Cardiovascular Technologist Career
Cardiovascular technologists, also referred to as cardiac technicians or cardiac sonographers, work in concert with physicians to help diagnose and treat heart and vascular disorders and diseases.
Cardiovascular Tech Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cardiovascular technologist career outlook is high, with the demand for such professionals increasing by 30% through to 2022. As a cardiac sonographer, cardiovascular technologists perform ultrasounds that provide images of the heart. These may be echocardiograms (ECHOs) or electrocardiograms (EKGs). Vascular technologists perform non-invasive ultrasounds on a patient’s blood vessels to check for abnormal blood flows in arteries and veins. Other cardiovascular technologist duties may include monitoring heart rate and blood pressure, conducting stress and aerobic tests and even assisting with medical procedures/surgeries such as inserting a cardiac catheter into a patient’s heart.
Cardiovascular Tech Credentials
Although not all states require certification. most hospitals and healthcare facilities will only hire cardiovascular technologists who are certified. Certification from the ARDMS (The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography) is widely respected and accepted by the medical community within the United States and abroad. You can sit for an ARDMS exam to become a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer. To be eligible to sit for the exam, you must have completed a two-year allied health educational program and completed a year of related experience or graduated with an accredited educational program specifically related, such as a Certificate in Cardiovascular Technology. If you want your job description to go beyond ultrasonography, you may wish to investigate certification through CCI (Cardiovascular Credentialing International).
What do Cardiovascular Tech s Do?
Cardiovascular technologists or technicians assist physicians in diagnosing and treating problems associated with the cardiovascular system (the heart and peripheral blood vessels throughout the whole body). A cardiovascular technologist job description may include invasive duties (such as inserting a catheter through a patient’s artery) or non-invasive duties, such as performing an ultrasound on the heart (echocardiogram).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are several types of cardiovascular technologist jobs within this field. These include:
• Cardiology Technologists. Cardiology technologists assist doctors in diagnosing and treating heart problems and ailments. They perform cardiac catheterizations (including balloon angioplasties), monitor blood pressure and heart rate, prepare and monitor patients for procedures, such as heart surgery or the insertion of stents and pacemakers, and conduct EKGs (electrocardiograms). They also may perform ultrasounds on the heart (echocardiograms or ECHOs).
• Vascular Technologists. Vascular technologists are a part of the healthcare team that diagnoses diseases and problems associated with the vascular (blood vessel) system. Vascular sonographers perform ultrasounds on patients to monitor blood pressure, blood flow and the blood’s oxygen saturation. Often these procedures take place during or right after surgery.
• Cardiac Sonographers. Cardiac sonographers perform echocardiograms, also referred to as ECHOs, which involves performing ultrasounds on all components of the heart. Echocardiograms may be conducted on both active and inactive patients.
A cardiac ultrasound performed in space!
According to the BLS, as of May 2012, 74% of cardiovascular technicians and technologists worked for hospitals. Most of the remainder worked for diagnostic laboratories, doctor’s offices and outpatient healthcare facilities. In a hospital environment, cardiovascular technologists are on their feet for most of their work day and are often on the move going to portions of the hospital to work with patients, doctors and surgeons that require their services. However, in some cases, patients will come to their department, such as if they have an appointment to have an ECHO done. In emergency situations, cardiovascular technicians may be required to work evenings and weekends.
Typical duties for a cardiovascular tech:
- Meeting with patients to prepare them for and explain to them about the procedures they are about to undergo.
- Performing cardiac or vascular ultrasounds and analyzing the images recorded.
- Assisting physicians/surgeons with procedures, such as surgeries, cardiac catheterizations, angioplasties.
- Checking on patients who have recently undergone surgery or another procedure and monitoring their heart rate, blood pressure and other vitals.
- Maintaining all cardiovascular equipment.
- Conducting stress tests or other EKG procedures.
- Sharing results from any tests with physicians and members of the healthcare team.
- Recording results and updating patient records.
Depending on one’s specialty and work setting, cardiovascular technologists and sonographers may work with fetal, pediatric and/or adult patients. The ARDMS offers certification exams for each age group. Cardiac sonographers and technologists work with patients to collect their medical history and also to explain the procedures they will undergo, answering any questions they may have. They must maintain and prepare ultrasound and other equipment they work with on a daily basis. Sonographers must be able to interpret the images they have collected and share this vital information with other medical staff. Cardiac sonographers generally perform non-invasive procedures, whereas technologists may also perform invasive procedures. Cardiac technologists and sonographers rely on a multi-varied skill set: a knowledge of biology and physics, a firm grasp on the technology they are using and excellent communication and patient care skills.
Cardiovascular Technologist Terminology
A cardiovascular technologist job description includes having a comfortable working knowledge of terminology specifically related to this medical profession. Here are some examples of common terms (Sources: Medical Device Daily and Stanford School of Medicine):
• EKG: Electrocardiogram (also referred to as an ECG)
• Holter Monitor: Machine used to keep track of a patient’s heart rate during a stress test or while the patient is at rest.
• Pacemaker: Used to regulate a patient’s heartbeat.
• Cardiac catheterization: A catheter is fed through an artery and led up to the heart; one of its purposes is to find out if there are blockages in the blood vessels connected to the heart.
• Angioplasty: A procedure where a catheter with a balloon on one end is inserted into an artery; the balloon is inflated to open a blocked artery.
• Arrhythmia: An abnormal heartbeat rhythm.
• CAD: Coronary Artery Disease
• CABG: Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (surgery to improve blood flow into the heart).
• CHF: Congestive Heart Failure
• Embolism: A blood vessel blockage that could cause a heart attack or stroke.
• MI: Myocardial Infarction or AMI; the heart’s oxygen supply is cutoff.
• MACE: Major Adverse Cardiac Event
• Stent: A tube inserted to open up the artery.
• CVD: Cardiovascular Disease
How Can I Get Promoted within the Field of Cardiovascular Technology?
According to Grossmont College in California, cardiovascular technologists make approximately $50,000/year. (This is inline with the $53,210 mean salary presented by the BLS*). Those who rise up the ranks to managerial or directorial roles of a cardiovascular technology department or who become trainers, consultants or salespersons of cardiovascular technologies can potentially earn $75,000-100,000/year, adds Grossmont College. In order to rise up the ranks, cardiovascular technicians or technologists must have several years experience in the field and often must complete advanced education (i.e. from an Associates to a Bachelors degree or a Bachelors to a Masters degree). Continuous professional development to keep up with the latest cardiovascular procedures and technologies, such as an Advanced Certificate in Cardiac Sonography, will also help you get promoted within the field.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012 Salary Data http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292031.htm, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292031.htm and http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-6