Electrocardiogram Technician Careers: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an electrocardiogram technician career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an electrocardiogram technician is right for you.
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An Electrocardiogram Technician Career: Pros and Cons

These technicians, sometimes called cardiographic technicians, use electrocardiogram (EKG) machines for diagnostic tests to measure a patient's heart rate, monitor cardiac rhythm and help physicians find irregularities in the heart and blood vessels. Check out these pros and cons to decide if being an electrocardiogram technologist is right for you.

PROS of an Electrocardiogram Technician Career
Can work in nearly any geographic location (Opportunities found across the country in hospitals, physician offices, labs and clinics)*
High job-growth industry (30% growth expected from 2012-2022)*
Opportunities to specialize in related technologies (ultrasound, x-ray, cardiopulmonary)***
Make a living helping heart patients*
Frequent interaction with physicians, patients and technologists keeps work days interesting ***

CONS of an Electrocardiogram Technician Career
Low starting pay (ranging from $9-$16 per hour)**
Potentially high stress job***
May need to work weekends or evenings*
Heavy-lifting and long amounts of time standing may be required*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com, ***Stanford School of Medicine.

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

EKG technicians use electrocardiogram equipment to measure and record the heart's electrical activity using information transmitted through electrodes that are attached to specific areas of the patient's body. It is the electrocardiogram technician's job to attach the EKG machine's electrodes to patients' chest, legs and arms.

EKG technicians can work in a variety of institutions, including hospitals, clinics, medical device companies or insurance companies. Tasks may vary depending on the work environment. For example, while EKG technicians working for a medical device company may equip patients with a 24-hour EKG machine and answer patient questions, an EKG technician at a hospital may test the cardiac responses of someone who has just had a suspected heart attack or stroke.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

The BLS reported that median annual wages for all cardiovascular technicians and technologists was around $54,000 in May 2014; however, this figure included jobs that required more advanced education than that required for EKG technicians. PayScale.com reported that entry-level salaries of EKG technicians ranged from $20,000-$37,000 in December 2014. According to the BLS, cardiovascular technicians and technologists working in outpatient care centers, specialty hospitals and physician offices earned higher salaries as of May 2014. The states that paid the highest mean annual wages during that time period included Alaska, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Overall job growth in the industry was predicted to grow much faster than the average for all occupations from 2012-2022 (30% growth according to the BLS). Jobs will continue to be available for electrocardiogram technicians who are trained on the equipment used for heart patients, such as Holter monitors.

Career Skills and Requirements

According to the BLS, these technicians generally acquire their skills through on-the-job training. However, certificate programs are available for aspiring EKG technicians. Certificate programs can be completed in less than a year and include both classroom and hands-on training. Coursework usually teaches students fundamental skills, such as medical terminology, patient safety, anatomy of the heart and medical ethics. Students can learn how to administer EKGs and analyze EKG strips. These programs should give you exposure to a range of related technologies, including Holter monitors. To work in this field, you must be comfortable working with technology and helping people in potentially stressful situations. You'll need to be able to work on your feet for long hours and be strong enough to lift patients as needed. Becoming certified in Basic Life Support (BLS) is usually a standard requirement for anyone working in the healthcare field. Many employers offer certification courses; other ways to gain the credential is to take a course with the American Heart Association.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers seek applicants who have excellent communication skills, familiarity with computers and an understanding of medical ethics and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Although this is not a complete picture of the job market, the following examples may give you a good idea of what real employers looked for in March 2012:

  • A medical device company in California sought an experienced technician with knowledge of Holter monitors, strong computer skills and experience with medical documentation and HIPAA guidelines. Duties included teaching patients how to use monitors, interpreting EKG rhythm tracings, notifying doctors of abnormalities and answering monitor-related patient questions. The company noted a preference for candidates with certification from Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI).
  • A remote heart monitoring service provider in California sought an EKG technician with one year of experience or more and strong abilities in interpreting electrocardiograms.
  • A team of cardiologists in New Jersey looked for an EKG technician with at least two years of experience and a strong understanding of cardiac medication to fill a temp-to-permanent position. Job duties included performing office duties, preparing patients for EKG testing, taking patient vital signs, updating charts and confirming patient appointments.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Acquire Preferred Skills

Being able to work well on your own and as part of a team is an important attribute that many employers like to see. Strong customer service skills are also a plus - after all, you will be working directly with patients and should be able to handle potentially stressful situations and answer any questions and concerns that patients may have.

Get Certified

Electrocardiogram technicians can become certified through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) or Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). CCI offers the Certified Cardiographic Technician to applicants who have completed certificate programs or have on-the-job experience. The NCCT offers the National Certified ECG Technician for those with experience working with electrocardiogram equipment. Credentialing agencies usually require you to complete a specified number of continuing education units (CEUs) every few years to renew your certification. While these certifications are voluntary, becoming certified shows employers that you can meet professional standards.

Other Careers to Consider

Respiratory Therapist

If you are interested in helping people and working in the medical field, but want to make more money, there are other options. Respiratory therapists work with doctors and nurses to care for patients with breathing problems. Duties typically include examining patients with breathing concerns, working with doctors to create a treatment plan, administering tests to measure lung capacity and educating patients on how to use the prescribed treatments. At minimum, you'll need to get an associate's degree and become licensed in your state, according to the BLS. The BLS predicted that jobs would grow at a faster than average rate of 28% from 2010-2020. The median annual salary in May 2010 was about $54,000.

Radiologic Technologist

Another medical career with strong job growth and a high salary is that of a radiologic technologist. The BLS predicted 28% job growth for radiologic technologists. You will need to be comfortable working with technology and have strong communication and interpersonal skills, since radiologic technologists have direct interaction with patients while operating diagnostic imaging equipment. Specialties include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), x-ray or computed tomography (CT). Duties typically include following doctor's orders for imaging specific areas of the body and positioning patients to get the best image and shield exposed areas that are not being imaged. According to the BLS, associate's degree programs are the most common form of training; although there are also certificate programs and bachelor's degree programs available. After graduation, you'll need to pass a test to become licensed in your state. In 2010, the median annual salary was around $54,000.