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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. Programs are found at associate's and bachelor's degree levels.

Essential Information

Cardiac physiologist is not a job title commonly found in the U.S., instead this position refers to a cardiovascular technologist or technician. Prospective cardiovascular technologists and technicians need at least an associate degree; bachelor's degrees and post-baccalaureate certificate programs in cardiovascular technology are also available. Associate degree programs are completed in 2 years and include hands-on training in hospitals and other clinical settings. Bachelor's degree programs take 4 years, though some accelerated and degree-completion formatted programs also exist. These programs include the same type of courses, but in more depth. They also require an additional internship, clinical experiences, or a senior thesis.

For associate and bachelor's degree programs, applicants must have a high school diploma. Some institutions have additional, specific admissions processes for entry into their associate cardiovascular technology programs. Requirements 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. Bachelor's degree programs also require transcripts and score reports for the ACT or SAT. Students entering 2-year B.S. programs are 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.

  • Program Levels: Associate and bachelor's degree options
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma; proof of shadowing experience or introductory coursework; letters of recommendation; minimum GPA; passage of entrance exams; transcripts and SAT/ACT score reports; set number of credit ours for 2-year bachelor's programs
  • Program Length: 2 years for associate's and accelerated bachelor's programs; 4 years for general bachelor's programs
  • Other Requirements: Internship; clinical experiences; 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 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 natural sciences.

Cardiovascular programs have progressive course structures, meaning courses must be taken in a specific sequence. Most programs begin with general education courses in English, mathematics and biology, and proceed to cover advanced topics in diagnostic techniques. Topics include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Cardiac ultrasound techniques
  • Cardiovascular pharmacology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Invasive cardiology
  • Non-invasive cardiology

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 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 in cardiovascular technology 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 include:

  • Behavioral science
  • Cardiopulmonary physiology
  • Healthcare management
  • Interpreting electrocardiographs
  • Medical ethics
  • Pathophysiology

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:

  • Echocardiographer
  • Electrocardiograph technician (EKG)
  • Invasive cardiology technologist
  • Telemetry technician
  • Vascular sonographer

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The BLS states that total employment for cardiovascular technologists and technicians will grow 30%, or much faster than the average for all professions, from 2012 to 2022. 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 2014, the BLS stated that the mean annual wage for all cardiovascular technologists and technicians was $55,210. At that time, most CVTs were employed by hospitals, medical diagnostic laboratories and physicians' offices.

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.

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