What is a Cardiopulmonary Science Degree?

Degree programs in cardiopulmonary science prepare students to work as cardiopulmonary technologists and respiratory therapists. These professionals assist doctors with the diagnosis and treatment of patients with heart (cardio) and lung (pulmonary) conditions that affect breathing and blood circulation.

The curriculum, which has its foundations in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and microbiology, covers respiratory care for neonatal, pediatric, and adult patients; diagnostic testing; acute care and outpatient therapeutic techniques; and operation and maintenance of instrumentation involved in these procedures.

Program Options

It is important to choose a cardiopulmonary science education program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.

Associate Degree in Cardiopulmonary Science – Two Year Duration
Cardiopulmonary science associate degree programs normally combine lecture classes in the major with hands-on labs and clinical/work experiences, as well as some core courses in mathematics, English composition, communication, and the social sciences. Associate programs prepare students for entry-level and mid-level roles.

Bachelor’s Degree in Cardiopulmonary Science – Four Year Duration
The cardiopulmonary science bachelor’s degree is the most common credential in the field. Bachelor’s programs offer more extensive lab and clinical/work experience components. Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cardiopulmonary Science qualify for positions ranging from entry-level to supervisory.

Despite the differences described above, cardiopulmonary science courses like the following are at the heart of both of these programs:

  • General Biology
  • General Chemistry for the Health Sciences
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Introduction to Microbiology – fundamentals of microbiology, parasitology, virology, immunology, and lab techniques; their application to preventing disease and maintaining health
  • Introduction to Microbiology / Laboratory
  • Introduction to Allied Health – types of healthcare professionals, medical ethics, terminology, safety, infection control, and microbiology
  • Patient Care and Assessment – assessment of vital signs, pharmacology, venipuncture, legal implications, patient rights, and physician rights
  • Inter-professional Allied Health Teams – overview of the integrated healthcare team, consisting of many different medical professionals
  • Research in Allied Health – conducting and interpreting research; discussion of research designs, statistical procedures, sampling methodologies, and related literature; use of applicable technology
  • Information Management for Allied Health Professionals – allied health information systems
  • Foundations of Cardiopulmonary Science – the indications, hazards, contraindications, and assessments of modes of patient care including medical gas therapy, aerosol and humidity therapy, postural drainage and percussion (chest physical therapy using clapping on the chest and/or back to loosen the mucus in the lungs so it can be removed by coughing), and lung hyperinflation
  • Foundations of Cardiopulmonary Science / Equipment Lab – the assembly, maintenance, troubleshooting, and adjustment of equipment used to treat cardiopulmonary conditions
  • Pharmacology in Cardiopulmonary Science – discussion concerning the drugs used to treat patients with cardiopulmonary dysfunction
  • Cardiopulmonary Critical Care – acute and emergency airway care, arterial blood gas analysis, mechanical ventilation, and infection control
  • Cardiopulmonary Critical Care / Equipment Lab – set-up, operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting of machines used in treating critically ill patients
  • Cardiopulmonary Disease Pathology – the pathophysiology (the disordered physiological processes associated with disease, clinical manifestations, and prognosis of various cardiopulmonary diseases
  • Clinical Education / Hospital Rotations – student rotations to hospitals to obtain hands-on experience and proficiency in oxygen therapy, aerosol and humidity therapy, hyperinflation devices, chest physical therapy, medical gas therapy, and patient assessment and treatment
  • Clinical Education / Critical Care – student rotations to hospitals to apply critical care principles and determine when to initiate and discontinue use of critical care equipment
  • Patient Centered Practice – clinical practice guidelines provided by the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC); teaching patients and families how to perform assistive procedures
  • Advanced Cardiopulmonary Critical Care – advanced cardiopulmonary technology used in critical care settings; completion of the Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) course
  • Clinical Education / Advanced and Specialized Areas – clinical areas of advanced critical care monitoring, intubation, neonatal / pediatrics, home healthcare, sleep disorders, and cardiopulmonary stress testing; use of a metabolic cart, which measures the oxygen consumed and the carbon dioxide produced by the patient and then calculates the energy expenditure of the patient
  • Neonatal and Pediatric Cardiopulmonary Care – cardiopulmonary care from the fetus to the adolescent, the complications and risk factors associated with birth; this course fulfills the requirements of the Neonatal Resuscitation Program
  • Clinical Education / Simulations – computerized clinical simulations emphasizing cardiac diagnostics, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, neonatal / pediatrics, lung function testing, and long-term care
  • Cardiopulmonary Diagnostic and Therapeutic Care – cardiac diagnostic tools, pulmonary rehabilitation, polysomnography (a test used to diagnose sleep disorders), cardiopulmonary stress testing, metabolic cart, and pulmonary function studies
  • Gerontology and Health – assessing needs in various areas relating to the aged
  • Cardiopulmonary Science Capstone Clinical Experience – final student clinical experience
  • Professional Issues in Allied Health – licensing, continuing education, and professional ethics

Degrees Similar to Cardiopulmonary Science

Respiratory Care
Respiratory care programs prepare students for careers as respiratory therapists. The curriculum focuses on how to diagnose and manage cardio-pulmonary disorders. Training includes performing CPR, using ventilators, and providing oxygen therapy.

