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How to Become a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated March 3, 2023
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Cardiac nurse practitioners serve an essential role. This guide outlines the education and experience needed to become a cardiology NP, and potential salaries.
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Are you interested in cardiovascular health? Do you want to have a significant impact on the lives of your patients? If so, then becoming a cardiology nurse practitioner can provide you with a rewarding career that includes day-to-day responsibilities such as assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients with heart conditions.

The cardiac nurse practitioner serves an essential role in hospitals, care centers, and private practices. These healthcare professionals work in a rapidly advancing field with cutting-edge technology and virtual diagnostic tools.

On this page, you’ll discover the steps you must take to become a cardiac NP. We’ll cover education, licensure, and certification. We’ll also share tips for finding your first job and the salary expectations for a cardiology NP. First, let’s discuss the typical duties and work environment you might expect.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Overview

The cardiology nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). In this position, the cardiac NP cares for patients with heart conditions. They perform in-depth physical examinations and orders and interpret diagnostic testing.

The cardiology NP also prescribes and monitors medications to treat heart conditions. In addition to traditional medical care, the nurse practitioner will counsel patients on lifestyle changes that have an impact on heart health. Since heart patients may have other medical conditions, the cardiac NP may also collaborate and consult with other healthcare practitioners to ensure the best possible care for their patients.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, most cardiac NPs work in hospital inpatient units and outpatient clinics. The National Council on Aging reports that heart conditions comprise four of the top ten most common chronic health conditions in adults over 65 years.

Cardiac nurse practitioners must be adept at IV insertion, EKG interpretation, crisis management, communication, interpreting 2D echocardiograms, and understanding cardiac procedures. Clinical environments vary between employers. However, in a hospital setting, the cardiac NP may work under high-pressure situations and spend significant time in the cardiac catheterization laboratory. Cardiac NPs may also work in the cardiac “step-down” unit or outpatient cardiac rehabilitation clinic.

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Steps to Becoming a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner

The APRN role of a cardiac nurse practitioner requires a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree and specialized certification to practice. Most cardiology NPs start with their bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degree and several years of experience in cardiovascular nursing. There are many benefits to becoming a cardiology nurse practitioner. The growing field offers an interesting work environment where you are tasked with solving complex medical problems. The financial and job satisfaction rewards can be very high.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)

For most nurses, a BSN degree takes four years as a full-time student. The program must be accredited to get a nursing license. Nurses who enter the field with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) may choose an RN-to-BSN bridge program to earn their BSN degree. This can take approximately one year and may be done online or in class.

Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam to Receive RN License

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) is required to apply for your license to practice nursing in the state. The examination is designed to demonstrate your ability to practice. This is a consistent requirement for a nursing license across all states. Other requirements may vary from state to state. New federal regulations went into effect July 1, 2020, across all states. It is crucial to check the requirements in your state before applying for your license.

Gain Acute or Cardiovascular Nursing Experience

After starting your nursing career you must have several years of experience. A focus on cardiovascular nursing is helpful to determine if you are interested in two more years of education in the field. It also gives you the necessary experience before applying to an MSN program. Nurses find experience in a cardiac step-down unit, intensive care unit (ICU), or cardiovascular ICU valuable as they further their education.

Earn a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)

There are two key educational requirements to practice as a cardiac nurse practitioner. The candidate must hold a BSN to enter a graduate-level NP program and must complete an MSN or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program to practice. A two-year MSN program is the minimum education needed. Nurses who want a DNP may choose to attend a three to four-year BSN-to-DNP program.

Apply for Cardiovascular Nurse Practitioner Certification (CVNP-BC)

The American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine administers the only certification examination for cardiology nurse practitioners. The examination is given remotely. The candidate must have completed an accredited MSN or DNP program. To take the exam the student must have a computer with internet access and a webcam to have the exam proctored. Students are allowed four hours to take the 175 question examination.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Education

Students interested in becoming a cardiac NP must first have a BSN to continue their education and be certified. Factors to consider when choosing a BSN, MSN, or DNP program include the location of the program and if there is an online option. Class size, class schedules, and the availability of the necessary program are also important factors.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A BSN degree qualifies a nurse for an entry-level position in patient care. These can lead to leadership roles or prompt a nurse to pursue further education. The program prepares a nurse through the development of decision-making and critical thinking skills, which are a foundation for the pursuit of specialty certification or graduate-level degrees.

