Although you might be able to manage without certain body parts, if the heart stops pumping, it’s a major issue. A number of careers are dedicated to keeping the cardiovascular system in good shape, diagnosing problems and fixing them through medications, treatments or surgery. Among these practitioners are cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiologists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses and allied health professionals, such as cardiovascular sonographers, technologists and technicians.
Allied Health Workers
Cardiovascular sonographers, technologists and technicians help physicians diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease with imaging and ultrasound equipment. Sonographers perform echocardiograms, which use ultrasound technology to create images of the heart and its interior structures. Technologists assist with cardiac catheterizations and monitor patients during a procedure. Technicians perform electrocardiogram tracings of the heart’s electrical activity. With the exception of cardiac technicians, who might be trained on the job, these allied health workers typically have an associate degree or post-secondary certificate. Demand for this workers in this group is projected to be 39 percent from 2012 to 2022 -- more than three times the average for all occupations -- according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Members of this group earned a median salary of $60,350 a year in 2012, according to the BLS.
Nursing and the Heart
Registered nurses are found in many work settings related to cardiovascular care. In hospitals, they work in cardiac catheterization labs, cardiac care or telemetry units. They also are employed in the offices of cardiac surgeons and cardiologists, and at cardiac rehabilitation facilities. In each setting, the RN is responsible for direct care, coordination of care and the supervision of other nursing staff. An RN must have a license and a nursing degree -- from a diploma to a doctorate. Most RNs in direct-care settings have either an associate or bachelor’s degree. Many hold professional specialty certifications. Demand for nurses of all types is expected to be 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS, and the median salary was $65,470 a year in 2012.
Physician assistants, or PAs, and nurse practitioners, or NPs, perform many physician functions in cardiovascular care. Either can diagnosis disease, prescribe medications, and order laboratory or diagnostic tests, such as an echocardiogram or cardiac treadmill test. The PA must be supervised by a physician, but NPs can practice independently in some states. Both must have a minimum of a master’s degree and must be licensed. PAs become certified by passing the national licensing exam, but NPs pass a separate certification examination, which most states require for practice. Demand for both occupations is projected to remain high from 2012 through 2022. The BLS reports an estimated demand of 34 percent for NPs and 38 percent for PAs during this period. Median salaries were similar in 2012, at $89,960 a year for NPs and $90,930 a year for PAs.
Cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons both practice specialties devoted to cardiovascular care. Cardiologists begin their medical career as internists and focus on medical management, while cardiothoracic surgeons perform heart surgeries. As physicians, both must complete college, medical school and residency, although the cardiothoracic surgeon spends several more years in training. Either might also attend an extra period of training called a specialty fellowship. All states require cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons to be licensed, and most are board-certified in their respective specialties. Demand for all physicians is not quite as high as other healthcare occupations, but is projected to be 18 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS. The median salary for cardiologists was $420,991 a year in 2013 and the median salary for cardiothoracic surgeons was $525,944 a year, according to Becker's Hospital Review.