Cardiac physiologist is not a job title commonly found in the U.S., instead this position refers to a cardiovascular technologist or technician (CVTs). 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.
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
- 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.
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
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
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that employment of cardiovascular technologists and technicians is projected to grow by 22%, which is much faster than the average for all professions, from 2014 to 2024. This rapid growth in employment will likely be seen as a result of the ongoing prevalence of heart disease, especially as the U.S. population becomes older, and increasing use of sonographic and vascular technology as alternatives to invasive medical procedures.
In May 2015, the median annual wage for cardiovascular technologists and technicians was $54,880, according to the BLS. In 2015, most CVTs were employed by hospitals, physicians' offices, and medical and diagnostic laboratories.
Continuing Education and Licensure Info
According to the BLS, most employers require CVTs to be credentialed, via either the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or 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.
Students interested in becoming a CVT are typically required to complete both coursework and hands-on clinical experiences within associate or bachelor's degree programs in cardiovascular technology. Continuing education and certification are also available for those looking to further their career.