Guide to Cardiovascular Technology Certification Eligibility & Testing - CCI, ARDMS
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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control. In order to diagnose heart and vascular conditions, physicians need to know what is going on under the skin of their patients in the least invasive way possible. Performing the tests to gather this information requires specialized equipment and training. Cardiovascular technicians have the necessary education and skills to use ultrasounds, electrocardiograms, stress tests, and more to give physicians the information they need to diagnose and treat their patients.
Job prospects for cardiovascular technicians are excellent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2018 and 2028, there is anticipated to be a 14 percent increase in this field, which is well above the 5 percent anticipated growth for all jobs. Cardiovascular technicians earn an average of $68,750 per year.
A cardiovascular technician is a broad term encompassing a variety of professions and skill levels. Professionals in this field gain the skills necessary for the job by completing a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree program, as well as garner work experience in their chosen specialty.
Certification is also not mandatory, although it is highly recommended as it is an industry standard and required by employers most positions. Local licensing is only mandatory in some states, so prospective cardiovascular technicians should check with their local board to ensure they meet any necessary requirements.
There are two primary certifying bodies for cardiovascular technicians: the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). While the ARMDS offers certification in a variety of sonography related careers, CCI is strictly for cardiovascular-related certifications.
Continue reading to learn more about these two certification bodies including certifications offered, eligibility requirements, and state licensure.
Becoming a Cardiovascular Tech: Early Preparation in High School
Preparing for a career as a cardiovascular technician begins in high school. Those who wish to pursue this field can focus on science and lab-based classes such as chemistry, biology, and anatomy. Internships or work experience in labs or other healthcare settings can also help prepare students for this career.
Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) Certifications
The Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) credentialed its first cardiovascular professionals in 1968. The aim of the CCI is to provide examinations, a professional association, and educational programs to cardiovascular technicians. They offer nine certifications in both noninvasive and invasive credentialing including:
- Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS) – For professionals who work in pediatric or adult congenital ultrasound
- Registered Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist (RCES) – For those who work in electrophysiology, a test using catheters and electrodes to measure unusual heart activity
- Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS) – For those who work in cardiac catheterization.
- Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS) – For those who use ultrasound to evaluate heart and valve function
- Registered Phlebology Sonographer (RPhS) – For those who have the training and experience to perform ultrasounds on veins
- Registered Vascular Specialist (RVS) – For those who use ultrasound to image veins and blood vessels (commonly used to find and diagnose blood clots)
- Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT) – For those who administer EKG, Holter monitoring, and stress testing
- Certified Rhythm Analysis Technician (CRAT) – For those who use a variety of specialized monitoring equipment to analyze cardiac rhythms
- Advanced Cardiac Sonographer (ACS) – For those who practice at an advanced level
Each certification within the CCI has its own eligibility requirements. Below are general eligibility requirements, testing procedures, and renewal requirements.
CCI Certification Eligibility
While eligibility varies based on the certification, the basic requirements include graduating from high school and one of the following (depending on the credential):
- Having one to two years of work experience, including completing a set number of studies specific to that certification
- Graduating from a Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) accredited program specific to that certification
- Holding an associate or bachelor’s in health science and one to two years of work experience specific to that certification
- Graduating from an unaccredited program in the specific field and completing 800 clinical hours as part of that program
- Holding an active credential in the field of certification and have six months of work experience in the field
CCI Certification Testing
Tests are between two to three hours and contain between 130 to 170 questions that are a mix of traditional multiple-choice questions and innovative questions involving multiple correct answers, drag and place questions, or even “hot spot clicks,” where the tester must click on the correct spot on an image.
In order to register for the test, candidates must submit their eligibility documentation to CCI. Those with criminal issues may be excluded from testing. The exam fees range from $175 to $365.
CCI Certification Exam Preparation
Preparation is specific to each certification and listed on the CCI website along with comprehensive reference materials and practice exams to evaluate readiness for the exam.
