Cath Lab Tech Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A cardiac catheterization technologist's average annual salary is about $54,000. Is it worth the education and licensing requirements? Read real job descriptions and get the truth about the career outlook to find out if becoming a cath lab tech is right for you.
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A Cardiac Catheterization Technologist's Career: Pros and Cons

The career outlook for a cardiac catheterization technologist is excellent, and you can usually work in this field with only an associate's degree. Read below to find out the pros and cons of becoming a cath lab tech:

Pros of a Cath Lab Tech Career
Job outlook is much faster than average (39% increase from 2012-2022)*
Only an associate's degree is required*
Pay is good for a career with a 2-year degree (averaging $54,000 per year)*
A great job if you like working as part of a team*

Cons of a Cath Lab Tech Career
Additional certifications are required*
Admission to degree programs can be competitive**
Must be able to move patients and be on your feet for entire shifts*
Need to live within 30 minutes of where you work for emergencies*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Spokane Community College, ***Health Physics Society.

Important Career Information

Job Description

A cardiac catheterization technologist helps a cardiologist diagnose a patient's cardiac problems through the use of a heart catheter. The heart catheter is inserted through blood vessels that run up to the heart for the purpose of analyzing possible blockages to blood flow. Treatments performed during a cardiac catheterization may include balloon angioplasties, stent placements or pacemaker implantations.

Before the procedure, you might prep patients by shaving and cleaning the groin area, which is where the catheter is inserted. Before and during the procedure, you must make the patient feel comfortable, and you may be required to turn or move a patient during the procedure. A cath lab tech may monitor vital signs, heart rhythms and blood flow.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), career opportunities for cardiovascular technologists and technicians, along with vascular technologists, were predicted to increase 39% from 2012 to 2022, which is a much faster than average job growth. Increases in this career were expected to remain high as the population continues to age. In May 2014, the BLS indicated that cardiovascular technologists and technicians earned a mean annual salary of $54,000.

Education Requirements

You generally need an associate's degree in radiologic technology or invasive cardiologic technology to become a cath lab tech. Much of your training is on-the-job, but most employers hire workers with a degree. During your studies, you will become trained in medical terminology, 12-lead EKG (electrocardiogram) and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Part of your education includes rotations at area hospitals, where you get to view and participate in real cath lab procedures.

Certifications Available

Most cath labs require that techs earn certifications. Cardiovascular Credentialing International offers the Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS) certification. In order to take this exam, you must have a degree and/or experience in the field.

The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers the Cardiac-Interventional Radiography certification. To take the certification exam, you must meet the clinical experience requirements and have earned the ARRT radiography credential, which includes getting a degree in radiography from an accredited program. Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) or Basic Life Support (BLS) certification is often required, either before or during cath lab employment. Both certifications are offered by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Other Requirements

You usually need to live within 30 minutes of the lab where you work, in case you're called in for an emergency, like a heart attack. Most cath lab staff must be on-call during some nighttime and weekend hours. Also, you should be able to lift at least 50 pounds to help move patients and heavy equipment.

Jobs Posted by Real Employers

To become a cath lab tech, most employers look for candidates with an associate's degree in radiological technology or invasive cardiologic technology, ARRT or RCIS certifications, experience and a team-player attitude. Many cath labs also want you to have an AHA credential or earn it shortly after you're hired. Read samples below for job postings from April 2012:

  • An Austin, TX hospital is looking for a cath lab tech with a 2-year degree, ARRT or RCIS certification, and at least two years of experience scrubbing into and monitoring cath lab procedures. The employee works as part of the cath lab team, assisting doctors in sterile technique cath lab procedures.
  • A hospital in Pennsylvania is seeking several invasive cardiovascular technicians to circulate in the cath and EP (electrophysiology) labs. ACLS certification and the ability to interpret heart rhythms are required. You should be RCIS or ARRT certified, or earn certification within six months of being hired. Responsibilities include patient education, intravenous therapy and hemodynamic monitoring.
  • A cath lab tech is needed for a pediatric hospital in Atlanta, GA. You must be RCIS-certified, BLS-certified and have at least one year of cath lab experience. Some pediatric practice is ideal.
  • A vascular care center in Houston, TX would like to hire a radiology tech manager. You could participate in patient care, manage budgets, supervise staffing and perform community education. The ideal candidate should have an associate's degree in radiologic technology, be ACLS-certified, and have at least two years of experience working in an area such as intensive care, critical care, emergency or cath lab.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Since many employers want to hire people who have cath lab experience, it can be difficult to break into your first cath lab job. If you don't have experience in a cath lab, you might consider working for a hospital intensive care unit, critical care unit or emergency room. The skills learned in these positions are acceptable to some employers for a first-time cath lab job.

Supervisory experience can be appealing to employers, since cath labs often request staff to be in charge of shifts. Also, if you have the opportunity to become cross-trained in EP lab work, it's a good cath lab skill you can add to your resume.

Other Careers to Consider

Cath Lab Nurse

If you prefer a cath lab role that earns more income, you might become a registered nurse (RN). The BLS reported in May 2011 that nurses earned an average of $69,000 per year. You usually only need a diploma or an associate's degree to work as a nurse. However, you must pass a national licensing exam to become an RN, and most employers want you to have some related experience to work in a cath lab. The job outlook for nursing was predicted to be similar to cath lab techs, with a 26% increase from 2010-2020.

Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

Some cath lab techs leave patient care and work in clinical positions for pharmaceutical or manufacturing companies. These industry professionals assist cath lab staff in the use of medications and equipment manufactured by their employers. You often need a bachelor's degree, but some employers may waive the requirement if you have several years of experience working in a cath lab.

The BLS reported in May 2011 that sales representatives working in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry earned a mean salary of $95,000 per year. Job opportunities for manufacturing sales representatives were anticipated to grow 16% from 2010-2020, which is about average job growth.

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