How to Become a Cardiac Nurse

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated March 28, 2024
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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.. Cardiac nurses make a difference in the lives of their patients. Take these steps to be a cardiac nurse.
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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., responsible for one out of every four deaths, according to the CDC. Cardiac nurses care for people with various heart conditions and diseases.

Cardiac nurses’ in-depth knowledge helps them understand the multiple factors that affect heart health. Cardiac nurses are sometimes called cardiovascular nurses or cardiology nurses. They play a vital role in delivering care to patients in collaboration with other healthcare professionals, including cardiovascular surgeons and cardiologists.

Continue reading to learn how to become a cardiac nurse, including job duties and educational requirements.

What is a Cardiac Care Nurse?

Cardiac nurses care for patients at the bedside in an ICU or cardiac rehabilitation. A cardiac nurse may choose to work in a variety of healthcare settings from inpatient to outpatient clinics.

Cardiac nurses need comprehensive knowledge to work in various settings. They must also focus on continuing education to keep up with treatment modalities and therapies.

Cardiac nurses are responsible for administering medications, performing stress tests, and taking care of urgent issues such as assisting in defibrillation. Education, experience, and strong communication skills are crucial to practice as a cardiac nurse.

Steps to Becoming a Cardiac Care Nurse

It takes 4-6 years to become a cardiac nurse. The time varies depending on whether you choose to enter an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program.

Cardiac nurses need experience in an acute care setting. They may then choose to earn their cardiovascular nursing certification. Specific licensure requirements vary by state.

Earn an ADN or BSN Degree

Students may choose to enroll in a two-year ADN program or four-year BSN program. ADN students may then complete their BSN degree in-person or online in an RN-to-BSN program. Most employers are seeking BSN-prepared nurses to fill the cardiac nurse role. Students should also consider taking electives in acute care, surgical recovery, and health conditions in older adults.

Pass the NCLEX Exam to Receive RN Licensure

After completing and graduating from an accredited nursing program, students must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). The test is required in every state to obtain your license to practice nursing.

Gain Clinical Nursing Experience

Students leave nursing school with a foundation in cardiovascular nursing. New RNs can gain greater experience by working in an inpatient acute care setting, including critical care, medical-surgical, or cardiac care units. RNs wanting to work in an outpatient cardiac care unit should also acquire inpatient experience first.

Consider Earning Your Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (CV-BC)

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers a cardiac vascular nursing certification. To be eligible to take the certification examination, nurses must have practiced for two years in a clinical setting. Additionally, they must have a minimum of 2,000 hours in a cardiovascular unit and 30 hours of continuing education credits in cardiovascular nursing in the past three years.

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Cardiac Care Nurse Education

Cardiac nurses can start their education in an ADN or BSN program. The most direct route to completing the educational requirement is to obtain an ADN degree. The requirement for certification is to hold an RN license in the state. However, most employers are seeking BSN-prepared nurses.

ADN-prepared nurses can continue their education using an online bridge program to complete their BSN degree while working on a cardiac care unit.

ADN Degree

Students who choose an ADN degree may not have the financial support to attend four years of school before beginning to work. An ADN program offers a unique opportunity to learn the skills needed to practice as an RN within two years. Nurses can then continue their education if they choose. An ADN is the minimum education needed to take the NCLEX-RN. However, many employers are seeking BSN-prepared nurses.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    These can include specific high school science credits, such as chemistry or biology. Students must submit a high school transcript or equivalent GED, CPR certification, background check, physical examination, pre-entrance examination, and drug screening.

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    The curriculum focuses on anatomy, biology, English, math, and nursing courses. Students may find a hybrid program that offers some classes online. Students must also complete clinical hours in a hospital setting.

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    The curriculum usually takes 24 months to complete full time. Some programs offer a flexible part-time option.

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    An ADN program teaches the foundations of nursing care, such as taking blood pressure, putting in a foley catheter, or starting an IV. Nursing students also learn the difference between clean and sterile fields, how to take care of a PICC line, and insert an NG tube.

BSN Degree

A BSN degree takes four years to complete and includes many of the same nursing skills learned in an ADN program. BSN-prepared nurses are highly sought after by employers because their education also includes leadership and critical-thinking skills. A BSN also teaches evidence-based practice. Nurses with an ADN degree may choose an RN-to-BSN program to complete their education.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    The cumulative GPA requirement may vary depending on the program but is not usually lower than 2.8. Some schools may waive the GPA requirement on request if applicants provide additional documentation and test scores. Students must submit letters of recommendation and complete a background check and drug screen. Programs that have college-level prerequisite classes usually require a cumulative GPA of 3.0.

