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Technologist checking heart

A cardiovascular technologist or technician could...

Enable a heart patient to return to sports by assisting a surgeon in implanting a pacemaker. Basketball player Monitor a patient's heart rate during surgery, using an EKG, and alert the physician to any abnormalities. EKG
Save the life of an emergency room patient by helping to find and unclog an artery. Clogged artery Help give a child born with a heart-defect a normal childhood by assisting with an open-heart-surgery. Child smiling
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview The first leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, and the third leading cause is stroke. Cardiovascular technologists or technicians are key members of the healthcare teams that are on the front lines of treating heart and blood vessel diseases and conditions. They set up monitors and tests to help physicians diagnose heart or blood vessel problems. Then they work with physicians to treat an identified problem. For example, they might help break up a blockage in an artery going to the heart or brain, or assist in the implantation of a pacemaker. Their work restores vital blood supply to a patient's heart or brain, or reestablishes a normal heart rhythm, allowing patients to liver longer and fuller lives.
Key Requirements Meticulous, observant, outgoing, comforting, calm in an emergency, with excellent communication skills
Minimum Degree Associate's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus; if available, physiology
Median Salary
Cardiovascular Technologist or Technician
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Cardiovascular technologists typically need an associate's degree for entry-level employment. Most employers also require a professional credential. Technicians also receive on-the-job training.

Education and Training

The majority of cardiovascular technologists, vascular technologists, and cardiac sonographers complete a 2-year junior or community college program resulting in an associate's degree. However, 4-year programs are increasingly available. The first year is dedicated to core courses and is followed by a year of specialized instruction in either invasive cardiovascular, noninvasive cardiovascular, or noninvasive vascular technology. Those who are qualified in an allied health profession need to complete only the year of specialized instruction.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Professionals (CAAHEP) accredits cardiovascular technology education programs. In January 2009, there were 34 accredited programs. Similarly, those who want to study echocardiography or vascular sonography might also attend CAAHEP-accredited programs in diagnostic medical sonography. In 2009, there were 168 such accredited programs. Those who attend these accredited programs are eligible to obtain professional certification.

Unlike most other cardiovascular technologists and technicians, most EKG technicians are trained on the job by an EKG supervisor or a cardiologist. On-the-job training for EKG technicians usually takes about 4-6 weeks. Most employers prefer to train people already in the healthcare field—nursing aides, for example. Some EKG technicians are students enrolled in 2-year programs to become technologists, working part time to gain experience and make contact with employers. For technicians who perform Holter monitoring on-the-job training may last around 18-24 months. One-year certification programs also exist for basic EKGs, Holter monitoring, and stress testing and can be an alternative to on-the-job training.

Other Qualifications

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians must be reliable, have mechanical aptitude, and be able to follow detailed instructions. A pleasant, relaxed manner for putting patients at ease is an asset. They must be articulate as they must communicate technically with physicians and also explain procedures simply to patients.

Watch this video to meet students who are studying cardiovascular technology and find out what their training is like and what attracted them to this field.

Nature of the Work

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians assist physicians in diagnosing and treating cardiac (heart) and peripheral vascular (blood vessel) ailments.

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians schedule appointments, review physicians' interpretations and patient files, and monitor patients' heart rates. They also operate and care for testing equipment, explain test procedures, and compare findings to a standard to identify problems. Other day-to-day activities vary significantly between specialties.

Technologists can specialize in different areas of practice: invasive cardiology, non-invasive—which includes echocardiography—or vascular technology. Technicians specialize in electrocardiograms and stress testing.

Invasive cardiology: Cardiovascular technologists specializing in invasive procedures are called cardiology technologists. They assist physicians with cardiac catheterization procedures in which a small tube, or catheter, is threaded through a patient's artery from a spot on the patient's groin to the heart. The procedure can determine whether a blockage exists in the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle or help to diagnose other problems. Some of these procedures may involve balloon angioplasty, which can be used to treat blockages of blood vessels or heart valves without the need for heart surgery. Cardiology technologists assist physicians as they insert a catheter with a balloon on the end to the point of the obstruction. Catheters are also used in electrophysiology tests, which help locate the specific areas of heart tissue that give rise to the abnormal electrical impulses that cause arrhythmias.

Technologists prepare patients for cardiac catheterization by first positioning them on an examining table and then shaving, cleaning, and administering anesthesia to the top of their leg near the groin. During the procedures, they monitor patients' blood pressure and heart rate with EKG equipment and notify the physician if something appears to be wrong. Some cardiology technologists also prepare and monitor patients during open-heart surgery and during the insertion of pacemakers and stents that open up blockages in arteries to the heart and major blood vessels.

Noninvasive technology: Technologists who specialize in echocardiography or vascular technology perform noninvasive tests. Tests are called "noninvasive" if they do not require the insertion of probes or other instruments into the patient's body. For example, procedures such as Doppler ultrasound transmit high-frequency sound waves into areas of the patient's body and then processes reflected echoes of the sound waves to form an image. Technologists view the ultrasound image on a screen and may record the image on videotape or photograph it for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician.

Echocardiographers: Technologists who use ultrasound to examine the heart chambers, valves, and vessels are referred to as cardiac sonographers, or echocardiographers. They use ultrasound instrumentation to create images called echocardiograms. An echocardiogram may be performed while the patient is either resting or physically active. Technologists might administer medication to physically active patients to assess their heart function. Cardiac sonographers also might assist physicians who perform other procedures.

