Cardiac Nurse Career Overview

Ayana Dunn, RN
Updated June 11, 2024
Edited by
Interested in a career as a cardiovascular nurse? This guide outlines what you need to know about working in heart health and how to become a cardiovascular nurse.
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Cardiac nurses play a vital role in healthcare and the lives of their patients. They help people facing life-or-death situations and patients with chronic ailments.

The following guide explores the cardiac nursing profession and duties, common work environments, pros and cons, and career data. Keep reading to see if this rewarding career is the right match for you.

How Long to Become
4-6 years

Job Outlook for RNs
6% growth from 2022-2032

Average Annual Salary

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What Does a Cardiac Nurse Do?

ADN or BSN Required
Certification Optional

Cardiac nurses work under cardiologists and cardiac nurse practitioners. They take on many tasks to treat 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.

These nurses may monitor and assess heart conditions for patients with chronic ailments. They carry out or help with various treatments, including the following:

closeup of nurse hands on computer keyboard

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Key Responsibilities

  • Advanced cardiac life support
  • Medication administration
  • Catheterization
  • Defibrillation
  • Assessments
  • Patient and family education

Career Traits

  • Fast-paced
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Therapeutic communication
  • Stress-management
  • Detail-orientation

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. Explore how cardiac nurses’ roles differ in these various settings below:


Cardiac nurses in ICUs may need to administer certain drugs or use a defibrillator after cardiac arrest or heart attack. They may use hemodynamic or telemetry monitoring, along with intracardiac devices like catheters and balloon pumps. Many cardiac ICUs also help patients recover after surgeries.

Hospital Cardiology Unit

In these settings, cardiac nurses monitor patients’ heart activity and electrocardiograms, administer medication and other treatments, and educate patients and their families about their conditions.

Cardiac Cath Lab

Cath lab nurses monitor and examine patients before, during, and after cardiac catheterizations. They also administer medications and assist the medical team.

Cardiac Nursing: Pros and Cons

If becoming a cardiovascular nurse appeals to you, make sure to evaluate the pros and cons of the profession before deciding to pursue this career.

Cardiac Nursing Pros

  • check-circleNurses who focus on chronic health can build relationships with their patients.
  • check-circleNurses who work in critical care settings save lives in imminent danger, making their work fulfilling.
  • check-circleCardiology nurses can earn graduate degrees and pursue work as cardiac nurse practitioners.
  • check-circleHeart health remains a significant issue in the U.S., which means cardiac nurses are needed for critical roles in the industry.
  • check-circleNurses who love learning about the heart and working with cardiac patients can focus on their passion.

Cardiac Nursing Cons

  • x-circleWorking in the cardiology unit can be stressful, leading to physical, emotional, and mental burnout.
  • x-circleCardiac nurses may find themselves working long hours and traveling to the hospital while on call at non-typical hours.
  • x-circleAs much as some patients are appreciative, others can be difficult to work with.

How to Become a Cardiac Nurse

  1. 1

    Earn a BSN or ADN.

    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.

  2. 2

    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.

  3. 3

    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.

  4. 4

    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.

  5. 5

    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

  • Cardiovascular Nursing Certification (CV-BC)

    Offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), this certification evaluates nurses’ knowledge of cardiovascular assessment techniques and tools. Candidates must possess at least two years of full-time RN experience, at least 2,000 hours of work experience within the last three years in cardiovascular nursing, and 30 hours of continuing education in cardiovascular nursing within the last three years to qualify.

  • 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 hours in direct care of acutely ill adult patients during the previous two years, including 875 hours in the most recent year. Those 875 hours need to be in the care of acutely ill adult cardiac surgery patients within 48 hours after surgery.

    An alternative eligibility requirement is 2,000 hours in direct care of acutely ill adult patients within the past five years, with 144 of those hours accrued in the most recent year. Candidates must accrue 1,000 of their 2,000 hours in the care of acutely ill adult cardiac surgery patients within the first 48 hours postoperatively.

  • Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC)

    CMC credentials from the AACN suit registered nurses who care for acutely ill cardiac patients. Nurses applying for this certification can work in cardiac care units, ICUs, telemetry, and other medical settings. There are two eligibility options.

    Nurses need 1,750 hours in direct care of acutely ill adult patients during the previous two years, with 875 of those hours accrued in the most recent year. Within this requirement, 875 need to occur in the care of acutely ill adult cardiac patients.

    The second option requires 2,000 hours in direct care of acutely ill adult patients in the previous five years, with 144 hours accrued in the most recent year. One thousand hours need to be in the care of acutely ill adult cardiac 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 or the American Heart Association.

  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)

    This credential assesses nurses’ knowledge of life saving skills in cardiopulmonary emergencies. Their skills include 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?

According to Payscale data from June 2024, cardiac nurses earn an average annual salary of $88,650. Their salaries vary based on different factors, including location, years of experience, and facility.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of all registered nurses to grow by 6% from 2022-2032, which is faster than average for all occupations.

Frequently Asked Questions About a Career as a Cardiac Nurse

If you pursue certification, then it can take 4-6 years to become a cardiovascular nurse. This timeline 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. Aspiring cardiac nurses also need 2,000 relevant experience hours.