What is a Cath Lab Tech?
A cath lab technician or tech is a professional working in the cardiovascular technology field. These individuals are vital members of a team assisting physicians during cardiovascular procedures including electrophysiology, cardiac catheterization and angioplasty. Cath lab techs are also referred to as cardiac catheterization technologists. The techs work is a facility providing testing for heart health.
The responsibilities of the tech include the administration and measuring of special fluids and helping insert catheters into the heart. Fluids and small tubes are necessary for tests to determine the working capabilities of the heart. The types of tests include evaluating pumping strength, pressure checks and x-rays. While working under physician supervision, the cath lab techs monitor patients during procedures for life-threatening changes.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a cath lab tech is approximately $57,700. The educational requirements include an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree with the Cardiovascular Credentialing International test recommended. Job growth is expected to increase by five percent by 2029.
Responsibilities of a Cath Lab Tech
Prior to determining how to become a cath lab tech, the individual should understand the job requirements. The majority of the individual’s time is spent in an operating room. In addition to performing many routine procedures, the tech must be able to cope with high-stress situations because the life of the patient can become threatened due to complications.
A cath lab tech uses machines to diagnose a variety of heart-related conditions. Understanding how to operate different types of machines including invasive catheterization is essential. The EKG machine enables the tech to attach electrodes to the patient to get a reading and record electrical variation. The printout is then taken to the physician for a diagnosis.
In some instances, the tech assists the physician with treadmill stress testing. This involves recording the patient’s medical history, completing an assessment of their blood pressure, attaching the EKG and monitoring heart performance while the patient is walking on a treadmill. This enables the cath lab tech to determine how increased exertion on the heart affects the patient, All activities must be monitored.
In addition to working with a variety of cardiac equipment, the cath tech cares for the equipment, maintains patient files and schedules appointments. The ability to observe even the smallest details, remain organized at all times and precisely record data is highly recommended for this career. The cath lab tech makes certain all EKG equipment is working correctly prior to surgery.
Once the procedure has begun, the tech monitors readouts from the EKG. The tech is also responsible for notifying the physician immediately if anything considered abnormal appears. The tech cleans and shaves the patient in preparation for the procedure. When cardiac catheterization is required for angioplasty, the cath lab tech anesthetizes the area.
The actual responsibilities of the tech vary slightly depending on the hospital. Some hospitals require cath lab techs to assist physicians during open-heart surgery by inserting stents or pacemakers. The daily responsibilities of a cath lab tech include preparing and monitoring patients and interpreting and monitoring test procedures, then explaining the results to the patient.
During specific procedures, the tech is exposed to extremely low levels of radiation. Due to the close monitoring of these levels, the cath lab tech is protected. During surgery, the cath lab tech is required to stand by since help may be required to transfer or lift a patient.
Salary of a Cath Lab Tech
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly salary for this career is approximately $57,700. Once the tech gains experience, promotion to the next level of a cardiac cath lab manager is possible. This position offers an annual salary between $70,000 and $139,000. The field is expected to grow at an above-average rate of five percent by 2029.
How to Become a Cath Lab Tech
The minimum educational requirement for an entry-level position for the majority of employers is either an Associate of Science degree or an Associate of Applied Science degree. These degrees can be earned at a community or junior college. During the first year, the individual attends laboratory classes and lectures including:
- Cardiovascular physiology
- Physical principles of medicine
- Medical instrumentation
During the second year, the emphasis is placed on the specialization of the tech. This includes clinical hospital work, lab work and lectures on-campus. On-the-job training is extremely important and takes up the majority of the student’s time. In most cases, training takes place while earning a degree. In some instances, a tech is hired on a work-study or volunteer basis.
Cath lab tech credentials are not essential, but the majority of employers will not hire until this process has been successfully completed. Unless the tech has credentials, career advancement is nearly impossible. The CCI or Cardiovascular Credentialing International administers the credentialing test. The test has four requirements.
- Current enrollment in a cardiovascular education program
- The tech must be currently employed within the cardiovascular field
- Two years of technical duties performed on a full-time basis
- Two years of volunteer work must be completed
Once the individual has fulfilled the above requirements, the cath lab technician can apply to take the test through CCI. Documentation for all of the requirements must be available when the application is placed.
Job Outlook for Cath Lab Techs
In addition to the required degrees, candidates for this field require on-the-job training at their educational institution. Although additional credentials are not a requirement, if the cath lab tech is interested in advancing in their field, it is recommended. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly salary for this position is expected to be nearly $60,00 by the year 2029 due to the above-average growth potential.
Due to the different responsibilities of each hospital, differences in salaries are to be expected. Acquiring a job as a cath lab tech is considered a good career path with potential advancement, opportunities and pay.
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