A cath lab tech assists cardiologists who perform cardiac catheterizations and other heart procedures. Although the majority of technicians work in hospitals, they’re also employed in outpatient facilities, doctor’s office and laboratories. If you’re considering a career as cath lab technician, you’ll need good interpersonal skills, proficiency in operating specialized medical equipment and the ability to remain calm during stressful situations.
Depending on the facility, a cath lab technician may also be known as a cardiac catheterization technologist or a cardiovascular technician. The technicians prepare patients for procedures, explain what will happen during tests and procedures, and provide a little reassurance if patients are nervous or upset.
They often assist in cardiac catheterization, a procedure used to assess heart muscle function, detect blockages, open blocked arteries, and determine if the patient has heart disease. The imaging procedure involves inserting a hollow catheter into a blood vessel in the arm or leg. Once the catheter is in place, it’s slowly passed through the network of vessels and into the heart.
Cath techs clean and shave the insertion area before the procedure begins and monitor the patient’s heart rate and other vital signs during the catheterization. They’re trained to detect even slight abnormalities and report them to the cardiologist immediately.
Cardiologists and cath lab techs take precautions to prevent problems during procedures, but complications may still occur in a small percentage of cases. Whether a patient experiences an allergic reaction to anesthesia, bleeds excessively or experiences a heart attack, techs must remain calm. If they become flustered, they won’t be able to provide emergency care as directed by the cardiologist, which may jeopardize the patient’s health.
Although they’re known as “catheterization” techs, technicians also assist in other procedures such as open heart surgery or the placement of pacemakers. Some techs even assist cardiologists during open heart surgery.
The cardiac cath tech job description also includes cleaning equipment, updating medical records and moving and lifting patients, if necessary.
Education and Training
Graduation from a cardiovascular technology program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs is required for employment as a cardiac catheterization laboratory technician. The two-year program prepares students to operate equipment and computers, master medical terminology, develop patient care skills and understand how the cardiovascular system functions. Students graduate with an associate of applied science or associate of science degree.
During the first few weeks on the job, a new cath lab tech may be mentored by another technician or a cardiologist. As policies and procedures can vary from facility to facility, working with an experienced healthcare professional may help new employees feel more confident when working in the cath lab.
Certification may improve your career prospects and opportunities for advancement. Cath lab techs become certified by taking the Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist Exam, offered by the Cardiovascular Credentialing International.
Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for cardiovascular technologists and technicians was $55,270 as of May 2017. ZipRecruiter, which obtains its information from actual job listings, estimates the average salary even higher at $91,150.
Due to the aging Baby Boomer population, the demand for cath lab technicians is expected to increase faster than average through 2026. The BLS expects it grow by 17 percent.