American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

About Advanced Trauma Life Support

Injured patients present a wide range of complex problems. The Advanced Trauma Life Support® (ATLS®) Student Course presents a concise approach to assessing and managing multiply injured patients. The course presents doctors and other qualified healthcare providers with knowledge and techniques that are comprehensive and easily adapted to fit their needs. The skills described in the manual represent one safe way to perform each technique, and the American College of Surgeons (ACS) recognizes that there are other acceptable approaches. However, the knowledge and skills taught in the course are easily adapted to all venues for the care of patients.

The ACS and its Committee on Trauma (COT) have developed the ATLS program for doctors and other qualified health care professionals. This program provides systemic and concise training for the early care of trauma patients. The ATLS program provides participants with a safe, reliable method for immediate management of the injured patient and the basic knowledge necessary to:

  1. Assess the patient’s condition rapidly and accurately
  2. Resuscitate and stabilize the patient according to priority
  3. Determine if the patient’s needs exceed a facility’s capacity
  4. Arrange appropriately for the patient’s inter-hospital transfer (who, what, when, and how)
  5. Assure that optimum care is provided and that the level of care does not deteriorate at any point during the evaluation, resuscitation, or transfer process

For doctors and other qualified health care professionals who infrequently treat trauma, the ATLS course provides an easy-to-remember method for evaluating and treating the victim of a traumatic event. For doctors and other qualified healthcare providers who treat traumatic disease on a frequent basis, the ATLS course provides a scaffold for evaluation, treatment, education, and quality assurance. In short, ATLS is a measurable, reproducible, and comprehensive system of trauma care.

ATLS Staff


Faculty Types


The Beginning

In February 1976, a tragedy occurred that changed the first hour of trauma care for injured patients in the United States and in much of the rest of the world. Dr. Jim Styner, an orthopaedic surgeon, crashed his small plane into a cornfield in rural Nebraska. Dr. Styner sustained serious injuries, three of his children sustained critical injuries, and one child sustained minor injuries. His wife was killed instantly. The care that he and his family subsequently received was inadequate by the day’s standards. The surgeon, recognizing how inadequate their treatment was, stated, "When I can provide better care in the field with limited resources than what my children and I received at the primary care facility, there is something wrong with the system, and the system has to be changed."

Program Development

A new approach to the provision of care for individuals suffering major, life-threatening injury premiered in 1978, the year of the first ATLS Course. In January 1980, the American College of Surgeons introduced the ATLS Course in the U.S. and abroad. Canada joined the ATLS program the following year. In 1986, several countries in Latin America joined the ACS Committee on Trauma and introduced the ATLS program in their region. Now, ATLS is available in more than 80 countries. Under the auspices of the ACS Military Committee on Trauma, the program has been conducted for U.S. military doctors in the United States and around the world.

For more than a quarter century, the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma has taught the ATLS course to over 1 million doctors in more than 80 countries. ATLS has become the foundation of care for injured patients by teaching a common language and a common approach. The 10th edition was created using an international, multidisciplinary, and evidence-based approach. The result is an ATLS that is contemporary and meaningful in the global community.

Michael Rotondo, MD, FACS
Former Medical Director, American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma

Complementary Courses

Trauma Evaluation and Management (TEAM) for Medical Students

Based on ATLS philosophies, these courses allow PHTLS-trained pre-hospital care providers to follow the same principles of care that are core to ATLS. This in turn creates a smooth transition of care to ATLS and ATCN-trained providers in hospitals.