Nurses who work in the field of cardiovascular nursing are expert in the management of patients with heart and vascular disease. These registered nurses can determine what a patient’s heart is doing based on physical assessment and the patterns that appear on an electrocardiogram, or EKG -- a tracing of the heart rhythm. They also know what to do to treat arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, as well as how to manage many other cardiac problems.
Education and Certification
All RNs must pass the same licensing exam, called the NCLEX-RN, although they may be educated in a variety of ways, including an associate degree, nursing diploma or baccalaureate. They may also have post-graduate education at the masters or doctoral level. In addition, many cardiac nurses are certified in the specialty. They must have experience in the field and a bachelor’s degree prior to taking the certification exam, and once certified must recertify every five years. Recertification requires taking the exam again or completing at least 75 hours of continuing education relevant to clinical practice.
Knowledge and Skills
Nursing is a knowledge-based profession, and the cardiac nurse must first have a good grounding in basic nursing. She then learns about the anatomy and physiology of the heart, how to perform a cardiovascular assessment and how the heart and lungs interact to move oxygen and blood through the body. In addition to understanding the various diseases that may affect the heart, the nurse must know how to operate or manage a variety of technical equipment, from EKG machines to ventilators, as well as the various drugs that may be used in patient management..
Cardiac nurses may be staff nurses, nursing managers, nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists. Nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists are advanced practice nurses and have a broader scope of practice that includes diagnosing disease as well as prescribing medications. Within the discipline of cardiac nursing, nurses may specialize in a variety of areas. Cardiac rehabilitation nurses, for example, may supervise exercise programs for patients who have had a heart attack or undergone cardiac surgery. They may also educate patients about lifestyle changes such as diet and smoking cessation.
Patients who have cardiac disease are treated in a number of clinical settings. A cardiac nurse might work in the critical care environment of a cardiac intensive care unit or emergency room. Others staff telemetry or step-down units, for patients who are less ill but still need cardiac monitoring. Open heart surgery is one of the treatments for heart disease, and a cardiac nurse might work in a cardiac catheterization lab or cardiac operating room. Other cardiac nurses work in chest pain centers, physicians’ offices, clinics or home health care.