Pros and Cons of Becoming a Cardiac Telemetry Technician
A career as a cardiac telemetry technician means monitoring the heart through EKG to obtain readings that are later analyzed by physicians. While becoming a cardiac telemetry technician is a solid option, you should explore what to expect so you can make a sound decision.
|Pros of Becoming a Cardiac Telemetry Technician|
|High job-growth field (30% between 2012-2022)*|
|Minimal training for some positions (4-6 weeks for EKG techs)*|
|Many places to work (hospitals, physicians' offices, clinics)*|
|Can work in many geographic locations*|
|Cons of Becoming a Cardiac Telemetry Technician|
|Below-average pay relative to jobs requiring a similar education (associate's degree holders earned a median weekly wage of about $792.00 as of 2014)*|
|Most jobs require knowledge of several procedures*|
|May have other job duties, such as clerical work *|
|Can be physically demanding*|
|May work nights, weekends, holidays*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Essential Career Information
A cardiac telemetry technician monitors the heart through electrocardiology, or EKG. In a basic EKG procedure, technicians attach electrodes to the patient's chest and arms and then use an EKG machine to obtain a reading to be analyzed by a physician.
With additional training, the technician may administer stress testing and supervise Holter monitor procedures. Holter monitors are portable EKGs that a patient wears for a day or longer to track the heart's activity. The technician attaches the monitor and ensures that it has obtained useful data for the physician. Stress testing generally involves EKG monitoring of a patient who is walking on a treadmill. The physician compares this to a baseline EKG done while the patient is at rest.
About 77% of cardiovascular technology and technician jobs are in hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but many cardiac telemetry technicians work in physicians' offices. If you work in a physician's office, you may have some other medical assisting duties and clerical tasks, too. Most technicians work 5-day, 40-hour weeks, but in a hospital that may include weekend and holiday work.
Salary and Career Prospects
According to Salary.com, the median annual salary for an electrocardiograph technician was about $35,000 in August 2015. It also reported that half the people in this occupation made between $31,000 and $40,000.
Jobs in this field should be plentiful, with the BLS having predicted a 30% increase in employment for all types of cardiovascular technologists and technicians from 2012-2022. The BLS attributed this primarily to an aging population that requires more medical tests. The BLS also noted that workers with certification, particularly in more than one specialty, have the best job opportunities.
What Are the Requirements?
Some EKG technicians complete 4- to 6-week on-the-job training periods, according to the BLS, but most of these techs are already in the health-care field as nurse's aides or medical assistants. If you want to work exclusively as a cardiac telemetry technician, you'll need to complete a 1- to 2-year education program at a community college or technical school. These programs include courses in anatomy and medical terminology as well as how to perform heart monitoring procedures.
Cardiac telemetry technicians work with people and machines, so a liking for both is important. You'll need to be somewhat tech savvy to operate the various monitors. Good communication skills are important. This job involves close physical contact with patients, so consider if that's something with which you'd be comfortable. Techs who work for physicians' offices may need office skills in order to answer phones and schedule appointments.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Because there are so many places where a cardiac telemetry technician can work, the qualities sought by employers vary. A tech in a large hospital may need only cardiac telemetry skills, while a tech in a physician's office may be responsible for many duties. Here is a sample of what real employers were looking for in postings on Monster.com in March 2012:
- A hospital in New Jersey was looking for a cardiac tech to perform regular, echo and nuclear stress tests as well as Holter monitoring. The hospital required a certificate from a technical school in either medical assisting or echocardiography. Experience was required, and experience interacting with a physician during stress testing was preferred.
- A heart clinic in Texas sought a medical assistant who could perform EKGs, Holter monitoring and stress tests. This individual would take medical histories, schedule appointments and help with telephone duties. The employers preferred a graduate of a medical assistant certificate program.
- In Missouri, a heart and vascular clinic was looking for a cardiac technician to verify and analyze any cardiac events noted through the monitoring systems. The posting asked for someone who was proficient in identifying arrhythmias and who had at least a year of experience.
- A cardiovascular clinic in Texas needed a medical assistant trained in handling EKG and Holter monitoring hookups and printouts as well as recording the results. The posting noted that completion of an accredited program for medical assistants was mandatory, as was at least two years' experience.
How to Beat the Competition
According to the BLS, techs with formal training in EKG, Holter monitoring and stress testing will have the most job opportunities. If you've completed a course of study in another allied health field, an additional year of specialized instruction in cardiac telemetry should qualify you for most jobs and professional credentials. If you don't have health-care training, you'll need to pursue a longer certificate course.
You can verify your skills through certification by any of the several organizations that offer credentials to cardiac telemetry technicians. All levels of certification require training and/or experience in addition to passing a written exam. The American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine (ABCM) has separate credentials for EKG technicians and cardiac monitor technicians. EKG technicians can also earn certification through the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians (ASPT). Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) offers the Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT) designation to qualified individuals who work with Holter monitors, EKGs and stress testing.
Other Career Options
Clinical Medical Assistant
After learning about cardiac telemetry technicians, perhaps you've decided you want a wider variety of responsibilities. If so, check into becoming a medical assistant, one of the country's fastest growing careers, according to the BLS. Working in a physician's office, you might still get to administer EKGs, but your job may also include duties such as taking blood pressure and temperature, preparing patients for treatment and sterilizing medical instruments. Some physicians train assistants on the job, but in most cases you'll need a 1-year certificate or a 2-year associate's degree. Jobs for medical assistants are expected to increase by 31% from 2010-2020, the BLS noted. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for medical assistants was about $29,000 in May 2011.
Like a cardiac telemetry technician, an echocardiography technician performs noninvasive evaluations of the heart's function, in this case by aiming sound waves through the heart to obtain images of its structure. As part of the high-growth cardiac technology field, you'll have plenty of job opportunities. Echocardiographers generally have 2-year associate's degrees, but those trained in another health-care field may need only a certificate. While a little more training is required, the money is better than for an EKG technician, with a median annual salary of $61,920 in March 2012, according to Salary.com.
Another career that offers more money for about the same amount of training is that of a radiologic technologist. You'll produce X-ray images of parts of the body's internal structures. Some radiologic technologists specialize in computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which are other methods of looking at the organs and bones. Most radiologic technologists hold associate degrees, but some go through 21-24-month certificate programs. Most states require licensing. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for radiologic technologists was around $55,000 in May 2011. The BLS predicted that employment for radiologic technologists would increase by 28% from 2010-2020, faster than the average for all occupations.