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Cardiovascular technologists aid physicians in diagnosing and treating problems with the heart and blood vessels. They may also perform various cardiovascular procedures, monitor patients' heart rates, and review patient files.
Most cardiovascular technologists choose to specialize in one of the three areas: invasive cardiology, echocardiography, or vascular technology. If you choose invasive cardiology you can expect to help physicians to perform cardiac catheterization to determine whether blockages exist in a patient's blood vessels. You may also assist in a balloon angioplasty to treat those blockages before heart surgery becomes necessary. Or you can perform an electrophysiology test, which is used to locate an area of heart tissue that causes the abnormal electrical impulses responsible for a patient's arrhythmia.
Echocardiography, by contrast, involves noninvasive procedures such as ultrasounds. In this field, you must carefully monitor the ultrasound screen and decide what you need to report to the physician. You may also take sonograms of a patient's heart and perform electrocardiograms (EKGs).
Vascular technology focuses on circulation, so you would evaluate pulses in the arteries and veins to find any abnormalities. You may also perform tests during or immediately after a patient's surgery, or do an ultrasound to determine blood pressure, oxygen saturation, cerebral circulation, or vascular blood flow.
To succeed as a cardiovascular technologist, you need a talent for mechanical work and the ability to follow detailed instructions. You also need excellent communication skills, since you have to communicate effectively with both physicians and patients. With physicians, you must know how to succinctly impart detailed medical information. With patients, you must be able to explain procedures in a way they'll understand and that won't frighten them.
Cardiovascular technologists as a whole earn a mean annual salary of $48,640, although those who work at medical and diagnostic laboratories average $58,080. Overall, salaries range from the lowest 10 percent, who earn less than $25,510, to the highest 10 percent with earnings over $74,760.
Training and Education
The majority of cardiovascular technologists complete a 2-year training program at a junior or community college, although 4-year programs are growing in popularity. In a two year program, the first year generally covers core courses, and in the second year you can choose to specialize in invasive cardiovascular technology, noninvasive cardiovascular technology, or noninvasive vascular technology. If you already have training in an allied health profession, then you only need to complete the 1-year of specialized training.
The Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology has accredited 31 cardiovascular technology programs within the U.S. Upon graduating from one of these programs, you are eligible to obtain professional certification in your chosen field. This is optional in some states and required in others, so it's worth checking your State's medical board.
A variety of certifications exist, including Certified Cardiographic Technician, Registered Cardiac Sonographer, Registered Vascular Technologist, and Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist. Both Cardiovascular Credentialing International and the American Registry of Diagnostic Medial Sonographers offer professional credentials, although the titles of those credentials vary.
As of 2006, cardiovascular technologists and technicians held 45,000 jobs. 75 percent of those jobs were found in hospitals, and the remaining cardiovascular technologists worked in offices of physicians or in medical and diagnostic laboratories, including diagnostic imaging centers.
Employment for cardiovascular technologists is expected to increase by 26 percent from 2006-2016, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations. As the population ages and has higher incidences of cardiovascular problems, the demand for cardiovascular technologists should continue to grow. You can also improve your own job prospects by specializing in more than one area.About the Author
Laura Horwitz has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for five years in both London and the U.S.