There are over 50,000 cardiovascular technologists and technicians working in the United States. Job growth indicators suggest that over the next decade the occupation will grow by 24%, which is considerably above the average growth for all jobs.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians support physicians who treat cardiac and peripheral vascular diseases and disorders by scheduling appointments, reviewing patient files, and monitoring patients’ heart rates.
- They operate and maintain medical equipment, talk over test procedures with patients, and examine test results to determine problems.
- Technologists can specialize in invasive or non-invasive technology.
Cardiovascular technologists who specialize in invasive procedures are cardiology technologists.
- They assist physicians in a number of tasks such as threading catheters through patients’ arteries from groin to heart to determine if there is a blockage in the blood vessels, treating blockages with balloon angioplasty, and running electrophysiology tests to find specific areas in the heart that are causing arrhythmias.
- During the procedures, cardiovascular technologists observe heart rate and blood pressure using an EKG.
- Some technologists also monitor cardiology patients during surgery.
Non-invasive technologists are specialists in echocardiography or other vascular imaging technology. For example, Doppler ultrasound transmits high-frequency sound waves into the patient and records the reflected waves to form an image. Technologists watch the ultrasound on a screen and videotape or photograph it for diagnosis by a physician. Echo cardiographers are technicians who examine an active or resting patient’s heart chambers, vessels and valves using ultrasound instrumentation to create echocardiograms.
- Vascular technologists support physicians in the diagnoses of vascular disorders by gathering medical history, assessing arterial and vein blood flow for abnormalities by monitoring pulse and listening, and reviewing tests that have been ordered to ensure they are appropriate.
- They use a variety of ultrasound equipment to document blood pressure, vascular blood flow, oxygen saturation, cerebral, abdominal and peripheral circulation. Some electrocardiograph technicians are trained in Holter monitor testing, in which electrodes are attached to the patient’s body for 24 hours of normal activity.
- The information is fed into a scanner, and the technician prints it for the physician’s review. These technicians also run stress tests in which the patient walks on a treadmill to determine the effects of exercise on the heart and circulation.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians are on their feet most of the day. They must have sufficient strength to carry or move heavy equipment as well as to help patients get on or off the table. Technologists and technicians must be able to work under stress and remain calm, even in life-or-death situations. In some jobs, there may be the risk of radiation exposure; this risk is minimized substantially when protective clothing is worn and safety regulations are followed. Technicians and technologists who use sonographic equipment may face heightened risk for musculoskeletal disorders as well as neck, back, or eye strain. Most jobs in this field are accomplished in a standard work week schedule, although catheterization laboratory employees may be on call. Characteristics of good cardiovascular technologists and technicians include reliability, mechanical aptitude, good communication skills and careful attention to detail.
Most cardiovascular and vascular technologists and cardiac sonographers earn a two-year associate’s degree through a community college program. Four-year programs, which result in bachelor’s degrees, are becoming increasingly popular. In both cases, the first period of study focuses on core classes. Instruction in invasive or non-invasive cardiovascular technology, or non-invasive vascular technology, occurs in the second period. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Professionals (CAAHEP) recognizes 34 accredited programs. Those specializing in echocardiography or vascular sonography can attend one of 168 CAAHEP programs in diagnostic medical sonography. Completion of an accredited program is required to gain professional certification.
Electrocardiograph technicians are typically trained through supervised on-the-job experience which takes one to two months. An alternative to on-the-job training for basic EKGs, Holter monitoring, and stress testing is a one-year certification program.
While being credentialed is voluntary, most employers require it. Cardiovascular technologist credentialing can be obtained from Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) as well as the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). Most credentials require completion of an accredited program in order to sit for the credentialing examination. Certification, in most cases, is maintained through continuing education.
Advancement for technicians involves supplementing education and credentials in order to reach the technologist level. Many employers structure multiple levels of responsibility for technicians; advancing up these levels is another means of advancement. Technologists can advance by moving into supervisory or managerial positions, teaching or directing laboratory work.
The median annual income for cardiovascular technologists and technicians is around $48,000. Those in the midrange earn between $33,000 and $62,000. The lowest 10% earn less than $26,000, while those at the high end earn more than $75,000.