The vast majority of cardiovascular technologists and technicians
complete a 2-year junior or community college program.
Employment will grow much faster than the average, but the
number of job openings created will be low because the occupation
Employment of most specialties will grow, but fewer EKG technicians
will be needed.
Nature of the Work
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians assist physicians
in diagnosing and treating cardiac (heart) and peripheral vascular
(blood vessel) ailments. Cardiovascular technologists may specialize
in any of three areas of practice: invasive cardiology, echocardiography,
and vascular technology. Cardiovascular technicians who specialize
in electrocardiograms (EKGs), stress testing, and Holter monitors
are known as cardiographictechnicians, or EKG
Cardiovascular technologists specializing in invasive procedures
are called cardiology technologists. They assist physicians
with cardiac catheterization procedures in which a small tube,
or catheter, is threaded through a patientís artery from a spot
on the patientís groin to the heart. The procedure can determine
whether a blockage exists in the blood vessels that supply the
heart muscle. The procedure also can help to diagnose other problems.
Part of the procedure may involve balloon angioplasty, which can
be used to treat blockages of blood vessels or heart valves without
the need for heart surgery. Cardiology technologists assist physicians
as they insert a catheter with a balloon on the end to the point
of the obstruction.
Technologists prepare patients for cardiac catheterization and
balloon angioplasty by first positioning them on an examining
table and then shaving, cleaning, and administering anesthesia
to the top of their leg near the groin. During the procedures,
they monitor patientsí blood pressure and heart rate with EKG
equipment and notify the physician if something appears to be
wrong. Technologists also may prepare and monitor patients during
open-heart surgery and during the insertion of pacemakers and
stents that open up blockages in arteries to the heart and major
Cardiovascular technologists who specialize in echocardiography
or vascular technology often run noninvasive tests using ultrasound
instrumentation, such as Doppler ultrasound. Tests are called
ďnoninvasiveĒ if they do not require the insertion of probes or
other instruments into the patientís body. The ultrasound instrumentation
transmits high-frequency sound waves into areas of the patientís
body and then processes reflected echoes of the sound waves to
form an image. Technologists view the ultrasound image on a screen
and may record the image on videotape or photograph it for interpretation
and diagnosis by a physician. As the instrument scans the image,
technologists check the image on the screen for subtle differences
between healthy and diseased areas, decide which images to include
in the report to the physician, and judge whether the images are
satisfactory for diagnostic purposes. They also explain the procedure
to patients, record any additional medical history the patient
relates, select appropriate equipment settings, and change the
patientís position as necessary.
Those who assist physicians in the diagnosis of disorders affecting
the circulation are known as vascular technologists or
vascular sonographers. They perform a medical history, evaluate
pulses and assess blood flow in arteries and veins by listening
to the vascular flow sounds for abnormalities. Then they perform
a noninvasive procedure using ultrasound instrumentation to record
vascular information such as vascular blood flow, blood pressure,
changes in limb volume, oxygen saturation, cerebral circulation,
peripheral circulation, and abdominal circulation. Many of these
tests are performed during or immediately after surgery.
Technologists who use ultrasound to examine the heart chambers,
valves, and vessels are referred to as cardiac sonographers,
or echocardiographers. They use ultrasound instrumentation
to create images called echocardiograms. An echocardiogram may
be performed while the patient is either resting or physically
active. Technologists may administer medication to physically
active patients to assess their heart function. Cardiac sonographers
also may assist physicians who perform transesophageal echocardiography,
which involves placing a tube in the patientís esophagus to obtain
Cardiovascular technicians who obtain EKGs are known as electrocardiograph
(or EKG) technicians. To take a basic EKG, which
traces electrical impulses transmitted by the heart, technicians
attach electrodes to the patientís chest, arms, and legs, and
then manipulate switches on an EKG machine to obtain a reading.
An EKG is printed out for interpretation by the physician. This
test is done before most kinds of surgery or as part of a routine
physical examination, especially on persons who have reached middle
age or who have a history of cardiovascular problems.
EKG technicians with advanced training perform Holter monitor
and stress testing. For Holter monitoring, technicians place electrodes
on the patientís chest and attach a portable EKG monitor to the
patientís belt. Following 24 or more hours of normal activity
by the patient, the technician removes a tape from the monitor
and places it in a scanner. After checking the quality of the
recorded impulses on an electronic screen, the technician usually
prints the information from the tape for analysis by a physician.
Physicians use the output from the scanner to diagnose heart ailments,
such as heart rhythm abnormalities or problems with pacemakers.