Vascular technologists: Technologists who assist physicians in the diagnosis of disorders affecting the circulation are known as vascular technologists or vascular sonographers. Vascular technologists complete patients' medical histories, evaluate pulses and assess blood flow in arteries and veins by listening to the vascular flow sounds for abnormalities, and assure the appropriate vascular test has been ordered. Then they perform a noninvasive procedure using ultrasound instruments to record vascular information, such as vascular blood flow, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, cerebral circulation, peripheral circulation, and abdominal circulation. Many of these tests are performed during or immediately after surgery. Vascular technologists then provide a summary of findings to the physician to aid in patient diagnosis and management.

Cardiographic technicians: Technicians who specialize in electrocardiography, or EKG, stress testing, and perform Holter monitor procedures are known as cardiographic or electrocardiograph (or EKG) technicians. Technicians take EKGs, which trace electrical impulses transmitted by the heart, attach electrodes to the patient's chest, arms, and legs, and then manipulate switches on an EKG machine to obtain a reading. An EKG is printed out for interpretation by the physician. This test is done before most kinds of surgery or as part of a routine physical examination.

EKG technicians with advanced training perform Holter monitor and stress testing. For Holter monitoring, technicians place electrodes on the patient's chest and attach a portable EKG monitor to the patient's belt. Following 24 or more hours of normal activity by the patient, the technician removes a tape from the monitor and places it in a scanner. After checking the quality of the recorded impulses on an electronic screen, the technician usually prints the information from the tape for analysis by a physician. Physicians use the output from the scanner to diagnose heart ailments, such as heart rhythm abnormalities or problems with pacemakers. For a treadmill stress test, EKG technicians document the patient's medical history, explain the procedure, connect the patient to an EKG monitor, and obtain a baseline reading and resting blood pressure. Next, they monitor the heart's performance while the patient is walking on a treadmill, gradually increasing the treadmill's speed to observe the effect of increased exertion. Like vascular technologists and cardiac sonographers, cardiographic technicians who perform EKGs, Holter monitoring, and stress tests are known as "noninvasive" technicians.

Work Environment

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians spend a lot of time walking and standing. Heavy lifting might be involved to move equipment or transfer patients. Those who work in catheterization laboratories might face stressful working conditions because they are in close contact with patients with serious heart ailments. For example, some patients might encounter complications that have life-or-death implications.

Some cardiovascular technologists and technicians might have the potential for radiation exposure. However, exposure is kept to a minimum by strict adherence to radiation safety guidelines, such as wearing heavy protective aprons while conducting certain procedures. In addition, those who use sonography can be at an increased risk for musculoskeletal disorders such as carpel tunnel syndrome, neck and back strain, and eye strain. However, greater use of ergonomic equipment and an increasing awareness will continue to minimize such risks.

Technologists and technicians generally work a 5-day, 40-hour week that might include weekends. Those in catheterization laboratories tend to work longer hours and might work evenings. They also might be on call during the night and on weekends. About 18 percent worked part-time in 2008.

On the Job

  • Monitor patients' blood pressure and heart rate using electrocardiogram (EKG) equipment during diagnostic and therapeutic procedures to notify the physician if something appears wrong.
  • Explain testing procedures to patient to obtain cooperation and reduce anxiety.
  • Observe gauges, recorder, and video screens of data analysis system during imaging of cardiovascular system.
  • Monitor patients' comfort and safety during tests, alerting physicians to abnormalities or changes in patient responses.
  • Obtain and record patient identification, medical history or test results.
  • Attach electrodes to the patients' chests, arms, and legs, connect electrodes to leads from the electrocardiogram (EKG) machine, and operate the EKG machine to obtain a reading.
  • Adjust equipment and controls according to physicians' orders or established protocol.
  • Prepare and position patients for testing.
  • Check, test, and maintain cardiology equipment, making minor repairs when necessary, to ensure proper operation.
  • Supervise and train other cardiology technologists and students.
  • Perform general administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments or ordering supplies and equipment.
  • Maintain a proper sterile field during surgical procedures.
  • Assist physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac and peripheral vascular treatments, such as implanting pacemakers or assisting with balloon angioplasties to treat blood vessel blockages.
  • Inject contrast medium into patients' blood vessels.
  • Assess cardiac physiology and calculate valve areas from blood flow velocity measurements.
  • Operate diagnostic imaging equipment to produce contrast enhanced radiographs of heart and cardiovascular system.
  • Observe ultrasound display screen and listen to signals to record vascular information such as blood pressure, limb volume changes, oxygen saturation and cerebral circulation.
  • Transcribe, type, and distribute reports of diagnostic procedures for interpretation by physician.
  • Conduct electrocardiogram (EKG), phonocardiogram, echocardiogram, stress testing, or other cardiovascular tests to record patients' cardiac activity, using specialized electronic test equipment, recording devices, and laboratory instruments.
  • Activate fluoroscope and camera to produce images used to guide catheter through cardiovascular system.
  • Compare measurements of heart wall thickness and chamber sizes to standard norms to identify abnormalities.
  • Enter factors such as amount and quality of radiation beam, and filming sequence, into computer.
  • Set up 24-hour Holter and event monitors, scan and interpret tapes, and report results to physicians.
  • Conduct tests of pulmonary system, using spirometer and other respiratory testing equipment.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Cardiovascular Technologist or Technicians

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