Cardiovascular technicians (CVTs) assist physicians in diagnosing and treating heart and vascular impairments. They explain test procedures and compare results to a standard in order to identify problems; CVTs also operate and maintain various types of testing equipment, and may schedule appointments or review patient files. Other activities and tasks vary significantly between specialties and depend upon the advanced education, training and work experience the CVT obtains.
CVTs include echocardiography technicians and electrocardiograph (EKG) technicians. Echocardiography technicians may hold such job as: intermediate-level invasive cardiology technicians, echocardiographers, vascular sonographers, and intermediate-level assistants to the ultrasound and sonograph laboratory technicians. EKG technicians might also be called cardiographic technicians.
Several organizations offer certification in this area. Certification requires graduation from an accredited training program and passing a competency examination. A CVT who voluntarily obtains certification from a professional organization is most likely to find work and advance in this healthcare field. Even though actual credentialing differs by state, most employers do require it. Continuing education training is usually required to maintain certification.
On-the-job training may be sufficient to enter some specialty fields, such as electrocardiography (EKG), but many technicians complete 1-year certificate programs. Other areas of CVT work may require 2-year associate's degrees. Training for cardiovascular technicians and many of the applicable certifications is available through vocational or technical schools, community colleges and universities. Specialty training is also available through online programs and webinars, seminars, content outlines and practice examinations.
Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) and the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians (ASPT) all offer certification examinations to graduates of CVT certificate programs. CCI includes certifications for a registered cardiac sonographer (RCS), a registered vascular sonographer (RVS), non-invasive vascular registry and non-invasive echo registry.
ARDMS requires a number of examination prerequisites be met before an applicant can take the two comprehensive exams and a third specialty exam to earn his or her certification. Applicants can earn registered diagnostic medical sonographer (RDMS) credentials in abdomen, breast, fetal echocardiology, neurosonology, obstetrics or gynecology. Registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer (RDCS) certifications address adult echocardiography, fetal echocardiography or pediatric echocardiography; and registered vascular technologists earn an RVT certification.
The ASPT requires an applicant for EKG technician certification to have either six months practical experience in performing EKGs or to have graduated from an approved program. Applicants must also produce letters of verification from instructors or supervisors attesting to completion of the tracks they followed.
Students in echocardiography programs learn to manage patients, and observe and train in clinical medicine and pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease. Studies include classes and clinical internships and externships that explore ultrasound physics and instrumentation, 2D & M mode echocardiography, cardiac Doppler and color flow and advanced techniques in echocardiography and stress testing. Graduates of the echocardiography program are eligible for ARDMS exams and certifications. Courses include:
- Anatomy and physiology terms
- Physics and instrumentation
- Vascular system I and II
- Coronary artery and pericardial disease
- Color and spectral Doppler instruments, analysis and artifacts
- Congenital heart disease
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Electrocardiograph (EKG) Technicians
EKG techs attach electrodes to the patient's chest and limbs, then manipulate switches on an EKG machine, tracing electrical impulses transmitted by the heart. The printout is interpreted by a physician as part of a routine physical examination or before surgery.
Unlike cardiovascular technologists and other cardiovascular technicians, most EKG technicians train under an EKG supervisor or a cardiologist while they work. On-the-job training for EKG technicians usually takes about four to six weeks. Employers usually prefer to train people (nurse's aides, for example) who already work in healthcare.
Some EKG technicians are students enrolled in 2-year programs to become technologists, working part-time to gain experience and make contact with employers. For technicians who perform Holter monitoring, on-the-job training may last 18 to 24 months. A final exam prepares students for the ASPT and EKG Technician exam in addition to other national certifications. Courses like these cover subjects in detail such as the role and function of the EKG technician and legal aspects of medicine. Additional courses examine:
- Medical terminology: electrocardiography
- Anatomy of the heart and blood vessels
- Electrical conduction system
- EKG strip analysis, rhythms and interpretation
- Artifacts, tracing and troubleshooting
One-year programs for basic EKGs, Holter monitoring, and stress testing are also available and can be used as an alternative to on-the-job training. School programs often consist of 50 hours, during which students practice with equipment and perform hands-on labs that introduce function and use of EKG machines, and normal anatomy of the chest wall for proper 12-lead placement.
Most cardiovascular technicians work in hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They also find work in outpatient centers, laboratories and doctors' offices. The work environment is stressful, as some patients face grave conditions. Take note that EKG technicians who are not credentialed are less desirable to employers.
Employment Outlook and Salary
Employment of cardiovascular technicians and technologists may increase 22% for the years 2014 through 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These workers held about 51,400 jobs in 2015, and they made a median annual wage of $54,880 (www.bls.gov).
Individuals interested in becoming cardiovascular technicians might receive on-the-job training, complete a one-year certificate program or a two-year associate's program, depending on what their exact career goals are. Essential course topics include test analysis, anatomy, equipment operation and heart diseases. Certification is voluntary, but preferred by many employers.