Cardiovascular Technologist Frequently Asked Questions
By allied health world contributing writer
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Cardiovascular Technologist is the broad term for these professionals, which is often shortened to CVT or cardiovascular “tech”. A Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS) is a CVT who has passed the invasive cardiology registry examination administered through Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). An RCIS is considered to be competent in all aspects of the CVT scope of practice.
What other medical professionals do cardiovascular technologists work with?There is typically a team that works in collaboration with the cardiologist in cath labs to diagnose and treat heart disease. This team can vary from one hospital to the next but may consist of any of the following: cardiovascular technologists, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, radiologic technologists, and respiratory therapists. Sometimes EMTs or paramedics are a part of that team as well, depending on the situation. This diverse team of medical professionals work together which is in the patient’s best interest.
Are there repeat patients in this profession or do cardiovascular technologists mainly see patients one time only?Repeat patients, often referred to as frequent flyers, are fairly common in this line of work. If a patient has a blockage and a stent is placed in the coronary artery, but they do not change any of their risk factors, their arteries will likely narrow again. Some things that contribute to the narrowing of arteries are smoking, unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, diabetes, family history of heart disease and being overweight.
While some contributing factors to the narrowing of the arteries are related to a person’s lifestyle, other factors are genetic and can’t be controlled. For example, gender plays a large role since males are more prone to these problems than females. Other factors include having a family history of coronary artery disease, and a person’s age.
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Is there a common age range of patients in this profession?There are pediatric hospitals that see pediatric patients for congenital heart defects. However, the majority of people who need to see a cardiovascular technologist are middle aged or older. Coronary artery disease and heart attacks are starting to occur in younger and younger populations due to unhealthy diet choices and lack of exercise. However, family history also plays a huge role in the likelihood someone will have issues like coronary artery disease. Twenty years ago it was almost unheard of to have a patient under 50 with coronary artery disease and today it is not unheard of to have a patient in their late 20s with this disease. Awareness for these heart-related diseases has also increased over the years.
Are there certain times of year that cardiovascular technologists are busier?In some regions of the country there may not be a certain “busy” time of year but in areas that get snow and cold weather, a common joke among cardiovascular technologists is that the first snowstorm of the year results in more patients. In reality the reason that the snow leads to more people having to be seen for heart issues is that oftentimes elderly people are shoveling and over exerting themselves. Another reason the health care field may be busier in the winter months is that oftentimes patients do not opt to have elective surgeries and procedures done in the summer months when the weather is nice.
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What is in a cardiovascular technologists’ scope of practice?What is included in a cardiovascular tech’s scope of practice varies from one state to the next. Here are some examples of tasks within a CVT’s scope of practice in some states:
- Administer medications if a physician is present (some states only allow an RN to do this).
- Start intravenous (IV) lines.
- Gain vascular access.
- Assist the physician in performing diagnostic and interventional procedures.
- Suture incisions closed after a pacemaker or ICD implant.
- Manipulation and use of x-ray equipment (some states only allow radiologic technologist to do this).
What are the main types of patients cardiovascular technologists see?There are three main categorizations of patients who come into a hospital and see a cardiovascular technologist:
- Heart attack patients who are experiencing severe chest pain and come to the hospital on an emergency basis.
- Those who come to the hospital on their own in more of an elective rather than emergent setting such as when they have experienced chest pain in the past but are currently pain free. These situations likely involve hospital admission but it may not be necessary to call the cath team in the middle of the night.
- Outpatients who may originally see their private family physician and then be referred to a cardiologist for further evaluation. They would likely have a non-invasive test such as an exercise treadmill test or cardiac ultrasound. Then, if the test comes back abnormal they would likely be scheduled for a heart cath to determine the extent of coronary disease.
What is some of the main equipment that is used in this profession?
- X-ray equipment--Cardiovascular technologists work in an environment where radiation is present so they must take the necessary precautions to avoid exposure, such as wearing a lead apron and wearing badges that monitor their exposure. In some states only radiologic technologists are allowed to operate x-ray equipment and in these cases the CVT would not have these duties.
- Ultrasound equipment—Two main types of ultrasound equipment are used.
- Intracardiac echo (ICE) involves a special catheter that goes inside the blood vessel to emit ultrasound out and allows cardiologists and cardiovascular technologists to look at structures within the body. The ultrasound “wand” that is familiar to many is on the tip of a catheter and then put in the chamber of the heart to get a true picture of what that person’s heart looks like.
- Intravascular ultrasound has the wand mounted on a small catheter that can fit down the coronary artery to allow a cardiovascular technologist to look down the barrel of the artery to determine how much narrowing has taken place.
- Inter Aortic Balloon Pump (IABP) machines are used to assist the hearts in extremely ill patients. This is a catheter with a large balloon on the end of it that goes in the aorta, which is the main blood vessel in the chest. The balloon then inflates and deflates, and is timed to the heart rate. In a patient with a heart that is not well, this balloon catheter takes some of the workload off the heart. The IABP is usually advanced through a sheath in the groin and it is typically only in for one to four days to help the patient’s heart recover from a procedure or from being sick.
- Aspiration devices are machines used to aspirate fresh thrombus that is blocking an artery.
- A rotoblater is a device with a rotating burr on the end of the catheter for people who have calcified blockages in their arteries. It rotates very fast, in a controlled fashion, but allows calcified blockages to be cut away from the coronary artery.
- Blood analysis machines provide cardiovascular technologists with important information about a patient’s blood; such as the oxygen content and blood coagulation levels. This is helpful in determining many different pathological conditions.
What specialties exist in the field of cardiovascular technology?In addition to the Registry for Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS), there are a number of other specialties, including:
- Certified Cardiac Technician (CCT) — A CCT is a non-invasive tech that assists physicians with treadmill studies, performing 12 lead ECGs, etc. This specialty does not have a "registry" level credential but a "certification" because they do not perform invasive procedures in the cath lab.
- Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS) —These professionals specialize in cardiac ultrasound.
- Registered Vascular Specialist (RVS) — Vascular sonographers look at everything vascular excluding the heart. This includes arms, legs, internal organs, and main blood vessels in the chest and abdomen.
- Electrophysiology (RCES) —This field involves the evaluation of the "electrical" function of the heart; the heart beat. Procedures in this area, which are also typically done in a cath lab, include pacemaker implants, automatic defibrillator implants, and ablations to terminate rapid or irregular heartbeats. Electrophysiology is a relatively new specialty within cardiovascular medicine and is experiencing a significant growth.
Who do cardiovascular techs usually report to?Cardiovascular techs generally report to a clinical manager or supervisor. However, some hospitals require CVTs to report to an RN manager.
What professional organizations can cardiovascular technologists be a part of?
The field of cardiovascular technology has several professional organizations available. Below are some of the better-known groups:
Society of Invasive Cardiovascular Professionals (SICP)(919) 861-4546
American College of Cardiology (ACC)(202) 375-6000
Society of Cardiac Angiography and Interventionalists (SCA&I)(800) 992-7224
Society of Vascular Ultrasound(301) 469-7550
Alliance of Cardiovascular Professionals(540) 370-0102
American Society of Echocardiography919-787-5181
Cardiovascular Technologist Schools
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