For a treadmill stress test, EKG technicians document the patientís
medical history, explain the procedure, connect the patient to
an EKG monitor, and obtain a baseline reading and resting blood
pressure. Next, they monitor the heartís performance while the
patient is walking on a treadmill, gradually increasing the treadmillís
speed to observe the effect of increased exertion. Like vascular
technologists and cardiac sonographers, cardiographic technicians
who perform EKG, Holter monitor, and stress tests are known as
Some cardiovascular technologists and technicians schedule appointments,
type doctorsí interpretations, maintain patient files, and care
Technologists and technicians generally work a 5-day, 40-hour
week that may include weekends. Those in catheterization laboratories
tend to work longer hours and may work evenings. They also may
be on call during the night and on weekends.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians spend a lot of time
walking and standing. Heavy lifting may be involved to move equipment
or transfer patients. These workers wear heavy protective aprons
while conducting some procedures. Those who work in catheterization
laboratories may face stressful working conditions because they
are in close contact with patients with serious heart ailments.
For example, some patients may encounter complications that have
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Although a few cardiovascular technologists, vascular technologists,
and cardiac sonographers are currently trained on the job, most
receive training in 2- to 4-year programs. The majority of technologists
complete a 2-year junior or community college program, but 4-year
programs are increasingly available. The first year is dedicated
to core courses and is followed by a year of specialized instruction
in either invasive, noninvasive cardiovascular, or noninvasive
vascular technology. Those who are qualified in an allied health
profession need to complete only the year of specialized instruction.
Graduates of the 33 programs accredited by the Joint Review Committee
on Education in Cardiovascular Technology are eligible to obtain
professional certification in cardiac catheterization, echocardiography,
vascular ultrasound, and cardiographic techniques from Cardiovascular
Credentialing International. Cardiac sonographers and vascular
technologists also may obtain certification from the American
Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.
Most EKG technicians are trained on the job by an EKG supervisor
or a cardiologist. On-the-job training usually lasts about 8 to
16 weeks. Most employers prefer to train people already in the
health care fieldónursing aides, for example. Some EKG technicians
are students enrolled in 2-year programs to become technologists,
working part time to gain experience and make contact with employers.
One-year certification programs exist for basic EKGs, Holter monitoring,
and stress testing.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians must be reliable,
have mechanical aptitude, and be able to follow detailed instructions.
A pleasant, relaxed manner for putting patients at ease is an
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians held about 45,000
jobs in 2004. About 3 out 4 jobs were in hospitals (private and
government), primarily in cardiology departments. The remaining
jobs were mostly in offices of physicians, including cardiologists
or in medical and diagnostic laboratories, including diagnostic
Employment of cardiovascular technologists and technicians is
expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations
through the year 2014. Growth will occur as the population ages,
because older people have a higher incidence of heart problems
and use more diagnostic imaging. Employment of vascular technologists
and echocardiographers will grow as advances in vascular technology
and sonography reduce the need for more costly and invasive procedures.
However, fewer EKG technicians will be needed, as hospitals train
nursing aides and others to perform basic EKG procedures. Individuals
trained in Holter monitoring and stress testing are expected to
have more favorable job prospects than are those who can perform
only a basic EKG.
Some job openings for cardiovascular technologists and technicians
will arise from replacement needs as individuals transfer to other
jobs or leave the labor force. However, job growth and replacement
needs will produce relatively few job openings because the occupation
Median annual earnings of cardiovascular technologists and technicians
were $38,690 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$27,890 and $50,130. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,790,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,000. Median annual
earnings of cardiovascular technologists and technicians in May
2004 were $36,890 in offices of physicians and $38,150 in general
medical and surgical hospitals.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians operate sophisticated
equipment that helps physicians and other health practitioners
to diagnose and treat patients. So do diagnostic medical sonographers,
nuclear medicine technologists, radiation therapists, radiologic
technologists and technicians, and respiratory therapists.
Sources of Additional Information
For general information about a career in cardiovascular technology,
Alliance of Cardiovascular Professionals, Thalia Landing Offices,
Bldg. 2, 4356 Bonney Rd., Suite 103, Virginia Beach, VA 23452-1200.
For a list of accredited programs in cardiovascular technology,
Committee on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs,
39 East Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL 60601. Internet: http://www.caahep.org/
Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology,
1248 Harwood Rd., Bedford, TX 76021.
For information on vascular technology, contact:
Society for Vascular Ultrasound, 4601 Presidents Dr., Suite
260, Lanham, MD 20706-4381. Internet: http://www.svunet.org/
For information on echocardiography, contact:
American Society of Echocardiography, 1500 Sunday Dr., Suite
102, Raleigh, NC 27607. Internet: http://www.asecho.org/
For information regarding registration and certification, contact: