Cardiovascular technologists, also referred to as cardiac technicians or cardiac sonographers, work in concert with physicians to help diagnose and treat heart and blood vessel disorders and diseases.
The Cardiovascular Technologist
Cardiovascular technologists will generally practice some of the medical and technical duties under the non-invasive and/or invasive procedure sections described below, depending on the job they’ve been hired for.
Additionally, cardiovascular techs may be required to perform lifesaving skills in emergency situations. Therefore, most employers require BCLS (Basic Cardiac Life Support), BART (Basic Arrhythmia Recognition and Treatment) or another relevant certification from their employees.
How do you Become a Cardiovascular Technologist?
- Research programs in your area, and ensure that you meet the prerequisites. Fill in any educational gaps before applying.
- Research accreditation and obtain a degree from a school in your area. Most cardiovascular jobs require an Associate’s Degree, which takes two years of full time course work. Certificates may also be available to those already holding a degree in a related field.
- Participate in an internship program, which is required of most programs.
- Explore any specialties you might be interested in.
- Get certified. Many states and most employers require certification from their cardiovascular techs.
- Build on your experience while completing your education.
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). Their job 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 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 may also conduct an ultrasound 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. These procedures often take place during or right after surgery.
- Cardiac Sonographers: Cardiac sonographers perform echocardiograms, also referred to as ECHOs, which involves performing ultrasounds on the components of the heart. Echocardiograms may be conducted on both active and inactive patients.
The vascular technician offers up some advice on how to be a successful student and sonographer.
A non-invasive procedure essentially means that the patient’s skin is not pierced. Examples of non-invasive procedures that may be performed include:
- Cardiac sonography (performing ultrasounds on the heart)
- Vascular sonography (performing ultrasounds on the blood vessels peripheral to the heart).
- Electrocardiogram tests (EKGs or ECGs) to measure the heartbeat’s rate and regularity while patients are at rest or are completing a stress test.
- Listening to blood flow in veins and arteries.
- Monitoring blood pressure and blood oxygenation levels.
An invasive procedure involves breaking through a patient’s skin in some way. Examples of invasive procedures that a cardiovascular technologist may perform include:
- Performing blood gas tests
- Cardiac catheterizations to locate potential blockages in the blood vessels leading to the heart.
- Angioplasties to widen obstructed or narrowed blood vessels.
- Assisting with surgeries (such as open heart surgery) and helping insert stents or pacemakers. Cardiovascular technologists would help prepare patients for procedure and monitor their vital signs during the process.
Cardiovascular Tech Career Outlook
Cardiovascular Technologist Certification
Although not all states require certification, most hospitals and healthcare facilities will only hire cardiovascular technologists who are accredited. 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 also sit for the RDCS 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).
|Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) Phone: 800-326-0268||
|ARDMS Phone: 800-541-9754||
The vast majority of cardiovascular technicians and technologists work for medical and/or surgical hospitals. Others work for medical/diagnostic laboratories, doctor’s offices, hospitals, physician’s offices, and outpatient healthcare facilities. They may be required to work evenings and weekends in emergency situations.
In a hospital environment, cardiovascular technologists are on their feet for most of their work day and are often on the move assisting patients, doctors, and surgeons that require their services. However, in some cases, patients will come to the technologist’s department if they have an appointment to have an ECHO done, for example.
Typical duties for a cardiovascular tech:
- Preparing patients for procedures and answering any questions they may have.
- Performing cardiac or vascular ultrasounds and analyzing the recorded images.
- Assisting physicians/surgeons with procedures including surgeries, cardiac catheterizations, angioplasties, and more.
- Monitoring the vitals of patients who have recently undergone a procedure.
- Maintaining all cardiovascular equipment.
- Conducting stress tests or other EKG procedures.
- Sharing results from any tests with physicians and other 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 that corresponds with each age group.
Cardiac sonographers and technologists work with patients to collect their medical history and to explain the procedures they will endure. They also must maintain and prepare ultrasound and other equipment on a daily basis. Sonographers need to 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, which includes a knowledge of biology and physics, a firm understanding of the technology they are utilizing, and excellent communication and patient care skills.
A cardiovascular technologist must be familiar with terminology specifically related to their medical profession. Some examples of common terms include:
• ECHO: Echocardiogram
• 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?
The median salary for cardiovascular techs is $57,720, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2019. Those who rise to managerial or directorial roles or become trainers, consultants or salespersons of cardiovascular technologies within their department can potentially earn a higher salary.
The BLS states that the top 10% in the cardiovascular field can earn over $94,000 per year*. In order to rise within the field, technicians or technologists must have several years of experience and often must complete advanced education (i.e. Bachelors or Masters degree).
Continuous professional development, such as receiving an Advanced Certificate in Cardiac Sonography, will help you get promoted within the field as well as allow you to to keep up with the latest cardiovascular procedures and technologies.
*Conditions in your area may vary.