Cardiac nurses, or cardiovascular nurses, specialize in cardiovascular heart health. Heart disease continues to affect millions of Americans, and cardiac nurses help treat patients with various heart conditions by administering different medications and therapies.
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What Does a Cardiac Nurse Do?
ADN or BSN required
Cardiac nurses work under cardiologists, and take on many tasks to treat both acute and chronic heart conditions. For patients with acute heart failure, like heart attacks or cardiac arrest, they use tools like defibrillators. Cardiac nurses may assist surgeons with heart surgery as well.
For patients with chronic conditions, cardiac nurses may monitor and assess heart conditions. They carry out or help with various treatments, like advanced cardiac life support or catheterization laboratory.
- Advanced cardiac life support
- Patient care
- Critical thinking
Where do Cardiac Nurses Work?
Cardiac nurses find employment in many types of healthcare facilities, including hospitals, intensive care settings, medical clinics, and rehabilitative or long-term care facilities. You can find out how cardiac nurses’ roles differ in these various settings below:
- Cardiac nurses in ICU units may need to administer certain drugs or use a defibrillator after cardiac arrest or heart attack. They may use hemodynamic or telemetry monitoring, and they use intracardiac devices like catheters and balloon pumps. Many Cardiac ICUs also recover patients after surgeries.
- Hospital Cardiology Unit
- Monitor patients’ heart activity and electrocardiograms, administer medication and other treatments, and educate patients and their families about their condition.
- Hospital Surgical Unit
- Prepare patients for surgery, assist the surgeon with any tasks during surgery, and help patients recover post-op.
Why Become a Cardiac Nurse?
If becoming a cardiovascular nurse appeals to you, make sure to evaluate the pros and cons of the profession before you decide whether to pursue this career.
Advantages to Becoming a Cardiac Nurse
- Nurses who focus on chronic health often build relationships with their patients, which can make their work fulfilling.
- Nurses who work in critical care settings save lives in imminent danger, which can also be fulfilling.
- Potential for career growth; cardiology nurses can earn graduate degrees and become cardiac nurse practitioners.
- Job security and stability; Heart health remains a huge issue in the U.S., which means cardiac nurses are needed for critical roles in the industry.
Disadvantages to Becoming a Cardiac Nurse
- Stress and burnout — working in the cardiology unit can lead to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.
- Cardiac nurses may find themselves working long hours and going to the hospital while on call at non-typical hours.
- As much as some patients are appreciative, others can be difficult to work with.
- Taking care of some of the sickest patients in the hospital.
How to Become a Cardiac Nurse
A four-year BSN or two-year ADN prepares students to become professional nurses. These programs consist of didactic lectures and clinical rotations during which aspiring nursing professionals can practice their skills.
Pass the NCLEX-RN to Receive RN Licensure.
Every state requires registered nursing (RN) candidates to pass this exam, which evaluates their nursing knowledge and skills. Then candidates should apply for licensure from their state board.
Gain Experience in Cardiac Nursing.
RNs can begin to work in cardiac nursing through entry-level roles. If they wish to pursue certifications, they need at least two years of experience, 2,000 hours of clinical cardiac-vascular nursing experience, and 30 continuing education hours.
Consider Becoming Certified in Cardiac Nursing.
Requirements vary by employer, but certification can improve potential employment and salary prospects. Candidates have several options for certifications, outlined below.
Advance Your Career With a Graduate Degree.
Finally, nurses can move up in their careers with a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) if they wish to become cardiac nurse practitioners.
Certification Options for Cardiac Nurses
Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (CV-BC)
Offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), this certification evaluates nurses’ knowledge of cardiac-vascular assessment techniques and tools. Candidates must possess at least two years of full-time RN experience, at least 3,000 hours of work experience in cardiovascular nursing, and 30 hours of continuing education.
Cardiac Surgery Certification (CSC)
The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers this credential to nurses who provide care to critically ill patients after surgery. To qualify, nurses need 1,750-2,000 hours of experience working with acutely ill patients post-op. The credential can last for two or five years.
Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC)
From the AACN, this certification is for registered nurses who care for acutely ill cardiac patients. Nurses applying for this certification work in cardiac care units, ICUs, telemetry, and other medical settings. The certification requires cardiac patients to possess 1,750-2,000 hours of experience working with critically ill patients.
Basic Life Support (BLS)
The American Red Cross grants BLS certification, which evaluates RNs’ CPR, defibrillator, and other life support skills. For this certification, registered nurses need to take training courses from the Red Cross.
Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)
This credential assesses nurses’ knowledge of life saving skills in cardiopulmonary emergencies. That includes resuscitation, bag mask ventilations, and other airway management techniques. Candidates must take a course to qualify for this certification.
How Much Do Cardiac Nurses Make?
Cardiovascular nursing salaries vary based on factors like experience, location, and education level. PayScale data shows that these professionals earn an average base salary of $88,646. Total pay for cardiovascular nursing salaries ranges from $51,000 – $90,000, according to PayScale.
The job outlook for nurses in general remains optimistic as well. The number of RNs could increase by 7% from 2019 to 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That amounts to nearly 222,000 additional RN jobs during that time period. With the number of aging Baby Boomers and the prevalence of heart disease in the U.S., the healthcare system will likely see an increased need for cardiovascular nursing jobs too.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How many years does it take to become a cardiac nurse?
If you decide to pursue certification, then it can take 4-6 years to become a cardiovascular nurse. This depends on multiple factors, like whether you pursue a two-year ADN or a four-year BSN and whether you enroll in these programs full- or part-time. In addition, although cardiac nurses need a minimum of two years working specifically in cardiovascular health before they can apply for certification, it sometimes takes longer to gain enough experience.
How do cardiac nurses work with other healthcare professionals?
Cardiovascular nurses sometimes work in teams with their fellow nurses. They also work under the direction of cardiologists and heart surgeons, assisting these physicians with complex medical tasks.
What are the advantages of becoming a board certified nurse?
Board certification demonstrates that nurses possess the expertise they need to work in cardiology units. Although not necessary to find a job, it can give job seekers an edge over uncertified candidates. It can also lead to opportunities for career advancement and add leverage in negotiations for higher salaries.
Are cardiac nurses in demand?
Overall, the BLS projects the registered nurse profession could grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029, which is promising for a nurse in any speciality. Cardiovascular health also remains a particularly in-demand part of the healthcare system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans — in fact, heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. In other words, cardiovascular nursing jobs remain needed in the industry.
Resources for Cardiac Nurses
Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA)
The PCNA aims to promote nurses as leaders within the cardiovascular health field. Members can participate in professional development opportunities, like the annual seminar and online learning sessions. The organization also offers Cardiac/Vascular Certification. Job seekers can utilize the PCNA's job board and take part in networking opportunities.
American Heart Association (AHA)
Established in 1924, the AHA operates as a nonprofit organization advocating for advances in cardiovascular health. The site publishes several resources for people suffering from heart disease and cardiac health care professionals. Individuals who sign up for professional membership receive subscriptions to the AHA's journal and other publications, and they may attend conferences and other events.
American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (ACCN)
Critical and acute care nurses — including those specializing in cardiovascular health — may join this organization, which grants certification within the field. Members can access webinars, conferences, and events. The association also grants scholarships for professional development and excellence awards to outstanding nurses.
American Association of Heart Failure Nurses (AAHFN)
This organization connects nurses who work within a specific area of cardiovascular health: heart failure. Members can attend conferences and continuing education courses, and they can access nursing resources too. AAHFN gives out Nightingale Research Grants for individuals and scholarships for nurses who wish to further careers with a master's degree.
Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW
Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Clarke tired of the cold and snowy winters and moved to Coral Gables, Florida in order to complete her undergraduate degree in nursing at the University of Miami. After working for several years in the UHealth and Jackson Memorial Medical systems in the cardiac and ER units, Clarke returned to the University of Miami to complete her master of science in nursing (MSN). Since completing her MSN degree, Clarke has worked providing primary and urgent care to pediatric populations.