While degree programs specifically called 'cardiovascular science' are not common, undergraduates can study this field through Associate of Science or Bachelor of Science in Cardiovascular Technology programs. These programs prepare students for careers as cardiovascular technicians and technologists who create images, monitor and conduct tests on patient's hearts in order to assist cardiologists and other physicians with diagnosing and treating heart problems. Prerequisites for undergraduate programs include having a high school diploma or GED. Some programs may require prerequisite coursework, such as one year of high school biology or algebra or a college-level human anatomy course.
At the graduate level, a few schools offer Master of Science in Cardiovascular Science programs; however, these are rare. Graduates of these programs are prepared for advanced cardiovascular technologists or perfusionist roles. Program specializations may include invasive, noninvasive, vascular or cardiovascular technology.
Associate of Science in Cardiovascular Technology
Associate's degree programs in cardiovascular technology can be completed in two years. Some schools offer programs that focus specifically on invasive cardiology and teach students to assist with cardiac catheterization, and other schools offer students a choice between either invasive or noninvasive specialties. Noninvasive programs teach students to use echocardiography equipment to take images of a patient's heart. Upon completion of these programs, students are often prepared to sit for the Cardiovascular Credentialing International's national certification exam to become a Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS).
Cardiovascular technology programs include a combination of general education and core cardiovascular science courses. Core courses include lectures, labs and clinical or hands-on training experiences. The clinical experiences often take place at local healthcare facilities. Common course topics found in an Associate of Science in Cardiovascular Technology program include:
- Pathophysiology, Invasive cardiology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Noninvasive cardiology
- Cardiopulmonary technology
- Critical care applications
Bachelor of Science in Cardiovascular Technology
This program allows learners to develop a strong understanding of how the heart functions and what conditions and diseases affect it. Students learn treatment methods and preventative techniques. They may also study electrophysiology, which is a sub-field in cardiovascular science that uses electrical systems to improve the condition of a heart. This program includes many of the same courses and requirements as the associate's degree program, as well as more general science courses and classes in advanced cardiology topics.
Students can expect many biology, chemistry and physics courses alongside their cardiovascular science classes. Some laboratory work and one or more clinicals are required in this four-year degree program. Students may also be able to select a concentration in invasive, noninvasive or vascular cardiovascular technology. Specific cardiovascular science courses may include:
- Basic life support and monitoring techniques
- Anatomy and physiology, Life biology
- Electrocardiology and electrophysiology
- Healthcare ethics, Patient assessment
- Cardiac disease
- Cardiac lab procedures
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Master of Science in Cardiovascular Science
This program builds upon the cardiovascular science fundamentals students obtained at the bachelor's degree level. Students begin practicing and using invasive technology like catheters and pacemakers. Students also gain experience with noninvasive techniques. Some programs may focus on preparing students to work as perfusionists, who are medical professionals who operate the equipment that replaces or supports a patient's circulatory function during surgery.
Applicants to these programs must typically have a bachelor's degree in a science field and meet minimum GPA requirements. In addition, some schools require students to submit GRE test scores, letters of recommendation and complete interviews. In some cases, an orientation might be required.
Coursework places an emphasis on science and requires independent research along with lab work. A thesis is required, covering a specific topic or issue in cardiovascular science. Common courses topics at the master's degree level include:
- Cardiovascular physiology
- Biochemistry, Medical ethics
- Cardiovascular pharmacology, Cardiac catheterization
- Electrophysiology and electrocardiology
- Healthcare management
Popular Career Options
Professionals at the master's degree level typically obtain positions with healthcare organizations. Possible job titles include perfusionist, medical cardiovascular scientist, diagnostic medical cardiovascular sonographer and clinical cardiovascular laboratory technologist. Doctoral degrees are available in cardiovascular science, but students interested in becoming physicians or surgeons - such as cardiologists - should look into medical school.
Graduates of associate's degree programs in cardiovascular technology are prepared for careers assisting cardiologists in hospitals, clinics and cardiology practices. Specific job titles may include:
- Cardiovascular technician
- Cardiovascular technologist
- Cardiovascular sonographer
- Cardiac catheterization lab technologist
- Cardiovascular invasive specialist
Further Education and Certification
Though not required, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that many employers prefer to hire cardiovascular technicians and technologists who have earned industry certification, such as the Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist credential. RCIS certification requires completion of an approved education program and passing an exam.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The BLS reported that cardiovascular technologists and technicians should see 22% job growth from 2014-2024, which is much faster than the average job growth. This increase was reported in part because of the aging of the Baby Boom population and the increased need to diagnose health conditions among this group.
The BLS reported in May 2015 that the median hourly wage for these workers was $26.38, making the median yearly income about $54,880. The top 10% of cardiovascular technologists and technicians made upwards of $87,170 per year.
Since cardiovascular science degree programs are scarce, many cardiovascular technologists gain the training they need for industry certification and employment from either an associate's degree or bachelor's degree program in cardiovascular technology. Some students may go on to earn a master's degree, though they are often not required.