Pros and Cons of Being a Cardiac Catheterization Assistant
As a cardiac catheterization assistant, you'll help physicians perform invasive diagnostic or interventional medical procedures and also play a role in putting patients at ease. If this is a career that interests you, it's important to consider both the pros and cons to determine if becoming a cardiac catheterization assistant is the right choice.
|Pros of a Cardiac Catheterization Assistant Career|
|High job growth (30% employment growth for cardiovascular technologists and technicians between 2012 and 2022)*|
|Employment opportunities available in a variety of locations (hospitals, physicians' offices and medical diagnostic laboratories)*|
|Good pay (average salary around $55,000)*|
|Skills are transferable to electrophysiology and echocardiography fields**|
|Cons of a Cardiac Catheterization Assistant Career|
|Most employers require additional credentialing*|
|Working with patients under physical or emotional duress can be stressful*|
|Job duties include lifting patients and spending significant time standing*|
|Might be required to work more than 40 hours a week and be on call*|
|Job risks can include exposure to radiation***|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Valencia College, ***Sloan Career Cornerstone Center.
Job Description and Duties
Cardiac catheterization is a diagnostic procedure performed by a team of health care professionals, which includes an invasive cardiovascular physician, nurses and you - the cardiac catheterization assistant. Before performing the procedure, you'll usually need to prepare patients by cleaning and administering a topical anesthetic to the incision area. You might also assist the physician with the insertion of the catheter through the artery to the patient's heart and monitor imaging equipment designed to pick up any narrowing or blockages in the arteries.
You might also assist physicians with interventional procedures, such as angioplasties or the placement of stents. Cardiac catheterization assistants can also take part in electrophysiology studies. In these instances, catheters are used to send electrical impulses to the heart and measure its activity. Throughout these processes, you could be responsible for operating radiologic equipment, monitoring patients' vital signs and recording diagnostic information. Other job duties can include preparing a cardiovascular or electrophysiology lab's radiographic equipment and stocking it with the proper pharmaceuticals.
Career Prospects and Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 15,700 new jobs were expected to be added for cardiovascular technologists and technicians between 2012 and 2022. Job growth was expected to result from the increasing need for diagnostic procedures among the elderly population.
As of May 2014, the BLS reported that the average salary for a cardiac techs was around $55,000. If you work in an outpatient care center or physician's office, you might earn a bit more. The average wage for professionals working in these settings was around $59,000-$60,000. Those working in specialty hospitals earned around $51,000, on average.
What Are the Requirements?
According to the BLS, while on-the-job training could be sufficient for some jobs, most cardiac catheterization assistants earn a two-year associate's degree. These programs include coursework in such topics as patient assessment, pharmacology and cardiovascular anatomy. You can also complete clinical requirements to learn about x-ray technologies, catheterization techniques and aseptic procedures. Studying radiographic procedures, such as MRIs and sonograms, in a radiologic technology associate's degree program can provide fundamental education. However, additional training might be necessary to work as a cardiac catheterization assistant.
Regardless of the degree type you pursue, you might want to make sure the program you select is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or recognized by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Not only does accreditation status help ensure that you'll get the classroom training and lab experience needed to adequately perform your job duties, graduating from one of these approved programs is often a prerequisite for employment.
Whether or not you earn voluntary professional certification is up to you. Some potential employers, however, require these credentials as part of their minimum qualifications. A commonly accepted credential, the Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS) designation is offered by Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) to applicants who've acquired the appropriate combination of work experience and education and passed an exam. Many employers also look for candidates who've completed Basic Life Support (BLS) or Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) training through the American Heart Association. These courses often cover methods for performing CPR, using AED devices, managing a patient's airway and performing rescue breathing.
In addition to the clinical abilities needed to work as a cardiac catheterization assistant, good communication and people skills are a must. Patients can be nervous prior to undergoing a cardiac catheterization. A relaxed approach in dealing with people could help put them at ease. Employers also stress the need for professional behaviors, which include an ability to maintain patients' privacy as well as a knowledge of the safety standards needed to keep them safe from unnecessary exposure to radiation.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Some of the more common qualifications listed by employers include graduation from a CAAHEP-accredited program and previous experience as a cardiovascular technologist in either a cardiac catheterization or electrophysiology laboratory. Additional requirements include American Heart Association certifications. Here are a few job ads posted in March 2012 that can give you an idea of what employers are looking for:
- A university hospital in Wisconsin was looking for a full-time cardiovascular/electrophysiology technologist to work a flexible schedule. Requirements included graduation from an accredited cardiovascular technology program and two years of experience. Applicants who'd graduated from an approved radiologic technology program, earned certification from the ARRT and acquired one year of experience also met the minimum qualifications.
- A hospital in Nevada needed a cardiovascular technologist who could work ten-hour shifts. Applicants should have graduated from an accredited cardiovascular technology program, been certified in cardiac catheterization and acquired a minimum of two years of experience. Experience interpreting blood pressure and EKG tracings was also desired.
- A full-time cardiac catheterization lab technologist was being recruited for a hospital in Washington State. Graduation from an accredited program was required, as was one year of experience. Preference was given to candidates who'd earned a bachelor's degree in biology, anatomy or a related field.
How To Stand Out
Although certification might be required for some positions, according to the BLS, employers might favor job candidates who've earned more than one professional certification. In addition to the RCIS designation, CCI offers an entry-level Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT) credential to students currently enrolled in a certificate or degree program. The organization also offers the Registered Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist (RCES) credential to applicants who meet experience and education requirements.
Additionally, the ARRT offers the Cardiac-Interventional Radiography Certification to cardiac catheterization assistants who meet clinical experience requirements and pass an exam. However, applicants will need to have also earned the agency's initial radiography certification, which requires the completion of an approved training program and passing exam scores.
Other Career Paths
If you want to work in the diagnostic medial field but aren't too thrilled about the invasive nature of cardiac catheterization procedures, becoming a radiologic technologist who works with MRI, x-ray or mammography equipment could be an alternative career path worth considering. An associate's degree is the most common type of training for this job, though some schools also offer certificate and bachelor's degree programs. Separate state licensing or certification is also required, which often entails passing the ARRT's certification exam after completing an accredited training program. Despite similar training and certification requirements, radiologic technicians earned slightly more than cardiac catheterization assistants. The BLS reported that their average salary was almost $57,000 as of May 2011. Employment prospects were also favorable, with a projected job growth of 28% from 2010-2020.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Diagnostic medical sonographers perform procedures with equipment that use high frequency sound waves instead of radiation. These procedures also lack the invasive quality of cardiac catheterization. Moreover, this career offers opportunities to specialize in an area such as neurosonography, obstetric sonography or abdominal sonography. Education and certification requirements are comparable to those of radiologic technologists and cardiac catheterization assistants, yet the BLS reports an average salary of almost $66,000 as of May 2011. The employment outlook for this career also exceeds those of other technologists; a 44% job growth was projected over the reporting decade.