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What is a Cardiovascular Technology Degree?
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 training covers cardiac catheterization, stent implants, cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators, ultrasound imaging devices, diagnosis of irregular heartbeat and heart rhythm, patient preparation, and patient monitoring.
Note: It is important to choose a program that is accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology (JRC-CVT) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education programs (CAAHEP).
Associate Degree in Cardiovascular Technology – Two Year Duration
The Associate Degree in Cardiovascular Technology is the most common degree held by cardiovascular technologists. The first year of an associate program provides the core knowledge and skills needed to work in the field. The second year is typically dedicated to instruction in one of the technology’s subspecialties:
- Invasive Cardiovascular Technology – procedures where medical devices enter a patient’s body, from minimally invasive surgical procedures to open-heart surgery
- Non-Invasive Cardiovascular Technology – procedures where equipment is placed on, not inside, a patient’s body; ultrasound is an example
- Cardiac Electrophysiology – procedures to diagnose irregular heart rhythm
- Adult Electrocardiography
- Pediatric Electrocardiography
Bachelor’s Degree in Cardiovascular Technology – Four Year Duration
While not as common as associate degree programs in the field, some schools are beginning to offer a Bachelor’s Degree in Cardiovascular Technology. CVT bachelor’s programs provide students with greater opportunity to specialize in one of the areas listed above in the associate degree section. The bachelor’s curriculum also offers longer clinical practicums.
These are examples of general education classes that may be included in associate and bachelor’s degree programs in cardiovascular technology:
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Social and Behavioral Sciences
- English Composition
- College Algebra
- Introduction to Statistics
Below is a snapshot of the courses that make up the core component of both CVT associate and CVT bachelor’s degree programs:
- Introduction to Cardiovascular Technology – overview of invasive and non-invasive cardiology, related medical terminology, patient care and education, cardiovascular diseases, normal versus abnormal blood values, moving patients with proper body mechanics, medical legal ethics, infection control, connecting patients to monitors, recording baseline vital signs, explaining procedures of cardiovascular care
- Ultrasound Physics, Radiation, and Safety – principles of ultrasound physics and instrumentation, radiobiology and safety, the interaction of ionizing radiation with biological systems, the early and late effects of radiation exposure, protection against radiation, the best diagnostic imaging principles
- Cardiovascular Anatomy and Physiology – adult and fetal cardiac anatomy, the vascular system, related cardiac and peripheral diseases, arterial blood gas analysis, cardiac and blood flow calculations, cardiac waveforms and electrocardiogram (also referred to as ECG or EKG)
- ECG/EKG Interpretation Laboratory – the electrophysiological principles of the ECG, lead placement for a diagnostic ECG, lead placement for monitoring, cardia rhythm rules, normal and abnormal rhythm strips and paced rhythms, identifying heart rhythms and arrhythmias, sett-up of a 12-lead ECG
- Cardiovascular Pharmacology I – clinical pharmacological knowledge required in the cardiac catheterization lab and non-invasive cardiology lab, drug classification and administration, drug effects on blood flow, vein puncture procedures, drug dosing, recognizing ECG arrhythmia
- Non-Invasive Cardiology Laboratory I – theory and principles of a two-dimensional echocardiogram, color flow imaging, normal and abnormal values
- Invasive Cardiology Laboratory I – cardiac catheterization procedures; distinguishing anatomical features shown on radiographic projections; scrub technique and preparation; handling equipment; set-up of transducers, sheaths, catheters, wires, balloons, and stents; patient assessments
- Peripheral Vascular Laboratory I – normal and abnormal pathology for carotid duplex imaging, peripheral vascular angiography, normal and abnormal hemodynamics (blood flow)
- Cardiovascular Pre-Practicum I – preparation for clinical practicum, patient communication and care, professionalism in the clinical setting, Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) training
- Non-Invasive Cardiology Laboratory II – in-depth study of the diagnosis of cardiac and vascular disease via echocardiography; advanced techniques including stress and pharmacologic echocardiography, transesophageal echocardiography (use of sound waves to create moving pictures of the heart and blood vessels), contrast echocardiography, tissue Doppler imaging, three-dimensional echocardiography, and strain imaging
- Invasive Cardiology Laboratory II – the effects of coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, angina, heart failure, cardiomyopathies, pericardial issues, valvular disease, and congenital abnormalities; calculations performed in the catheterization lab
- Peripheral Vascular Laboratory II – focuses on the Adult Echocardiography specialization, detailed knowledge of vascular diagnostic exams, upper and lower arterial studies, upper and lower veins studies, abnormal aorta and iliac imaging, renal artery imaging
- Advanced Cardiovascular Procedures – focuses on the Invasive Cardiology specialization, cardiac pacemakers, implantable cardiac defibrillators, electrophysiology and advanced structural heart procedures, peripheral vascular angiography
- Cardiovascular Practicum I – clinical experience in diagnostic procedures performed in the cardiac catheterization lab and non-invasive echocardiography lab, pre- and post- cardiac catheterization activities, monitoring blood flow, cardiac pressure calculations, circulation, electrocardiography, stress testing, echocardiography
- Cardiovascular Practicum II – further clinical experience in invasive or non-invasive cardiology, depending on choice of specialization
- Cardiovascular Capstone – completion of a case study in chosen specialization, inclusive of clinical logs, services, and physician readings
- Cardiovascular Practicum III – final practicum in either the cardiac catheterization lab or the echocardiography lab
Degrees Similar to Cardiovascular Technology
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.
Cytotechnology is the study of cells and cellular anomalies. Cytotechnologists use a microscope to examine slides of human cells to uncover evidence of abnormalities that may reveal inflammation, infection, or disease.
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.
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.
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 cardiovascular technology programs leave their studies with several transferable skills:
Attention to Detail
Cardiovascular 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 cardiovascular technologists to calmly cope with high-pressure emergency situations.
Observation, Analysis, and Critical Thinking
The work of a cardiovascular technologist involves carefully monitoring equipment readings and the patient vital signs.
Cardiovascular technologists are often on their feet for long periods and need to lift and move patients.
Teamwork and Collaboration
Cardiovascular 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
Cardiovascular technology is an evolving field of medical science. It is, as the name implies, 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 Cardiovascular Technology Degree?
Because of the very specific nature of their training, cardiovascular technologists typically work directly in the cardiovascular field. Their employment options include:
- Hospitals – cardiac stress testing and ECG departments, operating room and emergency
- Cardiac Clinics and Outpatient Care Centers
- Cardiac Rehabilitation Centers
- Pacemaker Clinics
- Physicians’ Offices
- Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories
- Cardiovascular Technology Patient Education
- Cardiovascular Technology Teaching
- Cardiovascular Technology Research
- Medical Sales
Depending on their specific responsibilities, cardiovascular technologists may hold different titles:
- Cardiology Technologist – assisting doctors in diagnosing and treating heart problems and conditions
- Vascular Technologist – assisting doctors in diagnosing and treating diseases and problems associated with the blood vessel system
- Echocardiographer (also known as a Cardiac Sonographer) – performing echocardiograms, ultrasounds on all components of the heart
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