Did you know that in the United States, around 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) every single day? CVD is the top cause of death in America. However, the American Heart Association reported in Circulation (2012) that CVD-related deaths decreased 30.6% from 1998 to 2008. This decline is partly attributed to advancements in medical procedures and cardiovascular technologists are a valuable member of the health care team responsible for diagnosing, monitoring and treating CVD and other problems associated with the cardiovascular system.
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, cardiovascular techs 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.
Since there are several sub-specialties within the field of cardiovascular technology, job titles may include cardiology technologist, cardiac sonographer, vascular technologist, cardiovascular invasive specialist, cardiovascular technician, electrocardiograph technician, cardiovascular interventional technician, cardiac catheterization technologist and more.
A non-invasive procedure essentially means that the patient’s skin is not pierced or broken. Examples of non-invasive procedures that a cardiovascular technologist may perform 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.
In addition to performing medical procedures and having a firm basis in biological, technical and physical skills, cardiovascular technologists also play an important role while interacting with their patients. Cardiovascular techs must exhibit compassion and ensure their patients are comfortable with the procedures they are about to perform. Some specific roles related to patient care include:
- Recording patients’ medical history and updating files based on procedures performed.
- Explaining procedures and answering any questions patients may have.
- Preparing patients for the procedures; in some cases this may involve transferring patients to another portion of a hospital or shaving a portion of the body before a catheterization.
- Checking in on patients after they have been through an invasive procedure, particularly in a hospital setting.
- Discussing patient status with other members of the healthcare team.
The role of the cardiovascular technologist is integral for diagnosing and treating – essentially fighting against – CVD. If you are a critical thinker, an active listener, fascinated with the medical world and essentially want to help patients as they deal through a potentially scary time, then a career in cardiovascular technology could be your calling.