If you've ever wished you could see into somebody's heart, you might want to think about a career in cardiovascular technology. The simplest form of cardiovascular technology is the electrocardiogram, usually referred to as an ECG or EKG. In some workplaces, you can train as an EKG technologist in under two months.
Every time the heart muscles contract, they generate a small electrical signal. Those signals can be detected through electrodes attached to the patient's chest and connected to a monitoring or printing device. Medical staff can see from the display or printout whether the patient's heart is functioning the way it should. As an EKG technologist, you have to understand and manage the equipment and to call abnormal readings to the physician's attention.
Most of a cardiovascular technologist's work is routine. Doctors can request an electrocardiogram to assess patients' cardiac health, diagnose potential problems or monitor their cardiac health continuously. Sometimes you'll put patients on the treadmill and perform a stress test, watching their heart activity as they exercise. For more subtle problems, you might fit patients with a Holter monitor to track their heart activity over a 24-hour period. In some work settings, you might spend part of your time in the emergency room or operating room. You'd monitor the patient's condition in real time as the doctor works, alerting physicians to any changes in heart activity.
You'll need to master a basic skill set and body of knowledge to work as a cardiovascular technologist. You have to know where and how to attach the electrodes to get an accurate reading. You also have to understand the printouts and be able to recognize the difference between a properly functioning heart and one that has problems. Patients often worry about their health or stress about taking the test, so you also need good enough people skills to explain the procedure and help the patient relax. If you're fitting a Holter monitor, you'll need to coach the patient on its use.
Some employers are willing to hire untrained, unskilled applicants and train them as EKG technologists in house in as little as six weeks. Others prefer candidates with up to a year's formal training or even an associate degree in cardiovascular technology. You can demonstrate your competence and professionalism to potential employers by earning professional certification through bodies such as Cardiovascular Credentialing International or the National Healthcareer Association. You'll need some combination of formal training or experience in the field to pass the certification exam. Once you're working as an EKG technician, you can cross-train in more advanced forms of cardiovascular technology and earn additional certifications. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 29 percent job growth for cardiovascular technologists by 2020, about double the average for all occupations.
- Stanford School of Medicine: Health Career -- Electrocardiogram (EKG) Technician
- Cleveland Clinic: Electrocardiogram (EKG) Technician
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians and Vascular Technologists
- Cardiovascular Credentialing International: Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT)
- National Healthcareer Association: EKG Technician Certification (CET)
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