Electrocardiogram, or EKG, technicians are fairly specialized professionals in the healthcare industry. Their only job is to work with EKG machines, which monitor the electrical activity of the heart to help diagnose heart disease, heart failure, arrhythmia and other medical conditions. But like any specialty, they must possess certain skills to be successful. These skills are often learned through training and certificate programs -- some provided by the employer, others offered at your local technical college.
EKG technicians must know how to operate complex machinery to check and monitor problems with the heart. During the electrocardiogram, the tech must attach electrodes -- usually a total of 12 -- to the patient’s chest, arms and legs. The machine then records the heart's electrical signals for about 10 minutes. Any abnormalities could indicate a problem with the heart, such as a slow heartbeat, fast heartbeat, irregular heartbeat or even a weakened heartbeat. A misplaced electrode could mean an inaccurate read, which may lead to an incorrect diagnosis.
Clinics, hospitals and other healthcare facilities typically provide on-the-job training for EKG technicians. Technicians may spend from four to six weeks in a program, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Community colleges and vocational schools also offer one-year certification programs, a good option for individuals wanting more background in the medical industry. Programs include courses on human anatomy, medical terminology and health careers, as well as actual training in EKG equipment.
Although voluntary, a professional certification in EKG technology can help your career. It signifies a mastery in operating and maintaining electrocardiogram machines. In fact, employers prefer to hire technicians with this designation, notes the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Insurance providers sometimes refuse to pay for a procedure handled by a non-certified tech. Spending the time and money to prepare and sit for a certification exam may well be worth it.
Half of all EKG technicians and other cardiovascular techs earned at least $51,000 a year in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of earners did even better, making in excess of $79,000 a year. Employment is expected to grow by 29 percent from 2010 to 2020, more than double the average for all occupations.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians and Vascular Technologists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians
- Edmonds Community College: EKG Tech
- California State University Long Beach: EKG Technician Certificate Program
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is an Electrocardiogram?
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.