Cardiac Physiologist Training and Degree Program Overviews
Cardiac physiologists (as they are called in the U.K. and Australia) or cardiovascular technologists and technicians (CVTs, as they are more commonly known in the U.S.) assist physicians in diagnosing and treating medical conditions related to the human heart. Research cardiac physiology and cardiovascular technology undergraduate programs. Get information about courses, licensing options, requirements, job prospects and salary to make an informed decision about your education.
Cardiac physiologist is not a job title commonly found in the U.S., instead this position is refers to a cardiovascular technologist or technician. Prospective cardiovascular technologists and technicians usually need at least an associate degree; bachelor's degrees and post-baccalaureate certificate programs in cardiovascular technology are also available.
Associate degree programs can be completed in two years and include hands-on training in hospitals and other clinical settings. Bachelor's degree programs typically take four years, though some accelerated and degree-completion formatted programs also exist. These programs often include the same types of courses, but in more depth. They may also require an additional internship, clinical experiences or a senior thesis.
Associate of Science in Cardiovascular Technology
CVTs perform diagnostic tasks and provide therapeutic services for heart patients. Under the supervision of physicians, CVTs may monitor patients' heart rates, screen for heart disease symptoms, conduct ultrasound scans of the cardiovascular system, prepare charts and scans for physician analysis, insert cardiac catheters and clean patients. Students in associate degree programs are given practical training in clinical settings, such as hospitals, as well as classroom instruction focused on the natural sciences. A.S. programs can be completed in two years.
For entry to general associate degree programs, applicants must have a high school diploma. Some institutions have additional, specific admissions processes for entry into their cardiovascular technology programs. Requirements for these processes often include completion of an introductory course in cardiovascular technology and/or proof of observational 'shadowing' experience in a clinic, letters of recommendation, a minimum GPA and passage of entrance examinations.
Cardiovascular programs typically have progressive course structures, meaning that courses must be taken in a specific sequence. Most programs begin with general education courses in English, mathematics and biology, and then proceed to cover advanced topics in diagnostic techniques. Topics may include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Cardiac ultrasound techniques
- Cardiovascular pharmacology
- Invasive cardiology
- Non-invasive cardiology
Popular Career Options
With an associate degree, graduates are qualified for entry-level positions as CVTs. The CVT profession features a variety of specialty options, most of which are differentiated from each other by the types of specific medical equipment that they require:
- Electrocardiograph technician (EKG)
- Invasive cardiology technologist
- Telemetry technician
- Vascular sonographer
Continuing Education and Licensure Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most employers require CVTs to be credentialed, via either Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), both of which require applicants to complete an accredited educational program and pass a credentialing exam (www.bls.gov). The BLS also states that CVTs may need to undertake continuing education to maintain these certifications.
Bachelor of Science in Cardiovascular Technology
Bachelor's degree programs in cardiovascular technology cover the same general topics as associate degree programs, but follow slightly different programmatic structures. Some bachelor's degree programs are 4-year programs in which students complete general education courses during the first year, core concentration courses during the second and third years and clinical internships during the fourth year. Alternatively, other bachelor's degree programs may adhere to a compressed 2-year format, in which case students complete all coursework and internships during the junior and senior years of a 4-year undergraduate track. Some bachelor's degree programs require students to complete a senior thesis to graduate.
Bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma, transcripts and score reports for the ACT or SAT. Students entering 2-year B.S. programs may be required to have already completed a set number of credit hours in natural sciences, such as chemistry, biology and physics, as well as liberal arts and humanities.
Bachelor's degree programs in cardiovascular technology usually feature a more comprehensive range of topics, both in theoretical aspects of medicine and in clinical techniques, than their associate degree counterparts. Aside from general education topics in history or composition, core topics may include:
- Behavioral science
- Cardiopulmonary physiology
- Healthcare management
- Interpreting electrocardiographs
- Medical ethics
Career Outlook and Salary Info
The BLS states that total employment for cardiovascular technologists and technicians will grow 29%, or much faster than the average for all professions, from 2010 to 2020. This rapid growth will be the result of the ongoing prevalence of heart disease, especially as the U.S. population becomes older, and because of increased usage of sonographic and vascular technology as alternatives to invasive medical procedures.
In May 2011, the BLS stated that the mean annual wage for all cardiovascular technologists and technicians was $52,160. At that time, most CVTs were employed by hospitals, medical diagnostic laboratories and physicians' offices.
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