify you for taking only the online courses.

So, Jerry runs a website from the back of his Muffler shop and makes a lot of money but doesn't teach anyone how to do CPR, while the American Heart Association sponsors community classes around the country, teaching lots of folks how to do CPR, and doesn't make any money. Which certification do you think is going to better represent your ability to do CPR?

If a company needs people trained in CPR (especially if required by OSHA), they are unlikely to accept Jerry's online CPR certification. They only accept a card from an organization they trust. Often, they limit that to Red Cross or American Heart Association CPR or BLS certifications. They know those organizations take training—and trainer oversight—seriously. If you are going to be applying for a job that is likely to require CPR certification, take a live class from the AHA or ARC to ensure it will be accepted.

The old saying cautions you not to "just go through the motions." Online CPR classes don't even let you do that. Take a CPR certification course from a trusted organization and walk away confident that you can save a life.


Buyer Beware! Don’t Be Fooled by Online-Only CPR or First Aid Certification Scams. Health & Safety Institute and National Safety Council.

CPR Training. American Red Cross.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standard Interpretations. OSHA.

The Truth About Online BLS Certification. National CPR Association.

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