Education and Training Requirements
At a minimum, cardiovascular technologists need an associate's degree to enter the field. Although no specific high school classes will directly prepare you to be a technologist, learning how to learn and getting a good grounding in basic high school subjects are important to all technologist positions.
During high school, you should take English, health, biology, and typing. You also might consider courses in social sciences to help you understand the social and psychological needs of patients.
In the past, many EKG operators were trained on the job by an EKG supervisor. This still may be true for some EKG technician positions. Increasingly, however, EKG technologists get postsecondary schooling before they are hired. Holter monitoring and stress testing may be part of your EKG schooling, or they may be learned through additional training. Ultrasound and cardiology technologists tend to have the most postsecondary schooling (up to a four-year bachelor's degree) and have the most extensive academic/experience requirements for credentialing purposes.
You can enter these positions without having had previous health care experience. However, some previous exposure to the business side of health care or even training in related areas is helpful. With academic training or professional experience in nursing, radiology science, or respiratory science, for example, you may be able to move into cardiology technology.
As a rule of thumb, medical employers value postsecondary schooling that gives you actual hands-on experience with patients in addition to classroom training. At many of the schools that train cardiovascular technologists, you work with patients in a variety of health care settings and train on more than one brand of equipment.
Some employers still have a physician or EKG department manager train EKG technicians on the job. Training generally lasts from one to six months. Trainees learn how to operate the EKG machine, how to produce and edit the electrocardiogram, and other related tasks.
Some vocational, technical, and junior colleges have one- or two-year training programs in EKG technology, Holter monitoring, stress testing, or all three; otherwise, EKG technologists may obtain training in Holter and stress procedures after they've already started working, either on the job or through an additional six months or more of schooling. Formal academic programs give technologists more preparation in the subject than is available with most on-the-job training and allow them to earn a certificate (one-year programs) or associate's degree (two-year programs).
Ultrasound technologists usually need a high school diploma or equivalent plus one, two, or four years of postsecondary schooling in a trade school, technical school, or community college. Vascular technologists also may be trained on the job.
Cardiology technologists tend to have the highest academic requirements of all; for example, a four-year bachelor's degree, a two-year associate's degree, or a certificate of completion from a hospital, trade, or technical cardiovascular program. A two-year program at a junior or community college might include one year of core classes (e.g., mathematics, biology, chemistry, and anatomy) and one year of specialized classes in cardiology procedures.
Cardiac monitor technicians need a high school diploma or equivalent, with additional educational requirements similar to those of EKG technicians.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Certification for cardiovascular technologists has become the professional standard and most employers require technologists be credentialed. Many credentialing bodies for cardiovascular and pulmonary positions exist, including American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), and others, and there are more than a dozen possible credentials for cardiovascular technologists. For example, sonographers can take an exam from ARDMS to receive credentialing in sonography. Their credentials may be as registered diagnostic medical sonographer, registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer, or registered vascular technologist. Credentialing requirements for cardiology technologists or ultrasound technologists may include a test plus formal academic and on-the-job requirements. Professional experience or academic training in a related field, such as nursing, radiology science, and respiratory science, may be acceptable as part of these formal academic and professional requirements. As with continuing education, certification is a sign of interest and dedication to the field and is generally favorably regarded by potential employers.
Cardiology is a cutting-edge area of medicine, with constant advancements, and medical equipment relating to the heart is continually updated. Therefore, keeping up with new developments is vital. In addition, technologists who add to their qualifications through taking part in continuing education tend to earn more money and have more employment opportunities. Major professional societies encourage and provide the opportunities for professionals to continue their education.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Cardiovascular technologists have experience either from on-the-job training, course work at a two-year college, or both. Some also must be certified in order to work for certain employers. They must possess several skill sets in order to be successful. These include attention to detail in order to follow a physician's instructions; interpersonal skills in order to work with patients who may be under mental stress, in physical pain, or both; physical stamina in order to stand for long periods and move and lift heavy patients; and technical skills so they can operate complex machinery.
Technicians must be able to put patients at ease about the procedure they are to undergo. Therefore, you should be pleasant, patient, alert, and able to understand and sympathize with the feelings of others. When explaining a procedure to patients, cardiovascular technicians should be able to do so in a calm, reassuring, and confident manner.