Cardiovascular Technology
Degree programs in cardiovascular technology prepare students to work as cardiovascular technologists (CVTs). These technicians assist doctors with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions of the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular).

The curriculum is threefold in nature. Students learn (1) the structure, function, and pathology of the heart and blood vessels, (2) the diagnostic tools and procedures used to test them, and (3) the care of cardiovascular patients.

Clinical Laboratory Science
Degree programs in clinical laboratory science prepare students to work as laboratory technicians, who use chemicals and other substances to test body fluids and tissues for the purpose of diagnosing diseases. The curriculum combines chemistry, biology, and medicine.

Microbiology is the study of all living organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. These ‘microbes’ include bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, prions, protozoa, and algae.

Nuclear Medicine Technology
Nuclear medicine technology uses radioactive drugs or radiopharmaceuticals to help diagnose and treat illnesses. Programs in the field include courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, medical microbiology and immunology, radiobiology, and pathophysiology.

There is no distinct pre-medicine degree. ‘Pre-medicine’ or ‘pre-med’ is merely a term that students planning to go to medical school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring doctors enter med school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees.

A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-med student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to medical school.

Radiological Science and Technologies
Degree programs in radiological science and technologies prepare students for careers as radiologic technologists. These professionals, also known as radiographers, use medical diagnostic equipment, tools, and instruments to capture images of the organs, bones, and tissues inside the body.

They also analyze and interpret these images in consultation with doctors and other medical team members. In addition to learning imaging procedures and image interpretation, students take foundational courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, and pathology. They also learn how to maintain imaging equipment, prepare patients for imaging procedures, and protect patients from harmful radiation.

Surgical Technology
Surgical technology certificate and degree programs teach students how to be effective members of operating room teams. Students learn how to equip operating rooms for specific procedures, how to prepare patients for surgery, how to sterilize surgical instruments, and how to assist doctors, nurses, and patients. Coursework includes anatomy and physiology, surgical patient care, and health law and ethics.

Skills You’ll Learn

In addition to the technical skills they learn, graduates of cardiopulmonary science programs leave their studies with several transferable skills:

Attention to Detail
Cardiopulmonary technologists perform delicate procedures that require focused attention to detail. Patients’ lives are at stake.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills
Working with patients on a daily basis calls for someone who is not only adept at explaining to patients the steps involved their procedure, but sensitive and responsive to the emotional stress they may be experiencing. Empathy and compassion are essential.

Confidence / Pressure and Stress Management
Confidence in their skills allows cardiopulmonary technologists to calmly cope with high-pressure emergency situations.

Observation, Analysis, and Critical Thinking
The work of a cardiopulmonary technologist involves carefully monitoring equipment readings and the patient vital signs.

Physical Stamina
Cardiopulmonary technologists are often on their feet for long periods and need to lift and move patients.

Teamwork and Collaboration
Cardiopulmonary technologists are part of a team of medical professionals, who share information and work together for the well-being of the patient.

Technical Skills and Adaptability
Cardiopulmonary science is an evolving field of medical science. It is technology driven and complex. Anyone working in the field must be comfortable adapting to changes in computer software and technical equipment.

What Can You Do with a Cardiopulmonary Science Degree?

Because of the very specific nature of their training, cardiopulmonary science graduates usually work directly in the field. Their typical employment options include:

  • Hospitals – emergency departments / intensive care units
  • Long-term and short-term rehabilitation facilities
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Home care

Within these settings, they work in these areas:

  • Diagnostics and Respiratory Care / Respiratory Therapy – conducting tests such as lung capacity measurements and blood gas analysis to help evaluate breathing difficulties; administering therapies and treatments; helping patients and their families learn how to manage at-home respiratory care
  • Polysomnography – diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of sleep disorders; evaluating patients as they sleep, recording breathing, heart rhythms, eye movements, and brain activity
  • Cardiovascular Technology – because cardiovascular care and cardiopulmonary care are intricately interconnected, graduates of cardiopulmonary science may find employment as cardiovascular technologists, conducting cardiac stress tests and diagnostic ultrasounds and ECGs
  • Education – teaching future cardiopulmonary technologists and respiratory therapists; working as community health educators, conducting healthy living and how-to-quit-smoking programs


Find out what graduates typically earn.

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