Cardiopulmonary Assistant Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
A cardiopulmonary assistant earns a median salary of around $54,000. Learn the truth about educational requirements, and read postings from real employers, which could help you decide if becoming a cardiopulmonary assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Cardiopulmonary Assistant

Cardiopulmonary assistants include cardiovascular technicians (CVTs) and respiratory therapy technicians, who treat patients with heart and lung conditions. Following are some pros and cons of being a cardiopulmonary assistant that can help you in deciding whether one of these jobs is right for you.

Pros of Being a Cardiopulmonary Assistant
Relatively little postsecondary training needed for an entry-level position*
Variety of possible job settings, including private and public hospitals, physicians' offices and outpatient centers*
Faster-than-average employment growth (30% growth for cardiovascular technologists and technicians) projected from 2012-2022*
Respiratory therapy technicians often can work while completing their education**

Cons of Being a Cardiopulmonary Assistant
Physically stressful; techs may need to lift patients and stand for long periods*
Working with critically ill patients can be emotionally demanding*
Job opportunities for respiratory therapy technicians are more limited than those for respiratory therapists*
May require contact with infectious diseases*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Westchestergov.com

Essential Career Information

Career Options and Description

If you're fascinated with the heart and how it pumps blood through the body, becoming a CVT may be suitable for you. The cardiovascular technician's role is generally to assist cardiovascular technologists, diagnostic medical sonographers and physicians. As a CVT, you could specialize in invasive or non-invasive procedures. Invasive procedures usually involve assisting physicians with catheterizations to repair blockages in the arteries or heart valves. Non-invasive procedures include cardiac sonography, which uses ultrasound equipment to capture images of the heart, and vascular sonography, which uses ultrasound devices to record blood flow. Some CVTs, known as electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians or cardiographic technicians, measure the performance of the heart through electrodes placed on the patient's skin.

Respiratory therapy technicians are generally individuals working toward becoming respiratory therapists who practice while completing their education. Respiratory therapy techs work under the supervision of respiratory therapists and, sometimes, a director of respiratory therapy. Job duties might include setting up and maintaining ventilators, maintaining blood gas analyzers, administering aerosol treatments and performing manual resuscitation when needed.

Job Outlook

The BLS projected that employment of cardiovascular technologists and technicians would increase by 30% from 2012-2022. The bureau did not provide a job growth projection for respiratory therapy technicians, but careers for respiratory therapists are projected to increase by 19%, which is faster than average.

Salary

The BLS reported that, as of May 2014, respiratory therapy technicians earned a median annual salary of about $48,000. The median salary you could expect to earn as a cardiovascular technician or technologist was $54,000 as of May 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

According to the BLS, completion of a 2-year cardiovascular technology training program is the most common path to becoming a cardiovascular technician or technologist, although 4-year programs are also available. CVTs who work as EKG technicians may not be required to earn a degree. Employers of these techs sometimes provide on-the-job training, or prospective EKG technicians can complete a 1-year certificate program.

To become a respiratory therapist, you'll need at least an associate's degree. However, employers tend to favor those who have more advanced education, according to the BLS. If you intend to work as a respiratory therapy technician while working toward becoming a respiratory therapist, you'll most likely do so while completing an American Medical Association-approved associate's or bachelor's degree program in respiratory therapy. Almost all states require licensing for respiratory therapists; licensing guidelines vary by state.

Job Postings from Real Employers

A search of online job postings in May 2012 revealed that employers looked for CVTs with at least a high school diploma and one or more professional certifications. Respiratory therapy technician job postings from that same month showed that employers generally looked for individuals who were certified and enrolled in an approved respiratory therapy program. Here are some examples of those postings:

  • A hospital in Washington, D.C., advertised for a cardiovascular technician to perform Holter testing, stress tests and EKGs. The hospital required at least a high school diploma, CPR certification and two years of experience as a CVT or registered radiologic technologist. Applicants who did not hold Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS) or American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification had to obtain such certification within six months.
  • A heart and vascular clinic in Las Vegas, NV, was looking for a CVT to perform nuclear stress tests. Applicants needed at least a high school diploma, along with Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) and Basic Life Support certification, both of which can be obtained through the American Red Cross. The position required some travel.
  • A healthcare company in Texas advertised for part- and full-time respiratory therapy technicians. The requirements included Basic Life Support certification, 100 hours of experience and enrollment in an approved respiratory therapy program.
  • A healthcare company in Ohio advertised for a Basic Life Support-certified respiratory therapy technician who was enrolled in an approved respiratory therapy program. The job duties associated with this position included noninvasive monitoring, assessment of treatment programs, administering various therapeutic modalities and mechanical ventilation management.

How to Stand Out

While you may not need certification to enter the field of cardiovascular technology, employers generally consider certification important. Certain insurance providers only reimburse insured parties for services performed by certified technicians. Cardiovascular Credentialing International offers four levels of Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT) credentials, which vary by work and educational experience. The CCT1 level requires current enrollment in a cardiovascular or allied healthcare program. CCT2 requires previous work experience in an allied health or cardiovascular field recognized by the American Medical Association. If you've completed the requirements for an undergraduate or graduate degree program in cardiovascular technology, you can apply for CCT3 certification, and CCT4 credentialing is available if you've completed at least two years of service in the field.

One way to stand out as a respiratory therapy technician is to keep up with the latest information in the field through lectures, conferences and relevant publications.

Other Career Paths

If you're interested in a healthcare career but hope for a higher median annual salary than that of a cardiopulmonary assistant, consider becoming a radiation therapist. Using machines known as linear accelerators, radiation therapists administer x-ray treatments designed to destroy malignant cells in patients with cancer. They work as part of a team that includes physicians, oncology nurses and radiation dosimetrists. Radiation therapists have generally completed an associate's or bachelor's degree program in radiation therapy and must be licensed in some states. The BLS projected job growth for radiation therapists would be about 20%, which was faster than average, from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, the BLS reported the median annual salary for radiation therapists was about $77,000.

If you enjoy interacting directly with patients and would enjoy the freedom to choose from dozens of specialties, consider becoming a registered nurse. Registered nurses perform a variety of healthcare tasks, including recording observations of patients, administering medications, operating medical equipment, providing patient education and performing diagnostic tests. Nurses are all required to be licensed, and they might receive their training through a diploma program or an associate's or bachelor's degree program. The BLS projected job opportunities for registered nurses would increase by 26% from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, the median annual salary for registered nurses was about $66,000.

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