Cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary technicians perform tests and various
procedures on the pulmonary or cardiovascular system, which is basically the
heart and its related organs and functions.
Cardio technicians may conduct or assist in electrocardiograms, cardiac
catheterizations, pulmonary functions, lung capacity and similar tests.
These medical technicians are the "heart" of cardiac medicine. They require
specialized skills in order to perform the diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
used for the investigation of pulmonary and cardiovascular disorders.
The technologist works closely with the physician in order to provide information
relevant to the patient's diagnosis, prognosis and surgical risk.
Cardiac technology can be divided into two groups: invasive and non-invasive.
Invasive cardiology includes any procedure that enters the body. Non-invasive
procedures do not require the insertion of probes or other instruments into
the patient's body.
Invasive cardiac technologists assist surgeons and cardiologists with various
surgical areas. Cardiac catheterization is the insertion of small catheters
through a needle into the blood vessels and into the heart. It can detect
the presence of a blockage or other problems.
Blocked arteries can be opened using balloon catheters in a procedure called
angioplasty. Pacemaker insertion and open-heart surgery are two other areas
where a cardiac technician is needed.
During an invasive procedure, a cardiac technician may act as a surgical
scrub assistant. This means they monitor the patient's condition, operate
lab equipment, give clot-dissolving drugs and assist in emergency procedures.
Non-invasive cardiac technologists use sophisticated technology and computers
to evaluate a person's physiology and anatomy. They collect information that
is to be used by a cardiologist or another specialist to make a diagnosis.
Electrocardiograph technicians perform electrocardiographs (ECGs or EKGs),
tests that trace the electrical impulses transmitted by the heart. Technicians
attach electrodes to the patient's chest, arms and legs, and then manipulate
switches on an electrocardiograph machine to obtain the reading.
The test is done before most kinds of surgery and as part of a routine
physical examination, especially for people who have reached middle age or
have a history of cardiovascular problems.
EKG technicians may also perform Holter monitor and stress testing. For
Holter monitoring, technicians place electrodes on the patient's chest and
attach a portable EKG monitor to the patient's belt. Following 24 to 48 hours
of normal routine for the patient, the technician removes a cassette tape
from the monitor and places it in a scanner. A physician uses the output from
the scanner to diagnose heart ailments.
For a stress test, EKG technicians monitor the heart's performance while
the patient is walking on a treadmill, gradually increasing the treadmill's
speed to observe the effect of increased exertion.
Echocardiographers use ultrasound equipment. Sound waves are bounced off
internal systems and organs and turned into an image that appears on a screen.
It is like the ultrasound used on pregnant women, only instead of a picture
of a baby, you get a picture of the heart, or lung, or vein.
Medical technologists must be reliable. They need mechanical aptitude and
an eye for detail. A pleasant, relaxed manner helps put patients at ease.
They must also be able to handle high levels of stress. Those who specialize
in invasive procedures in particular may at times hold the life of a patient
in their hands.
Patients with serious heart ailments can encounter complications that have
life-or-death implications. A patient arriving at an ER complaining of chest
discomfort is seen by a cardiology technologist minutes after entry. The cardio
tech is usually the first to recognize that a heart attack is occurring or
has occurred and alerts the medical staff. Quite often it's the tech who initially
detects a life-threatening arrhythmia.
Some computer skills are necessary, says Euretha Hayde, president of a
cardiology technologists' association. "Everything is computerized now. You
really have so many areas to keep you interested. You'll have a real need
to attend seminars to keep current on all the basic skills."
Cardiovascular technicians work a five-day, 40-hour week, often including
weekends. Those in catheterization labs work longer hours and are often on
call evenings and weekends.
Workweeks of at least 45 hours are common for Michael Cogliano, a cardiovascular
technologist. When he's on call, extended hours during the week and on weekends
Cardio techs spend lots of time on their feet, making this a difficult
career for a person with a physical disability.
In addition to that, excellent manual dexterity is a must with many procedures
and duties. One option would be to specialize in lab work or related academic
or administration fields, which would make it easier to accommodate a physical
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Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians
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