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.
The Cardiovascular Technologist
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians work in hospitals, physician’s offices, outpatient health care centers, medical/diagnostic laboratories and other health facilities. Depending on the particular job they have been hired for, technologists will generally practice some of the medical and technical duties under the non-invasive and/or invasive procedure sections described below.
But they are also in a way caregivers and teachers as they must explain procedures to the patients they are working with and at times help them through some very trying situations. Additionally, cardiovascular techs may be required to perform lifesaving skills in emergency situations; as a result, most employers require BCLS (Basic Cardiac Life Support), BART (Basic Arrhythmia Recognition and Treatment) or another relevant certification.
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 17%. The median salary is $55,270. As a cardiac sonographer, 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 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.
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.
- Obtain a degree from an accredited school in your area. Most cardiovascular techs have 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. Inquire as to the assistance provided in obtaining the internship before you enroll in a school
- Explore any specialties you might be interested.
- Get certified. Many states and most employers require that cardiovascular techs be certified.
- Build on your experience while completing your education.
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). 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 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.
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 or broken. 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 fashion, such as inserting a needle through an artery or vein or performing surgery. 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 and monitor their vital signs during these procedures.
The vast majority of cardiovascular technicians and technologists worked for medical and/or surgical 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, they 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.
A cardiovascular technologist must have a comfortable working knowledge of terminology specifically related to this medical profession. Here are some examples of common terms:
• 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 $55,270.00 (BLS, 2017) 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 a higher salary.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the top 10% in their field can earn over $90,000 per year. In order to rise up the ranks, 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.