Education and Training: High school plus training
Salary: Median—$38,690 per year
Employment Outlook: Excellent
Definition and Nature of the Work
Cardiology technologists work in hospital cardiology departments, cardiac rehabilitation centers, clinics, doctors' offices, or medical schools. They help doctors diagnose and treat disorders of the heart and blood vessels. Cardiology technologists specialize in invasive procedures—those in which the body is entered—and help doctors with cardiac catheterizations. In these procedures, a small tube (catheter) is threaded through a patient's artery from the groin to the heart. The procedure can determine whether a vessel that supplies blood to the heart is blocked. Part of the procedure may involve treating blockages.
Cardiology technologists prepare patients for cardiac catheterization. After positioning the patient on an examining table, the technologist shaves, cleans, and numbs the top of the leg near the groin. During the procedure, the technologist monitors the patient's blood pressure and heart rate. Technologists also may prepare and monitor patients during open-heart surgery and other heart-related procedures. Some cardiac technologists run noninvasive tests as well, such as the electrocardiogram (EKG).
To take an EKG, a cardiology technologist (also known as an EKG technician) fastens disk-like electrodes to the patient's chest, arms, and legs. During this process, the technologist explains the procedure to the patient and tries to make the patient feel comfortable. This helps to limit faulty readings, which can be caused by stress, among other things. Once the electrodes are in place, the technologist operates the controls on the EKG machine, allowing the electrodes to pick up electronic signals from the heart and transmit them to the machine. The machine is equipped with a special pen, or stylus, that records the heartbeat patterns on graph paper.
EKG technicians with additional training can administer more advanced types of cardiovascular tests. Holter monitoring involves a twenty-four- to forty-eight-hour surveillance of a patient going about a normal daily routine—sitting, standing, eating, and sleeping. Electrodes are placed on the patient's chest, and a portable cassette monitor is strapped to the patient's waist. At the end of the testing period, the cassette is scanned and printed for a physician to interpret.
EKG technicians with additional training may also administer the treadmill stress test. After taking a patient's medical history, resting heartbeat, and blood pressure, the technologist asks the patient to start walking slowly on a treadmill. The technologist gradually increases the treadmill's speed while monitoring the performance of the patient's heart. The treadmill stress test is a way of determining the effect of increased exertion on a patient's heart.
Education and Training Requirements
You must have a high school diploma to become a cardiology technologist. Some cardiology technologists get on-the-job training in hospitals, which generally lasts from eight to sixteen weeks. However, most graduate from two-year community college or technical school programs, and some from four-year programs. Recommended high school courses include health, biology, anatomy, and mathematics. Certification is offered by the American Cardiology Technologists Association.
Getting the Job
You can apply directly to hospitals, cardiac rehab centers, clinics, doctors' offices, or medical schools for job openings. Check with your school placement office. Also check state and private employment services for openings for cardiology technologists.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Doctors are using EKGs more frequently as part of routine physical examinations. In large hospitals, cardiology technologists can become supervisors of other technologists. As they gain more experience and training, they can move into better-paying jobs as skilled technicians. Opportunities are best for cardiology technologists who learn how to do more complex procedures.
The employment outlook for cardiology technologists is excellent, with job growth expected to be much faster than average through the year 2014. Growth will occur as the population ages, because people who are middle-aged and older have more heart problems than young people do. Registered nurses and other office personnel in hospitals are being trained to perform basic EKG procedures because newer equipment is more efficient and easier to use. Opportunities will be best for technologists who have training in the more advanced tests such as Holter monitoring and stress testing.
Cardiology technologists generally work forty hours a week, sometimes on weekends. They may also be on call at night and on weekends. They usually work in clean, pleasant surroundings and are recognized as an important part of the medical team. They work closely with doctors and nurses as well as with patients. An important part of a cardiology technologist's job is putting patients at ease before and during the procedure. A technologist should be calm, confident, and sympathetic.
Where to Go for More Information
Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation
1110 N. Glebe Rd., Ste. 220
Arlington, VA 22201-4795
National Health Council
1730 M St. NW, Ste. 500
Washington, DC 20036
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary with education and experience. Registered cardiology technologists earned a median income of $38,690 in 2004. Those with more experience and those who are trained to perform more advanced tests can earn more. Most employers offer paid vacations, sick leave, pensions, and health insurance.