In 1979, care of trauma patients took a giant step forward with the inauguration of the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course. The first chairman of the ATLS ad hoc committee for the American College of Surgeons and chairman of the Prehospital Care Subcommittee on Trauma for the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Norman E. McSwain, Jr. FACS, knew that what they had begun would have a profound effect on the outcome of trauma patients. Moreover, he had a strong sense that an even greater effect could come from bringing this type of critical training to prehospital care providers.
Dr. McSwain, a founding member of the board of directors of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians ( NAEMT), gained support of the Association's president at the time, Gary Labeau, and began to lay plans for a prehospital version of ATLS. President Labeau directed Dr.McSwain and Robert Nelson, NREMT-P, to determine the feasibility of an ATLS-type program for prehospital care providers. As a professor of surgery at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana , Dr. McSwain gained the University's support in putting together the draft curriculum of what was to become Prehospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS). With this draft in place, in 1983, a PHTLS committee was established. This committee continued to refine the curriculum, and later that same year, pilot courses were conducted at Tulane; Marian Health Center in Sioux City, Iowa; Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut; and Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Tulane also hosted the first National Faculty course in early 1984. This was followed in the summer of 1984 by a course in Denver, Colorado. The graduates of these early courses formed what would be the " Barnstormers," PHTLS national and regional faculty members who traveled the country training more faculty members, spreading the word that PHTLS had arrived.
Early courses focused on advance life support (ALS). In 1986, a course that encompassed basic life support (BLS) was developed. The course grew exponentially. Beginning with those first few enthusiastic faculty members , first dozens, then hundreds, and now thousands of providers annually participate in PHTLS courses all over the world.
As the course grew, the PHTLS committee became a division of NAEMT. Course demand and the need to maintain course continuity and quality necessitated the building of networks of affiliate, state, regional, and national faculty members. There are national coordinators for every country, and in each country there are regional and state coordinators along with affiliate faculty members to make sure that information is disseminated and courses are consistent whether you participate in a program in Chicago Heights, Illinois, or Buenos Aires,