CCI Certification Renewals
Renewals for all CCI credentials happen on an annual basis. Each year, certificate-holders must pay $165 and every three years they must submit evidence of their continuing education units. Those holding CT and CRAT credentials are required to submit 16 CEUs, and those holding the more advanced certifications (CES, RCIS, RCS, RCES, RCCS, RPhS, and RVS) must submit 36 CEUs.
American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) Certifications
The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) certifies over 96,000 medical professionals in the US, Canada, and internationally in all areas of ultrasound. Founded in 1975, the objective of this organization was to standardize patient care, safety, and quality amongst professionals who use ultrasound to aid in the diagnoses of medical conditions. They are accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and offer four credentials, three of which include cardiovascular imaging. They are:
- Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) – For those who perform a variety of diagnoses using ultrasound (e.g., fetal echocardiography)
- Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) – For those who perform cardiac sonograms (e.g., adult, pediatric, or fetal echocardiography)
- Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT) – For those who use ultrasound to diagnose and evaluate blood vessels, including veins and arteries
Each ARDMS credential has its own eligibility and test requirements. Applicants should check the website to learn the specifics for each credential; however, here are the general requirements.
ARDMS Certification Eligibility
To be eligible to take an ARDMS exam, applicants must meet one of these general eligibility requirements (which vary by certification desired):
- Complete a two-year allied health education program and one year of full-time work experience in clinical or vascular ultrasound
- Graduate from a Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredited sonography program and
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in any field and have one year of full-time work experience in clinical or vascular ultrasound
- Complete a bachelor’s in sonography or vascular technology
- Haven an MD or DO and either 800 studies in the area in which he/she is applying, or one year of full-time work experience in clinical or vascular ultrasound
ARDMS Certification Testing
All credentials require candidates to complete two exams. These exams must be taken within five years of each other. The exams are:
Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) – All credentials require the candidate to take this exam. This 110-question two-hour exam evaluates a candidate’s knowledge and skills with sonography equipment.
In order to apply for this exam, applicants must create an online account and submit the $225 test fee. They then have 21 days to provide supporting documentation of their eligibility to take the test. Once eligibility has been determined, candidates have 90 days to schedule and take their tests.
Specialty Examination – In order to receive a credential, candidates must also take the specialty exam related to that field. The cardiovascular-related specialty exams are the vascular technology exam for RVT; fetal echocardiography for RDMS; and adult echocardiography, fetal echocardiography, or pediatric echocardiography for RDCS. These exams take two hours to complete and have between 150 and 170 questions.
To register for an exam, applicants must submit their $250 test fee and provide documents demonstrating eligibility. Once eligibility has been determined, candidates have 90 days to schedule and take their tests.
ARDMS Certification Exam Preparation
To prepare for an exam, candidates should review the study materials related to each test. There are comprehensive lists on the ARDMS website. Additionally, ARDMS has provided two short practice tests for each exam to help candidates determine candidate readiness.
ARDMS Certification Renewals
Annual certification renewal is required by the ARDMS. The yearly fee of $85 must be submitted by December 31st. If the deadline is missed, certificate-holders can apply for reinstatement and pay the annual fee plus a $150 to $300 administrative fee.
Also, thirty continuing medical education (CME) units are required to be submitted every three years in order to remain certified.
State Licensure in Cardiovascular Technology
Currently, only a handful of states require cardiovascular technologists to be certified. Since licensing is done on a state by state basis requirements vary. Prospective professionals should contact their local board to learn about the requirements. Certification is not mandatory in this field, although it is highly recommended as it demonstrates competence in the field and is required by most employers.
For example, one state that requires invasive cardiovascular specialists to be licensed in Washington. The requirements to hold licensure include:
- Respond to all personal data questions in the application and explain discrepancies and liability claims history with supporting documentation and a letter.
- Current HIV training
- Successfully pass an approved national exam such as the RCIS or RCES among others
- Pass a background check
- $150 fee
License renewals in Washington are required every two years and there are currently no continuing education requirements, although there may still be requirements for continuing education from ARDMS or CCI.