Cardiovascular Technician and Technologist Career Information and Job Description
Cardiovascular technicians and technologists aid doctors in finding and caring for illnesses or injuries involving the heart or the blood vessels. There are three main specialty fields within cardiovascular technology practice—vascular technology, echocardiography, and invasive cardiology. EKG technicians, sometimes known as cardiographic technicians, are cardiovascular technicians who are specialists in stress testing, Holter monitors, and EKGs, or electrocardiograms.
Cardiology technologists are specialists in invasive operations and procedures. Doctors are assisted by cardiology technologists while performing cardiac catheterizations. This procedure involves the insertion of a catheter in the patient’s thigh. The tube is snaked through the patient’s blood vessels until arriving at the heart. The procedure helps doctors discover blood vessel blockages that may adversely affect the heart muscle. Balloon angioplasty is an additional procedure that may accompany a cardiac catheterization in order to fix some of the blockages without having to perform a more invasive heart surgery.
Patients are prepared for both of these procedures by technicians who clean, shave, and numb the area near the groin where the catheter is to be inserted. The patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs are monitored by technologists using EKG equipment and are responsible for advising the doctor as to the patient’s condition during the procedure. In a similar way to their role with cardiac catheterization and balloon angioplasty, cardiology technologists assist with the placing of pacemakers and possibly open-heart surgeries.
Echocardiography and vascular technology technicians administer noninvasive testing on patients using ultrasound equipment like Doppler. Noninvasive testing refers to tests that do not involve any tubes or other foreign objects being inserted into the patients. Ultrasound equipment creates pictures by sending high-frequency sound waves into the patient’s body and recording the echoes of those waves. The images are viewed on a screen, and technicians may record these images onto video or film for later review by a doctor. Technicians are responsible for observing the ultrasound image and finding problematic areas. They choose which images to include on the film for the doctor’s review and decide if the ultrasound images are clear enough for the doctor to make a confident diagnosis. They also record relevant medical histories, set equipment parameters, and explain to the patient what they are doing.
Vascular sonographers and vascular technologists aid physicians with patients suffering from illnesses affecting circulation. They are responsible for recording patients’ medical histories and finding irregularity in blood flow by listening to the blood vessels. Usually accompanying or immediately following an operation, these technologists use ultrasound equipment to record information about a variety of factors, including: brain, limb, and abdominal circulation; blood pressure and flow; the amount of blood located in different parts of the body; and oxygen saturation in the blood.
Sonographers and echocardiographers look at the heart’s chambers, valves, and vessels using ultrasound equipment. These ultrasound images are known as echocardiograms, and may be recorded while the patient is exercising or at rest. Physically active patients may be given medication by technologists in order to examine their heart’s proper functioning. When a tube is put into the esophagus of a patient to get ultrasound images, it is called transesophageal echocardiography; cardiac sonographers often help doctors perform this procedure.
Electrocardiograph technicians (also known as EKG technicians) perform EKGs. EKGs follow electric pulses sent by the heart, and are tracked by electrodes placed by the technicians on the patient’s legs, arms, and chest. The technician uses the machine to get the EKG reading and print a copy for the doctor. Middle aged people, those with prior cardiovascular problems, and those about to undergo surgery typically receive an EKG.
Holter monitoring and stress tests can be performed by EKG technicians with additional education and training. Holter monitoring involves the technician attaching electrodes to the patient’s chest and providing the patient with a portable EKG monitor. The electric impulses are recorded from 24 hours or more and recorded on a tape. The technician removes the tape, displays the results on a screen, and prints a copy for review by a doctor. Doctors use the results to diagnose pacemaker problems, heart disease, and heart beat irregularity.
EKG technicians performing a treadmill stress test on a patient take a medical history and record the patient’s resting heart rate and blood pressure. As they slowly increase the treadmill from a walking speed to more physically exerting speeds, technicians monitor and record the heart rate and pressure. Cardiographic technicians performing stress tests, Holter monitor, and EKGs are all “noninvasive” technologists.
Additional duties of some technicians include scheduling appointments, taking diagnosis notes, cleaning and maintaining equipment, and updating patients’ files.
A typical work week is 5 days, 40 hours, and may involve some weekends. Catheterization lab technicians typically work longer hours and may be required to work later into the evening. Depending on the lab, they may be required to be on call over night or over the weekend.
Much of a technician’s time at work is spent standing or walking. Catheterization lab technicians face the most stress as they deal face-to-face with seriously ill patients. Some of their patients may experience problems that may lead to their death.
Cardiovascular Technician and Technologist Career Training and Job Qualifications
The majority of cardiovascular technologists, cardiac sonographers, and vascular technicians complete 2- or 4-year programs, though there are some who still receive their training on-the-job. Technologists and sonographers typically finish a 2-year community college program in which the first year focuses on core subjects. The second year students receive specialized training in their chosen area of practice—noninvasive vascular, invasive, or noninvasive cardiovascular technology. Qualified allied health professionals must complete only the second year of training.
The Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology accredits 29 programs. Cardiovascular Credentialing International offers certification in vascular ultrasound, echocardiography, cardiac catheterization, and cardiographic practices to graduates from the accredited programs. The American Registry of diagnostic medical sonographers offers certification to vascular technologists and cardiac sonographers.
One-year certification programs exist, but the majority of EKG technicians are trained on the job between 8 and 16 weeks to perform basic EKGs, Holter monitoring, and stress tests. Employers usually prefer potential EKG technicians to have work history in the medical field. Two-year technologist students often work part-time as EKG technicians in order to network with employers and gain valuable experience.
Cardiovascular technicians should be able to work with technology, be responsible, and able to follow directions, in addition to having good interpersonal skills.
Cardiovascular Technician Job and Employment Opportunities
Job growth through 2012 is projected to be faster than average for cardiovascular technicians and technologists. Due to the increase of heart disease among older people, much growth will come from the population aging. A decreased demand for invasive techniques due to technological improvements will increase opportunity for echocardiographers and vascular technologists. Demand for new EKG technicians will decrease as other health professionals are trained to perform the same tasks. Holter monitoring and stress test training will increase one’s employment opportunities.
Few new job openings will become available for cardiovascular technologists and technicians due to the job field’s small size; openings will occur when technicians need to be replaced.
In 2002 cardiovascular technicians and technologists earned a median annual income of $36,430. Technologists in hospitals earned slightly less at $35,800. The highest and lowest 10 percent earned $56,080 and $20,920, respectively. The middle two quartiles brought in $26,730 and $46,570.
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