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How To Become a Cardiovascular Technologist

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What Is a Cardiovascular Technologist? Brief Overview:

Working as a cardiovascular technologist is an exciting and rewarding career in the field of cardiology, also known as cardiovascular medicine.

Cardiovascular technologists (CVT) assist cardiologists in conducting cardiac catheterizations for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Catheterizations are used to examine the arteries for blockages and repair them with the use of medical devices such as stents or balloons when applicable.

How To Become a Cardiovascular Technologist:

Like many allied health careers, becoming a cardiovascular technologist requires an associate's degree and a certification. An associate's degree in cardiovascular technology from an accredited program at a community college, technical school, or vocational school is recommended.

The coursework consists of a great deal of math and science including physics, biology, anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, and related topics. The cardiovascular technology program wraps up with 800 clinical training hours ("clinicals")to provide graduates with hand-on experience with patients in a cath lab.

Upon successful completion of the associate's degree program in cardiovascular technology, the final step of the process is to complete the registry test for the RCIS (Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist) certification.

Job Responsibilities of the Cardiovascular Technologist:

According to Jason Wigbels, RCIS, a cardiovascular technologist at Floyd County Medical Center in Rome, GA, the CVT's responsibilities can vary depending upon the particular needs of the cardiologist and the patient, but duties may include:
  • Positioning the patient for the procedure
  • Preparing the patient for the procedure and connecting him or her to the monitoring equipment
  • Loading ballons onto the guidewire for implantation into the patient
  • Injecting contrast chemicals into the patient, which allows arteries to show up on the monitor
  • Handing supplies to the physician such as catheters or guidewires
  • Assisting with the closure of the incision in the patient after the procedure
  • Operating equipment such as the EKG, C-arm, and inteleflator (that inflates the balloon implanted in the artery)
  • Assisting with implantation of ICDs and pacemakers, which includes testing the devices
  • Assisting the doctor and medical team with CPR if needed for patients who may go into cardiac arrest, or "code"
  • Schedule and Workload for Cardiovascular Technologists:

    CVTs generally work about 40 hours per week, on a shift-based schedule. Shifts can be 8-12 hours. The number of shifts worked depends on the length of the shifts, so one could work three 12-hour shifts, or five eight-hour shifts per week, for example.

    Some CVTs are also expected to take call in addition to the regularly scheduled hours.

    The workload during the shifts can vary greatly. Some factors that may affect the workload are the age of the population, and size of the draw area served by the hospital, as well as the presence of other cath labs in the area that may compete for patients.

    For example, Wigbels states that he has seen anywhere from three cases to over 12 cases in a shift. Each case can vary in length from 15 minutes for a diagnostic procedure to up to three hours for an interventional procedure (during which a device is implanted to repair the blockage that is identified during the diagnostic catheterization.)

    What's to Like About Being A Cardiovascular Technologist:

    As with many medical careers, helping others and making a difference in people's lives is a top perk. Wigbels states that he has always been interested in the medical field, and he feels that he has found his calling. This is a very common sentiment among a variety of healthcare professionals interviewed. "Knowing that I can make a difference . . . even save a life" is extremely rewarding, according to Wigbels.

    Additionally, Wigbels thrives on adrenaline and enjoys the excitement of the career as opposed to sitting behind a desk. "You never know what you're going to get" when you go to work each day, he adds.

    Challenges for Cardiovascular Technologists:

    Many challenges one may face as a CVT are similar to challenges faced by other medical professionals. When working towards a CVT career or working as a CVT, challenges may include:
    • Paying for tuition - Wigbels, for example, worked his way through school until his clinicals, which were too demanding to complete while working 50 hours a week.
    • Some of the coursework may be challenging for some - there is a lot of physics, math, and science.
    • The level of responsibility - working as a CVT can be overwhelming in that patients' lives are depending on your performance.
  • The RCIS exam, a two-part test, may be tough for some, especially if you are unable to invest the time to study, or if you do not test well in general.
  • Average Salary for CVTs:

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for cardiovascular technologists is $48,640 based on 2008 data. However, top earners earn over $74,000 annually.

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