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    A BSN program focuses on anatomy, physiology, English, and math. It also includes work in leadership, research, statistics, clinical reasoning, and critical thinking.

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    A BSN program takes four years to complete as a full-time student.

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Students learn the foundation of nursing care and procedures, such as taking blood pressure or changing a sterile dressing. In addition to clinical tasks, a BSN degree incorporates evidence-based practices, public health, research, and management.

Cardiac Care Nurse Licensure and Certification

All cardiac care nurses must be licensed RNs in their state. Nursing graduates need to pass the NCLEX-RN to obtain an RN license. Continuing education (CE) requirements for licensure renewal vary depending on the state.

Some states require specific CEs, such as domestic violence or human trafficking. Other states also require a certain number of clinical practice hours to renew the RN license. Nurses should check with their state board of nursing for specific requirements.

Many employers prefer certified cardiac nurses. Certification validates a nurse’s skills and knowledge to employers and families. It also positions the nurse for professional recognition and career advancement. Certification demonstrates a commitment to career development and dedication to patient care. The following are certification options for cardiac nurses:

  • Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (CV-BC)

    This certification examination offered by ANCC assesses entry-level clinical knowledge and skills. Nurses must meet the eligibility requirements for initial certification. These include a current RN license and a minimum of 2 years of full-time practice. Nurses must also have 2,000 hours in cardiac-vascular nursing and 30 hours of CE in cardiac-vascular nursing in the past three years. The certification is valid for five years, and the RN must meet the current renewal requirement.
  • Adult Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC)

    The CMC is offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). It is a subspecialty for nurses working with acute or critical adult cardiac patients. The CMC credential is attached to another current nationally accredited clinical nursing certification, which is an eligibility requirement. Other requirements include a current, unencumbered RN or APRN license and one of two clinical practice hour requirements in a two-year or five-year option.
  • Adult Cardiac Surgery Certification (CSC)

    The CSC is also offered by AACN as a subspecialty certification for RNs. The CSC credential is attached to another nationally recognized specialty certification. Other eligibility requirements include a current, unencumbered RN or APRN license and one of two clinical practice hour requirements in a two-year or five-year option.

Working as a Cardiac Care Nurse

Depending on location and need, a new RN may find it difficult to get a job in a cardiac care unit directly after graduation. Nurses may choose to initially work in an acute care unit or medical-surgical unit for the experience.

A nurse can increase their chance of moving to a cardiac unit by completing CE offerings in cardiac nursing. They can also network within the organization and shadow nurses in the cardiac unit. Some areas where cardiac care nurses can work include:

  • Cardiac catheterization lab
  • Cardiology unit
  • Cardiovascular interventional unit
  • Cardio-thoracic surgical unit

A cardiac nurse’s salary depends on geography, education, certification, and experience. According to Payscale, the annual average salary for a cardiac nurse is $68,505 as of May 2022.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Cardiac Care Nurse

question-mark-circleWhat skills do cardiac nurses need?

Cardiac nurses must have acute care nursing skills, a strong foundation in hemodynamics and infection control, and be certified in advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS). Cardiac nurses must also have strong skills in communication, organization, critical thinking, and teamwork.

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to become a cardiac nurse?

It can take 4-6 years to become a cardiac nurse depending on whether the student first completes an ADN or BSN program. Cardiac nurses require additional experience in acute care and cardiac care, plus CEs in hemodynamics, infection control, and other cardiovascular technical knowledge.

question-mark-circleWhat kind of experience is important for cardiac care nurses?

Cardiac nurses need experience in an acute care setting with critically ill and postoperative patients to sharpen their specialized skills. These include defibrillation, electrocardiogram monitoring, and stress test evaluations.

question-mark-circleWhat career advancement opportunities are available for cardiac care nurses?

The next logical clinical advancement opportunity for cardiac nurses is a cardiac care nurse practitioner role. Advanced practice nurse practitioners partner with cardiologists and surgeons to provide follow-up care after surgery, educate families, and monitor treatments. Cardiac nurse practitioners may assist during surgery or manage cardiac rehabilitation for patients recovering from a serious heart condition.

Page last reviewed May 23, 2022

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