You may consider yourself an expert in affairs of the heart (or, like many of us, less than expert but determined to keep going), but can you work an EKG machine? How about defibrillator paddles? For those, you need fully trained professionals—cardiovascular technologists. If you’re looking for a healthcare career that’s on the forefront of heart health and emergency medicine, becoming a cardiovascular technologist could be the right path for you.
The Role of Cardiovascular Technologists
Cardiovascular technologists work with physicians and other medical professionals to treat diseases and issues that affect a patient’s heart (cardiac) and blood vessels (vascular system). These techs specialize in the equipment and procedures used to diagnose heart disease, provide emergency treatment, or treat chronic diseases. Cardio technologists’ responsibilities may include:
- Performing stress tests on patients
- Taking patient histories
- Implanting stents, pacemakers, and other internal devices that treat heart ailments
- Use defibrillators and other equipment to perform life-saving treatment during heart attacks or other emergency situations
- Using diagnostic or imaging equipment such as electrocardiograms (ECGs/EKGs), Holter monitors, X-ray, sonograph, and other biomedical tools and devices
There’s also opportunity to specialize. Many cardiovascular technologists choose to focus on particular areas:
- Cardiology—Technologists specialize in implanting catheters, pacemakers, and other internal devices.
- Echocardiography—Technologists specialize in using ultrasound equipment to test and diagnose.
- Electrocardiography—Technologists specialize in performing EKGs, running stress tests, and fitting patients with monitors that record heart activity.
- Vascular technology—Technologists specialize in monitoring blood flow.
This is also a role that involves a lot of direct patient interaction and care as well as technical expertise, so a good bedside manner is essential for cardiovascular technologists. Cardiovascular technologists typically work in hospitals or clinics in cardiac catheterization labs (also known as cath labs), which are specialized examination rooms set up with cardiac-specific equipment. They can also be found in other types of diagnostic labs as well.
Becoming a cardiovascular technologist offers a number of benefits, both unique to the job itself and general to jobs in healthcare:
- Increasing demand. As a society, our heart health…isn’t great (thanks for that, delicious bacon). As the need for more diagnosis and treatment grows, so will the demand for the technologists who specialize in the heart.
- A full-time schedule. Cardiovascular techs typically work a standard 40-hour work week, although this may include nights, weekends, or periods of being on call.
- No advanced degree required. Cardiovascular technologists typically complete a 2-4 year program that includes instruction in biology in medical science, as well as training them on equipment and completing clinical rotations. A master’s degree is typically not necessary.
- Being a superhero. Those who specialize in cardiac issues are taking on a very demanding task, but are also taking part in a literally life-saving career.
As a cardiovascular technologist, you can expect to meet these preliminary requirements:
- A high school diploma (or equivalent), plus completion of a 2-4 year degree or certificate program. If you take a two-year associate’s program, you can expect to spend an additional 1-2 years if you want to specialize in a particular area.
- Clinical training (often provided on the job).
Any training program you undertake will need to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
In addition to the educational requirements, you should also have these skills:
- Good bedside manner for patient care
- Problem solving skills in high-pressure situations
- Computer skills
- Strong technology/equipment handling skills
- Expertise in biology, anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology
- The ability to work on your feet for long periods at a time, often wearing protective gear like lead vests
Once you feel comfortable that you have these skills and qualifications (or are interested in pursuing them), it’s time for a pre-flight checklist to make sure you’re committing to the right path.
- Are you comfortable in a fast-paced, pressure-filled medical environment with potential crisis situations?
- Are you extremely detail-oriented?
- Are you unfazed by blood and bodily fluids in your professional environment?
- Are you able to keep calm and do what you need to do no matter what’s going on around you?
- Can you commit to the education and training it takes to become a cardiovascular technologist?
- Are you willing and able to keep on top of medical equipment and technology trends?
“Yes” is the optimal answer to all these, but it’s important to be honest. If you feel like you’re not going to be able to be the person wielding the paddles in an emergency heart attack situation, now is the time to admit that to yourself. If you feel like you can overcome any initial obstacles and meet the baseline requirements, then this really might be the right path for you.
As you read earlier, this is a career path with a very bright outlook right now. Healthcare in general is growing by leaps and bounds, and cardiovascular health is a major part of healthcare needs now and for the foreseeable future. The median salary for cardiovascular technologists is $54,880, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau also projects that the field will grow by an astonishing 22% by 2024, faster than most other careers. And in fact, U.S. News and World Report lists it as #13 in its survey of Best Health Support Jobs. This is a promising career path that is demanding and will challenge you every day, but it is also one that provides great rewards, and puts you at the forefront of modern medicine.
If you think that becoming a cardiovascular technologist is the right choice for you, good luck!