How to Become a Cardiovascular Technologist

Overview

A cardiovascular technologist (CVT) diagnoses problems in the heart or circulatory system and aids physicians in treating cardiovascular ailments. CVTs can, depending upon their specialty, use methods that involve surgery (invasive) or those that don’t penetrate the skin (non-invasive).

Most of the non-invasive tests, like sonograms and EKGs, employ a form of ultrasound, which is an oscillating sound pressure wave that has a frequency greater than the human ear can hear. Ultrasound is an imaging tool used to visualize organs, tendons, muscles and other internal items by bouncing these waves around, forming a picture. These tests provide a foundation of data for establishing a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for a patient.

Ultrasound poses no known risks to a patient and is cheaper and more portable than other techniques like magnetic resonance imaging. Another advantage of ultrasound tests is that the patient doesn’t have to remain still during the test. In fact, some ultrasound tests can be administered while a person is on a treadmill, providing additional useful information.

There are four primary types of specialists in this field:

  1. Vascular technologists diagnose disorders in the vascular (circulation) system, primarily in the veins and arteries. They use non-invasive techniques like vascular ultrasound.
  2. Invasive cardiovascular technologists use invasive methods like catheterizations—where a probe is inserted into the circulatory system—to study the heart and vascular system.
  3. Cardiac sonographers use non-invasive methods like cardiac sonograms to study the heart.
  4. EKG technicians study the heart by administering electrocardiograms (EKGs), which trace electrical impulses emitted by the heart.

Job Duties

In general, CVTs study the history of a patient and then ask questions of the patient, trying to ascertain the best approach to take in administering tests. CVTs work directly with patients, explaining the nature of the test and walking them through it step-by-step.

The CVT needs to position the patient properly for the test, which sometimes involves lifting the patient. For some tests, a CVT might need to inject contrast chemicals into a patient, enabling arteries to show up on a monitor. CVTs also work directly with physicians, sometimes while the tests are being administered and sometimes while the physician is treating the patient. CVTs might also need to assist in administering CPR to a patient.

EKGs display the performance of a patient’s heart. For an EKG test, the CVT will place electrodes on a patient’s chest in order to trace the electrical impulse generated by the heart. Sometimes, these electrodes remain attached to a patient’s chest for an entire day in order to record results while the patient is performing tasks like sitting, resting and walking a treadmill.

Sonograms are similar to EKG’s; they are directed at the heart and can also be used while the patient is resting or exercising. Sonograms normally take about a half hour to perform. They sometimes involve the patient taking medication during the test in order to learn more about the heart.

Non-invasive vascular technologists use ultrasound to measure blood pressure, and also to check the oxygen saturation and blood circulation levels in a patient’s brain, torso and extremities.

Invasive cardiovascular techniques involve inserting a catheter into a major artery—usually near the groin—and then guiding the catheter toward the heart. This procedure can identify whether there is blockage in the artery and whether there is arrhythmia in the beating of the heart. This technique can also be used as a treatment, because the catheter can be equipped with balloons or stents that can break up blockages. CVT’s sometimes assist physicians during open heart surgeries. CVTs often test a patient again immediately after a surgery.

Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website, the projected rate of job growth for cardiovascular technologists and technicians from 2010-2120 is expected to rise by 29%, which is much faster that the national average for jobs.

Salary Prospects

The BLS website reports that the median wage for cardiovascular technologists and technicians and vascular technologists for 2010 was $49,410 per year or $23.75 per hour.

Educational Requirements

High school students who aspire to become a CVT should take courses in math, physiology and anatomy. Though there are no set national educational requirements for CVTs, many employers want their CVTs to have undergone a two-year program to attain an associate’s degree. Some CVTs, in order to obtain a broader education that might provide better job opportunities down the road, opt for a four-year program and a bachelor’s degree. Programs are normally geared toward one of three technological areas of specialization: invasive cardiovascular, non-invasive cardiovascular or vascular.

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