Students with a dual-interest in medicine and technology may find engaging, rewarding careers as cardiovascular technicians. The increasing prevalence of heart-related diseases and complications has created a demand for skilled cardiovascular technicians, resulting in a projected growth in employment of 26 percent over the next ten years. Technicians work primarily in hospitals, doctor's offices, or laboratories, and are responsible for a variety of duties including preparing patients for procedures, monitoring and imaging the heart, running tests, and assisting surgeons during heart surgeries. They frequently use advanced technological equipment such as catheters, pacemakers, CO2 monitoring systems, and EKG (electrocardiogram) machines.
Most cardiovascular technicians begin their careers with a certificate or two-year associate degree. Associate degrees are commonly found through trade schools or technical community colleges, but there are options through larger universities as well. For example, the associate degree program through Central Georgia Technical College is 70 credits in length and helps to prepare students to enter the workforce as an entry-level Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist. Milwaukee Area Technical College also offers an associate degree in cardiovascular technology. After the first year of general coursework, students elect to pursue either an invasive CVT or noninvasive CVT subspecialty. The two have separate curricula, with the former geared toward cardiac catheterization and the second geared toward echocardiography.
Students pursuing associate degrees in cardiovascular technology will take classes that range from anatomy and physiology to the fundamentals of cardiac catheterization. Some programs may also require students to take general classes such as algebra and statistics, as well as a humanities or fine arts elective. Most associate degree programs will also involve hands-on experience in lab or hospital settings.
For students who would prefer to pursue cardiovascular technology with a bachelor's degree, there are options available to transfer from an associate degree program to a four-year university, as well as opportunities to earn degrees solely at the undergraduate level. The University of South Carolina offers a B.S. in Cardiovascular Technology which is affiliated with two area hospitals where students complete the internship component of their education. Prior to interning in a hospital setting, students enrolled in this program take courses such as cell and molecular biology, general physiology, and principles of biochemistry. Graduates of this program may be prepared to begin careers working in doctor's offices, medical and diagnostic labs, imaging centers, or hospitals.
At this time, there is only one graduate-level program for cardiovascular technicians in the country. It is offered through Geneva University as a partnership between the university and INOVA-Fairfax Hospital of Falls Church in Virginia. Students have the option to complete a hybrid B.S./M.S. degree in five years, or, if they are entering the program with an undergraduate degree in another subject, they can complete the master's degree in two years. It was specifically designed to train students in invasive cardiology-- namely electrophysiology, which, according to a news release from the program, focuses on the "insertion of pacemakers and laser surgery on the electrical system of the heart muscle." This is a unique program accredited by the Commission for the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Enrolled students will complete 94 hours of credit, which includes extensive education in biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and physics. While these courses are held at Geneva University, additional courses are held at INOVA-Fairfax Hospital, and make use of the equipment and resources in the cardiac catheterization laboratory.
Admissions requirements for cardiovascular technician programs will vary depending on the program and the institution. For associate degrees, typically all that is needed is a high school diploma or GED. The same is true for bachelor's degrees, although it is more common to find minimum GPA requirements, SAT or ACT scores for bachelor degree programs, making them more competitive to gain admission to. Additionally, many programs will require a background check. Some programs, such as the one through Milwaukee Area Technical College, require students to go through a petition process which includes a pre-admission examination.
As with admission requirements, tuitions for cardiovascular technician degree programs will vary depending on the degree level, the institution that is providing the degree, and whether a student is in-state or out-of-state. Annual tuition for CVT programs ranges from approximately $4,500 to $16,000. Financial aid, both need and merit based, is often available for students who need assistance in affording tuition.
Cardiovascular technician certificates are available for those already working in the healthcare field who would like to add to their skill set by learning cardiovascular procedures. These are generally one year in length and can be received from certain hospitals, colleges, or directly through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers or Cardiovascular Credentialing International.
When selecting an institution, students should be sure to look into its accreditation status. Most reputable programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP. Accreditation helps to ensure that educational standards set by the accrediting bodies are met and that the degrees that students are earning have credibility to potential employers.
Unlike other technical professions, licensure is not a common requirement for employment as a cardiovascular technician. Rather, employers require that technicians are certified through an accredited organization or hospital. For information on state-specific requirements, contact the state's medical boards.
As seen in the degree options covered, many programs will offer students the choice to specialize in invasive CVT (catheterization), noninvasive CVT (echocardiography) or vascular technology procedures. As these specialties require different skills, a student's selection may significantly change the courses that they take, particularly if they are enrolled in a two-year program. A four-year bachelor degree program may allow students to explore multiple types of procedures, in turn expanding their qualifications and desirability to potential employers.
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