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Nature of the Work
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Sources of Additional Information
(D.O.T. 078.264-010, .362-018, -030, -050, -062, .364-014, and .367-010)
* Employment will grow as fast as the average, but the number of job openings created will be low because the occupation is small.
* More than 9 out of 10 jobs are in hospitals, in both inpatient and outpatient settings.
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), are known as electrocardiograph (abbreviated EKG or ECG) technicians. To take a "basic" EKG, which traces electrical impulses transmitted by the heart, technicians attach electrodes to the patient's chest, arms, and legs, and 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 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 equire 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. Those who assist physicians in the diagnosis of disorders affecting circulation are known as vascular technologists. Vascular technologists use ultrasound instrumentation, such as doppler ultrasound, to noninvasively record information on the vessels such as blood pressure, limb volume changes, oxygen saturation, cerebral circulation, peripheral circulation, and abdominal circulation. Many of these tests are performed during or immediately after surgery. Technologists and technicians who use ultrasound on the heart are referred to as echocardiographers. They use ultrasound equipment that transmits sound waves, then collects the echoes to form an image on a screen.
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 weekends. Those in catheterization labs tend to work longer hours and 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 catheterization 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.
For basic EKG's, 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 fieldnursing aides, for example. Some EKG technicians are students who are enrolled in 2-year programs to become technologists, but work part-time to gain experience and make contact with employers.
Although some cardiovascular technologists, vascular technologists, and echocardiographers are currently trained on the job, more are being trained in 2- to 4-year programs. Cardiology technologists 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. Graduates from programs accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology are eligible to register as professional technologists with the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers or Cardiovascular Credentialing International.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians 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 grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2006, with technologists and technicians experiencing different patterns of employment change. Employment of cardiology technologists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will occur as the population ages, because older people have a higher incidence of heart problems. Likewise, employment of vascular technologists will grow faster than the average, as advances in vascular technology reduce the need for more costly and invasive procedures. 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 will arise from replacement needs as individuals transfer to other jobs or leave the labor force. Relatively few job openings due to both growth and replacement needs are expected, however, because the occupation is small.
According to a Hay Group survey of acute care hospitals, the median annual base salary of full-time EKG technicians was $20,200 in January 1997. The middle 50 percent earned between $17,100 and $23,800 a year.
Based on limited information, the average salary for cardiovascular technologists was about $33,600 in 1996.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians operate sophisticated equipment that helps physicians and other 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:
Alliance of Cardiovascular Professionals, 910 Charles St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401.
For a list of accredited programs in cardiovascular technology, contact:
Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology, 3525 Ellicott Mills Dr., Suite N, Ellicott City, MD 21043-4547.
For information on vascular technology, contact:
The Society of Vascular Technology, 4601 Presidents Dr., Suite 260, Lanham, MD 20706-4365.
For information on echocardiography, contact:
American Society of Echocardiography, 4101 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 201, Raleigh, NC 27607.
For information regarding registration and certification contact:
Cardiovascular Credentialing International, 4456 Corporation Lane, Suite 110, Virginia Beach, VA 23462.
American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, 600 Jefferson Plaza, Suite 360, Rockville, MD 20852-1150.
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