Cardiovascular technologists typically work in one of three specialty areas: invasive cardiology, non-invasive cardiology (including echocardiography), or vascular technology. Technicians usually specialize in performing electrocardiograms and stress tests. Cardiology technologists assist physicians with cardiac cauterizations, balloon angioplasty, and other invasive procedures that help diagnose and treat blockages in blood vessels or heart valves, or locate other blockages prior to treatment.
Cardiovascular technologists specializing in echocardiography or vascular technology assist with non-invasive procedures, which do not require probes or other instruments to be inserted into patients’ bodies. Echocardiographers use ultrasound to perform examinations on a patient’s heart, including its chambers, valves, and surrounding blood vessels. Vascular technologists help doctors diagnose circulatory ailments by evaluating the patient, then performing non-invasive ultrasound tests to capture important information such as blood flow, oxygen saturation, and cerebral circulation.
Cardiographic technicians specialize in electrocardiography (EKG), stress tests, and Holter monitor procedures to diagnose heart disorders.
Cardiovascular Technologists Job Summary
- The vast majority of technologists and technicians are employed by hospitals.
- Typically, a two-year associate’s degree and a professional credential are required to work in this field.
- Extremely favorable job growth is expected in this field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
- Cardiovascular technologists and technicians with training in several procedures and multiple professional credentials enjoy the best job prospects.
Work Environment for Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians’ physical duties include standing, walking, moving equipment, and transferring patients. Cardiology technologists may experience stress when performing invasive procedures on seriously ill patients.
Radiation exposure is a risk for some cardiovascular technologists and technicians; however, following safety rules can minimize risk. Sonography’s repetitive nature can lead to musculoskeletal problems like carpel tunnel syndrome, neck and back pain, and eye strain. Ergonomic equipment can decrease these risks.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians usually work 40 hours per week, in a five-day work week. Catheterization laboratories often require technologists to work longer hours or to be on call at night and on weekends. Some technologists and technicians work part-time.
Education, Training, and Licensing for Cardiovascular Technicians
A two-year associate’s degree in a medical services program is a must for entry-level cardiovascular technologist, cardio sonographer, or vascular technologist jobs. Four-year medical specialty degrees are also offered in the field. The first year of education includes core classes like biology and math, followed by a year of specialized instruction in either invasive or non-invasive cardiology, or non-invasive vascular technology. Qualified allied health professionals need to complete just one year of specialized instruction.
Approximately 34 cardiovascular technology programs have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Professionals (CAAHEP). Graduates of accredited programs qualify for professional certification. Those who wish to study echocardiography or vascular sonography may attend CAAHEP-certified programs in diagnostic medical sonography; there are approximately 168 such programs, which qualify graduates for certifications in those specialties.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians may obtain professional certification from Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). While certification is voluntary, it is the professional standard. Additionally, most employers require certification credentials, which include an examination and ongoing education.
EKG technicians are usually trained on the job by cardiologists. EKG technician trainees are often nursing aides or students enrolled in associate’s degree programs for cardiovascular technologists and technicians. Participating students gain experience in the field and network with potential employers while earning their degrees. On-the-job training usually takes four to six weeks. For those training to perform Holter monitoring, on-the-job training can take from 18 to 24 months. There are also one-year training programs that teach basic EKGs, Holter monitoring, and stress testing.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians must be able to interact successfully with patients as well as other healthcare professionals, like physicians, surgeons, nurses, and aides. The work can include stressful life-and-death situations. Technologists and technicians must be reliable and have mechanical aptitude, the ability to follow detailed instructions, and interpersonal skills. They must be articulate to communicate technically with physicians and simply when explaining procedures to patients.
The more training and specialized instruction cardiovascular technologists and technicians complete, the greater job prospects and career advancement they will have.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook, and Earnings
According to the BLS, cardiovascular technologists and technicians held about 48,070 jobs in 2009. Most of these positions were in hospitals, with the remaining in physicians’ and cardiologists’ offices, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and diagnostic imaging centers.
Employment in this field is expected to grow much faster than other occupations, due to the aging of the population, increased use of ultrasound imaging, and advances in medicine and public awareness. EKG technicians who are also trained in Holter monitoring and stress tests are expected to have more favorable job prospects.
In May 2009, the BLS reported that the mean annual wage for cardiovascular technologists and technicians was $49,730. The middle 50% of professionals earned between $33,680 and $62,950 annually. While the lowest 10% earned approximately $25,940 per year, the top 10% made about $76,220 annually.