Cardiovascular Technologist Education, Schools and Career Overview
Your heartbeat is a precious rhythm, one that cardiovascular technologists know very well. These specialists are trained to assist physicians with procedures or tests related to the heart and peripheral vascular system. The digital tests and images they produce often have a huge impact on diagnoses and decisions made about the treatment of each patient.
Cardiovascular technologists have diagnostic skills related to the heart, and may know how to use a variety of tools ranging from the echocardiograph to the cardiac Doppler. Learning how to use digital and technical equipment does not have to be intimidating, however. There are a vast number of cardiovascular technologist degree programs available, providing students with instruction and even hands-on experience in a clinical setting.
Cardiovascular technologists mainly work in hospital settings, performing procedures with cardiologists in invasive cardiovascular laboratories (commonly called cath labs). Typically cardiovascular procedures are not portable and remain in the cath lab because of the x-ray equipment used. There are varying sizes of hospitals, including community hospitals and teaching institutions with medical programs. Some smaller community hospitals only perform coronary interventions but not cardiovascular surgery. Other smaller hospitals do not have the support structure in place for a cardiovascular program and therefore do not have a cath lab.
How to Become a Cardiovascular Technician
Cardiovascular technicians play an important role in health care, assisting physicians with heart-related tests, procedures and assessments. With job demand expected to be strong in upcoming years, the cardiovascular tech field may be one worth considering. Specialties in areas such as invasive cardiology, noninvasive technology or vascular technology may also be available, allowing techs to develop skills in niche fields, specializing in tasks ranging from Doppler ultrasound to cardiac catheterization. If you are interested in this field, read on for more details about how to become a cardiovascular technician.
Cardiovascular technologist degree programs
Students can find associate's and bachelor's degrees available in cardiovascular technology, according to the BLS, but the length of these programs can vary. Most associate's degree programs are around two years in length, while bachelor's degrees generally take four years. However, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) suggests that the length of an educational program can depend on the number of diagnostic evaluation areas a student wants to pursue. These include:
- Invasive cardiology
- Noninvasive cardiology
- Noninvasive peripheral vascular study
Typically, students need to have a high school diploma or GED equivalent to seek admission into one of the cardiovascular technologist programs. Depending on the state and the program, you may need to meet other requirements such as passing an entrance exam or having a pre-enrollment interview.
When selecting a degree program in this field, it's important to consider whether or not the program is accredited. This means it has been evaluated for quality by an outside organization. The CAAHEP accredits more than 2,000 allied health programs, and specifically accredits over 50 cardiovascular technologist schools across the U.S.
Cardiovascular technologist training
Students working toward either an associate's or bachelor's degree in cardiovascular technology will complete both general education and career-specific coursework in their program. Direct instruction, laboratory experiences and hands-on learning through clinical rotations or externships are key features of many cardiovascular technologist programs. Some of the common courses include:
- Cardiac pharmacology
- Cardiovascular hemodynamics ("hemodynamics" is the study of blood flow)
- Echocardiography fundamentals
- EKG analysis
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Principles in medical electronics and instrumentation
Students should become familiar with a variety of diagnostic procedures that may include echocardiography, the ECG, Holter monitoring, telemetry, and stress testing. Many of these skills are gained through the experiential portions of the program, including clinical rotations or externships at actual health care sites. Upon completion of one of the cardiovascular technologist degree programs, students may want to seek certification through an organization like Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). Certification may be able to provide professionals with an edge when it comes to employment.
Cardiovascular technologist certification
Once students have completed a postsecondary education program, they may want to consider additional certifications. According to the BLS, certification is preferred by some employers and it may even be necessary in some states where cardiovascular technician licensing is required. The BLS also points out that some insurance plans, including Medicare, will only cover services if they are performed by a certified technician. Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) offers eight certification exams, any of which could be appropriate depending on a student's training, specializations and subsequent education. Similarly, certification can also be sought through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).
Career advancement for cardiovascular technologists
Certification of skills may be one way you can distinguish yourself to seek higher pay or better job opportunities. In some states, certification may be required to obtain a license. Organizations that offer certification include Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
That said, cardiovascular technologists can work their way up to become a manager or director of a department. They also could further their schooling to become a physician or other medical professional although this would take much more education. They may be able to transition to a different position in the industry and sell medical equipment, which can lead to a lucrative salary. There are also temp agencies that hire contractual CVTs for a certain length of time when there are shortages at hospitals. Some agencies hire CVTs for three-month stints, and these opportunities can pay very well.
Cardiovascular Technologist Skills and Abilities
This field requires someone who is confident and not afraid to work in life and death situations to take care of critically sick patients. Other important skills, according to the BLS, include good hand-eye coordination, physical stamina, technical know-how and interpersonal skills to effectively communicate with patients and healthcare professionals.
O*NET Online reports the following skills to be important in this field:
- Active listening
- Critical thinking
- Social perceptiveness
- Operation monitoring
- Judgment and decision making
- Service orientation
Technicians also need to be dependable, good at communicating and have strong evaluative skills. They should also be able to tolerate stress, have sensitivity toward others, and be adaptive and flexible on the job.
Cardiovascular Technologist Salary and Career Outlook
In general, health care positions are on the rise, and health care facilities have turned more and more to imaging technology as the sector evolves, particularly to replace more expensive and pricier invasive procedures. Also, the BLS reports that many third-party payers, such as health insurance providers, are encouraging the use of noninvasive procedures in cardiovascular technology.
A shift toward outpatient care could also lead to greater use of cardiovascular technology equipment and machinery in diagnostic and medical labs as well as doctors' offices. An aging baby boomer population, as well as increased access to health care coverage for many individuals -- as a result of federal law -- could mean more people taking advantage of cardiovascular technology type services, including those that help diagnose conditions like tumors and blood clots.
Here’s an idea of the job outlook and salary for cardiovascular technologists:
|Annual Mean Wage
|Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians
- Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292031.htm
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
- Cardiovascular Technologist, Carnegie Institute, no date, http://www.carnegie-institute.edu/programs/cardiovascular-technologist/
- Cardiovascular Technology, Milwaukee Area Technical College, no date, http://www.matc.edu/student/offerings/2014-2015/degrees/cardiovascular_technology.cfm
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-6
- CAAHEP Accredited Program Search, Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, no date, http://www.caahep.org/Find-An-Accredited-Program/
- Cardiovascular Technology, Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, no date, http://www.caahep.org/Content.aspx?ID=21
- Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292031.htm