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EKG Technician Education, Schools, and Career Overview

EKG Technicians help obtain necessary information cardiologists need to make important decisions about a patient’s health. Electrocardiograph technicians, commonly referred to as “EKG Techs,” or cardiographic techs, work in non-invasive cardiovascular technology, performing EKGs, Holter monitor procedures, and stress tests on a treadmill.

EKG Tech Duties

EKG Technician careers involve using several different pieces of equipment to do their jobs. They use 12-lead EKG recording devices and specialized treadmills to help in the review of patient EKG readings. The typical duties of EKG technicians is to administer or help with the following types of tests:

EKG Tests

EKGs, sometimes referred to as “12 leads”, are electrical recordings of the heart. The main job duty of an EKG technician involves attaching electrodes to a patient’s chest, arms and legs in a way that ensures the readings are accurate and meaningful. The EKG tech uses his/her knowledge of using the advanced EKG machine to manipulate appropriate switches in order to obtain an accurate reading.

Treadmill Stress Tests

Treadmill “stress tests” are typically performed on patients who complain of chest discomfort or have had abnormal EKG readings. During a stress test, an EKG Tech first records the patient’s medical history, explains the procedure, and checks the patient’s resting blood pressure. After the EKG Tech attaches a 12-lead monitoring system to the patient’s chest, he/she walks on a treadmill. The EKG Tech increases the speed and incline of the treadmill to measure the amount of stress placed on the heart under physical exertion.

Holter Monitor Test

Holter monitor tests are used on patients in order for cardiologists to diagnose heart problems like pacemaker problems or rhythm abnormalities. Typically these tests are done over the course of a 24-hour period or sometimes longer, monitoring the patient carrying out their normal daily activities. EKG Techs typically handle the setting up and removal of Holter tests, placing electrodes on the chest of the patient and attaching a portable monitor to a belt the patient wears.

How to Become an EKG Technician

There are several routes one could take to become an EKG Tech but the below steps are recommended in general because they provide an individual with marketability and credibility in the field:

1.     In high school, take as many science courses as you can.

2.     Graduate from high school and enroll in an EKG program (oftentimes these programs are paired with medical assistant programs or phlebotomy).

3.     Earn the Cardiovascular Credentialing International CCT (Certified Cardiographic Technician) credential by sitting for the exam.

4.     Look for a job as an EKG Tech, likely at a hospital.

5.     Earn 16 continuing education credits over the course of three years to maintain the CCT credential.

EKG Technician degree programs

A high school diploma is oftentimes the only educational requirement to become an EKG Tech because the actual training occurs on the job. However, there are certificate or diploma programs to prepare an individual to work as an EKG Tech. These programs are typically a few months to a year in duration. Six months tends to be the most common duration of an EKG Tech program.

An EKG Tech training program typically covers areas such as:

  • Stress Test
  • Holter Monitor Testing
  • EKG Techniques
  • Medical Law and Ethics
  • Patient Care and Preparation
  • Medical Instrumentation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Cardiovascular Diagnostic Procedures
  • Cardiovascular Drugs

Oftentimes a certificate in phlebotomy is paired with one as an EKG tech for a comprehensive certificate that covers both fields. Other times medical assisting diploma programs have an EKG emphasis.

EKG Technician schools

There are a variety of both campus-based and online EKG Technician schools available. Some programs have a combined modality where some of the coursework is completed in an online format but then practicums or hands-on experience are also required.

Hands-on training

EKG Techs typically are employed in hospitals, often emergency rooms, to handle EKGs, Holter Monitors, and Treadmill Stress Tests. Some large cardiologists’ offices may employ an EKG Tech but often these offices either send their patients to the hospital for these tests or have a medical assistant or other personnel in the office perform the EKG. Training in the field often takes place in these settings.

EKG Technician certification

Some may find it advantageous to seek certification through an organization like the National Certification Career Association (NCCA) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). As the NHA points out, the benefits to certification can include increased pay, improved expertise in subject matter and better job opportunities.

Upon completing a formal EKG tech education program, students can typically expect to need to take the following national exams:

  • National Certified ECG Technician (NCET)
  • Nationally Registered title of Certified EKG Technician (NRCEKG)
  • Certified Cardiographic Technician – CCT

The Cardiac Credentialing International organization offers a CCT (Certified Cardiographic Technician) certification level credential for EKG Techs. Passing the exam may make EKG Techs more marketable for hospitals hiring for this job because it shows they have the fundamental knowledge necessary to perform these tasks. This exam is computerized and offered at Pearson Vu testing centers throughout the country. It tests on the proficiency needed to perform EKGs, Holter monitoring and Treadmill Stress Tests.

The CCI exam has been made up of 33% covering ECG Techniques and Recognition, 20% covering Holter Monitoring, 16% covering Electrophysiology, 14% covering basic cardiovascular anatomy and physiology, 9% covering Stress Test Techniques, and 8% covering Cardiac Medications. To maintain certification, 16 continuing education units must be obtained during the three-year renewal period. 

The credentialing certification is not usually mandatory in this field and there are no state licensure requirements.

Continuing education for EKG Techs

Almost any type of advancement for an EKG Tech will involve furthering their education. With additional schooling, an EKG tech may decide to pursue a career in invasive cardiology, such as working in a catheterization lab as a cardiovascular technician. Or, they may further their education to perform ultrasounds of the heart as a cardiac sonographer. Some EKG techs do go on to pursue other healthcare occupations, such as that of a registered nurse (RN).

Career Outlook and Salary Information

As with many careers, pay for an EKG technician can vary.  EKG technicians at the upper end may have opportunities for overtime or, in some cases, incentives, like a bonus. Also, pay can increase with experience, most likely after 5 to 10 years, but after that period, pay does not increase significantly, according to payscale.com.

Geographic location can always be a factor in pay, and places that have a lower cost of living than most metropolitan areas could prove to be a good place to work. Here's a snapshot of salary data for EKG techs:

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians$57,250$28,680$90,760
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Here's what job growth for EKG techs could look like in the coming years:

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians56,1309.9%
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Sources
1.     Cost of Living, Metro Atlanta Chamber. http://www.metroatlantachamber.com/atlanta/cost-of-living
2.     EKG Technician Certification, National Healthcareer Association. http://www.nhanow.com/ekg-technician.aspx
3.     Electrocardiogram (EKG) Technician Salary, payscale.com, June 2015. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Electrocardiogram_%28EKG%29_Technician/Hourly_Rate
4.     Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm 

EKG Technician Schools