How Do I Become a Cardiovascular Technologist?

From shape-shifting stents to 3D printed hearts, developments in cardiovascular technology have redefined what’s possible. Expert researchers, surgeons, and physicians have contributed to these developments, as have the skilled cardiovascular technologists who support them. The images these professionals capture are vital for diagnosis, treatment, and controlled studies.

Cardiovascular technologists use a range of medical equipment to capture images physicians use to make or rule out diagnoses. They focus primarily on imaging the heart and veins, though techs who specialize in the latter are sometimes called vascular technicians. Cardiovascular technologists must know how manipulate tools and position patients to capture just the right image, and have to keep up with changing technology or procedures. In sum, successful cardiovascular technologists need the right training, certification, and continuing education.

Steps to Becoming a Cardiovascular Technologist

There are many ways one can become a cardiovascular technologist—a field closely related to radiologic technology and diagnostic imaging—but all of them start with formal education. Most states also require licenses and/or professional certification followed by ongoing continuing education courses. Here is one possible pathway to joining this growing career.

1. Check State Licensing Requirements

Cardiovascular technologists in some states must be licensed or certified to practice. These requirements determine what type of training one needs to enter the field, so it pays to research them before choosing a program. Florida’s Department of Health, for instance, requires licensure—a process that entails passing an examination administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technicians and in most cases, finishing an accredited two-year cardiovascular technology program. Prospective students can visit the American Society of Radiologic Technologists online to review each state’s licensing information.

2. Earn a Certificate, Diploma, or Degree in Cardiovascular Technology (1-2 years)

Cardiovascular technologists play an important role in patient care. Formal education is a must, but program lengths and types vary. The most common credentials available:

  • A diploma in cardiovascular technology from a university, hospital, or clinic
  • An undergraduate certificate in cardiovascular technology
  • An associate degree in cardiovascular technology
  • A bachelor’s degree in cardiovascular technology

While there is certainly no guarantee, earnings, employment, and advancement potential tend to increase with education. According to the BLS (Dec. 2015), employers prefer to higher techs who attended programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The CAAHEP offers a directory of accredited diploma, certificate, associate, and bachelor’s programs. Employers also prefer candidates with two or more professional certifications. Read on below to learn about the various credentials in this career field.

Concentrations

According to the CAAHEP, students attending cardiovascular technology programs often specialize in one of the following concentrations:

  • Adult Echocardiography
  • Pediatric Echocardiography
  • Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • Invasive Cardiovascular Technology
  • Noninvasive Vascular Study

Common Prerequisites for Clinical Coursework

Clinical work is core to a cardiovascular technologist’s education: there is no substitute for hands-on training with real patients. Here are the common prerequisites to qualify for an educational program and clinical work in this field.

Health Requirements

Prior to working in a clinical setting, cardiovascular technology students typically must submit medical forms and records to verify the following:

  • An annual physical
  • A current TB test
  • Hepatitis B, DT, and MMR vaccinations
  • A current flu vaccination
  • Chicken Pox vaccination or antibody test
  • Flu vaccination

Security Requirements

Before they can work with patients, most cardiovascular technology students must complete:

  • A Full Background check
  • Drug screening

Physical Requirements

Cardiovascular technology is a relatively physical field. As such, many cardiovascular technology programs only admit students who can:

  • Lift more than 20 pounds
  • Bend, stoop, kneel, push, and pull
  • Stand for long periods of time
  • See clearly
  • Differentiate colors

3. Become Licensed (less than one year)

A solid majority of states only allow licensed or certified cardiovascular technicians to enter the field. Some state licensing boards require candidates to attend accredited one- or two-year cardiovascular technology programs and pass an ARRT exam while others require certain professional certifications (see below). For now, here are a few things aspiring cardiovascular techs should know about state licensure. Candidates must:

  • Meet state eligibility requirements before they can sit for a licensing exam, and criteria might include a diploma, certificate, or degree from an accredited program; a professional certificate; and/or a set number of hours of hands-on patient care
  • Submit a complete application, prepare requested documentation, and pay fees

Also, some states require cardiovascular technologists to become certified. Candidates should review certifications’ educational and clinical criteria carefully.

State licenses and professional certifications must be renewed periodically, which usually entails paying a fee and completing continuing education requirements..

4. Get Certified (less than one year)

Professional certifications verify a cardiovascular technician’s skill. Not surprisingly, most employers prefer to hire professionally certified cardiovascular technologists, and many insurance providers will only pay for procedures performed by them. There are many different types of certifications, however, ranging from general to highly specialized. The following table highlights various professional certifications, their designations, and the organization that oversees them.

Organization
Certification Designation
Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)
Advanced Cardiac Sonographer ACS
Certified Cardiographic Technician CCT
Certified Rhythm Analysis Technician CRAT
Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer RCCS
Registered Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist RCES
Registered Cardiac Sonographer RCS
Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist RCIS
Registered Phlebology Sonographer RPhS
Registered Vascular Specialist RVS
American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
  • Fetal Echocardiography (FE)
RDMS
Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer
  • Adult Echocardiography (AE)
  • Fetal Echocardiography (FE)
  • Pediatric Echocardiography (PE)
RDCS
Registered Vascular Technologist
  • Vascular Technology (VT)
RVT
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
Registered Technologist RT
Radiography R
Nuclear Medicine Technology N
Radiation Therapy T
Magnetic Resonance Imaging MR
Sonography S
Computed Tomography CT
Cardiovascular Interventional Radiography CR
Cardiac Interventional Radiography CI
Vascular Interventional Radiography VI

 

5. Complete Continuing Education Requirements (timeline varies)

Imaging procedures and equipment evolve. Cardiovascular technicians and technologists have to master new machines and practices to remain competitive in their field and to ensure patient safety. This is precisely why state licensing boards and certification bodies require professionals to complete ongoing continuing education units (CEUs) to renew their credential.

Each state or organization sets its own continuing education standards. For example, candidates who wish to renew CCI certifications must complete at least 16 CEUs within each three-year renewal period. Registry-level credentials require 36 CEUs. Most state boards and certificate providers publish renewal criteria online.

Note that a variety of educational experiences may apply to cardiovascular technologists’ continuing education requirements. One might complete college courses, for instance, or attend approved conferences or lectures. Professional organizations may also offer continuing education courses, including many online class options. Students can visit one of the following organizations to learn more:

Career & Salary – Cardiovascular Technologists

Medical advancements and an aging Baby Boomer population drive demand for cardiovascular technicians. The BLS (Dec. 2015) projects cardiovascular technology positions will grow by 22 percent between 2014 and 2024. This is 6 percentage points higher than the projected average for all health technologists and technicians, and more than 15 points above the average growth projected across all U.S. occupations during that same decade (6.5 percent). Employment and advancement opportunities usually grow with education, certification, and experience. Where one lives also plays a role.

According to the BLS (May 2016), cardiovascular technologists earned a median annual salary of $55,570. In detailed terms, here were the salary percentiles among all cardiovascular technologists and technicians nationally:

United States (53,760 employed): $57,100 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $28,650
  • 25th percentile: $37,690
  • 50th percentile (median): $55,570
  • 75th percentile: $73,050
  • 90th percentile: $89,450

Techs working in medical and diagnostic laboratories tended to earn slightly more than their peers, followed by physicians’ offices and hospitals. These salary differences were relatively minor, however, ranging from about $1,000 to $3,000. Future cardiovascular techs can visit the BLS online to review earnings by state or metropolitan area.