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Cardiovascular technologists and technicians assist physicians in diagnosing and treating cardiac (heart) and peripheral vascular (blood vessel) ailments.
Cardiovascular technicians who obtain electro (electrical)- cardio (heart)- grams (record), abbreviated EKG's or ECG's, which trace electrical impulses transmitted by the heart, are known as electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG) technicians. To take a "basic" EKG, technicians attach electrodes to the patient's chest, arms, and legs, then manipulate switches on a electrocardiograph machine to obtain the reading. The test is done before most kinds of surgery and as part of a routine physical examination, especially for persons who have reached middle age or have a history of cardiovascular problems.
More skilled EKG technicians perform Holter monitor and stress testing. For a Holter monitoring, technicians place electrodes on the patient's chest and attach a portable EKG monitor to the patient's belt. Following 24-48 hours of normal routine for the patient, the technician removes a cassette tape from the monitor and places it in a scanner. After checking the quality of the recorded impulses on an electronic screen, the technician prints the information from the tape so that it can be interpreted later. The printed output from the scanner is eventually used by a physician to diagnose heart ailments.
For a treadmill stress test, EKG technicians document the patient's medical history, explain the procedure, connect the patient to an EKG monitor, and obtain a baseline reading and resting blood pressure. Next, they monitor the heart's performance while the patient is walking on a treadmill, gradually increasing the treadmill's speed to observe the effect of increased exertion. Those cardiovascular technicians who perform EKG and stress tests are known as noninvasive technicians because the techniques they use do not require the insertion of probes or other instruments into the patient's body.
Cardiovascular technologists who specialize in cardiac catheterization procedures are called cardiology technologists. They assist physicians with invasive procedures in which a small tube, or catheter, is wound through a patient's blood vessel from a spot on the patient's leg into the heart to determine if a blockage exists or for other diagnostic purposes. In balloon angioplasty, a procedure used to treat blockages of blood vessels, technologists assist physicians who insert a catheter with a balloon on the end to the point of the obstruction. Technologists may prepare patients for these procedures by positioning them on an examining table, then shaving, cleaning, and administering anesthesia to the top of the patient's leg near the groin. During the procedures, they monitor patients' blood pressure and heart rate using EKG equipment and notify the physician if something appears wrong. Technologists may also prepare and monitor patients during open heart surgery and the implantation of pacemakers.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians may also specialize in noninvasive peripheral vascular tests. They use ultrasound equipment that transmits sound waves, then collects the echoes to form an image on a screen. Individuals who focus on blood flows and circulation problems are known as vascular technologists, while those who use ultrasound on the heart are referred to as echocardiographers.
Some cardiovascular technologists and technicians schedule appointments, type doctor's interpretations, maintain patient's files, and care for equipment.
Technologists and technicians generally work a 5-day, 40- hour week, which may include Saturdays and Sundays. Those in catheterization labs tend to work longer hours and also may work evenings. They may also be on call during the night and on weekends.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians spend a lot of time walking and standing. Those who work in catheterzation labs may face stressful working conditions, because they are in close contact with patients who have serious heart ailments. Some patients, for example, may encounter complications from time to time that have life or death implications.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians held about 30,000 jobs in 1994. Most worked in hospital cardiology departments, while some worked in cardiologists' offices, cardiac rehabilitation centers, or health maintenance organizations. About one-half were EKG technicians.
For basic EKGs, Holter monitoring, and stress testing, 1-year certificate programs exist, although most EKG technicians are still trained on the job by an EKG supervisor or a cardiologist. On-the-job training usually lasts about 8 to 16 weeks. Applicants must be high school graduates. Most employers prefer to train people already in the health care field, nursing aides, for example. Some EKG technicians are students who are enrolled in 2-year programs to become technologists, but work part-time to get experience and make contact with employers. Most vascular technologists are trained on the job although some have backgrounds in nursing and sonography.
Cardiology technologists need to complete a 2-year junior or community college program. One year is dedicated to core courses followed by a year of specialized instruction in either invasive, noninvasive, or noninvasive peripheral cardiology. Those who are qualified in a related allied health profession only need to complete the year of specialized instruction.
Cardiovascular technologists must be reliable, have mechanical aptitude, and be able to follow detailed instructions. A pleasant, relaxed manner for putting patients at ease is an asset.
Employment of cardiovascular technologists and technicians is expected to change or grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2005, with technologists and technicians experiencing different patterns of employment change. Employment of cardiology technologists is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations. Growth will occur as the population ages, because older people have a higher incidence of heart problems. In contrast, employment of EKG technicians is expected to decline as hospitals train registered nurses and others to perform basic EKG procedures. Individuals trained in Holter monitoring and stress testing are expected to have more favorable job prospects than those who can only perform a basic EKG.
Most job openings for cardiovascular technologists and technicians should arise from replacement needs as individuals transfer to other jobs or leave the labor force. Relatively few job opportunities due to both growth and replacement needs are expected, however, because these occupations are small.
According to a University of Texas Medical Branch survey of hospitals and medical centers, the median annual salary of EKG technicians, based on a 40 hour week and excluding shift and area differentials, was $18,396 in October 1994. The average minimum salary was $15,793 and the average maximum was $22,985.
Based on limited information, the average salary for cardiovascular technologists was about $32,000 in 1994.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians operate sophisticated equipment that helps physicians and other allied health practitioners diagnose and treat patients, so do nuclear medicine technologists, radiologic technologists, diagnostic medical sonographers, electroencephalographic technologists, perfusionists, and respiratory therapists.
Local hospitals can supply information about employment opportunities.
For general information about a career in cardiovascular technology contact:
American Society for Cardiovascular Professionals, 10500 Wakeman Dr., Fredericksburg, VA 22407.
For a list of accredited programs in cardiovascular technology, contact:
Division of Allied Health Education and Accreditation, American Medical Association, 515 N. State St., Chicago, IL 60610.
For information on vascular technology, contact:
The Society of Vascular Technology 4601 Presidents Dr., Suite 260, Lanham, MD 20706-4365.
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