Nursing candidates may choose an entry-level registered nurse (RN) position through a BSN program or a two-year ADN program. There are advantages to starting as a BSN. These include a push by most hospitals to hire at least 80% of their nursing staff with a BSN degree.

A 2020 survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found 82% of employers prefer hiring nurses with a BSN education. The degree opens more doors for career advancement and increases salary potential. Nurses with an ADN degree may choose to use an RN-to-BSN bridge program or RN-to-MSN bridge program.

  • Admission Requirements: To be considered for admission, applicants to most BSN programs require a minimum cumulative college GPA of 3.2. You must also complete prerequisite courses and have a specific number of college credit hours depending on the school.
  • Program Curriculum: BSN program curriculum includes humanities, anatomy, physiology, human development, microbiology, and pharmacology alongside nursing classes.
  • Time to Complete: A BSN degree takes four years to complete. Some programs admit students directly from high school. Other programs admit students after having completed prerequisite college courses. However, in total, students spend four years as full-time students to complete a BSN.
  • Skills Learned: Nursing students learn basic skills, such as how to take vitals, insert foley catheters, and how to start IVs. Skills specific to a patient population are learned on the job. This includes performing ECGs and stress test assessments.

Master of Science in Nursing

This graduate degree prepares cardiac NP candidates with the skills and training needed to succeed. Graduates work as APRNs providing cardiac healthcare to individuals and may also work in an academic setting. Classroom instruction focuses on research, legal and regulatory issues, and advanced practice leadership skills.

Students will need to complete an MSN nurse practitioner program specializing in adult-gerontology, acute care, or family nurse practice with an add-on certification in cardiology or a cardiovascular subspecialty.

An MSN is the minimum education requirement to become a cardiac NP and a DNP is the terminal degree for an APRN. As a cardiac nurse practitioner, professionals provide comprehensive care to patients with cardiac diseases. Heart diseases are the No. 1 leading cause of death in the U.S.

  • Admission Requirements: Consideration for admission to an MSN program can vary between universities. Most require an application, a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, official transcripts, and academic or professional references.
  • Program Curriculum: The core of most MSN programs include theoretical and clinical knowledge. Classroom curriculum includes research, leadership, management, epidemiology, healthcare ethics, and policy for nursing leaders. Candidates must also complete clinical hour elements based on the university requirements.
  • Time to Complete: Most MSN programs take two years for a full-time student to complete.
  • Skills Learned: APRN students learn assessment, diagnosis, and management of disease, prescribing medications, teaching preventive care, and practice in a clinical environment.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Licensure and Certification

Cardiology NPs must be licensed in the state where they practice and hold a certification for an NP from the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine. Certification provides a process for validation of a nurses’ education and professional expertise. It meets the needs of employers and assures consumers you have met current standards of practice.

APRNs must hold a state RN license from the state they practice. The requirements for licensure can vary between states. Every state requires nurses to pass the NCLEX-RN.

The state board of nursing has specific requirements for licensure renewal. This often includes achieving a certain number of continuing education contact hours.

Requirements in each state can vary. However, most employers require cardiac nurse practitioners to be credentialed with CVNP-BC. These certifications are typically completed as a post-master’s program.

Candidates can apply for certification through the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine. Candidates must have completed an accredited MSN program and submit a state ID or passport with the application.

Recertification requires a completed application, application fee, and scanned continuing education contact hour requirements.

APRN licensure requirements are set at the state level. Some states defer to your national certification and others require academic qualifications for state-issued licensure.

The state board of nursing where you practice establishes requirements for license renewal. This will include completing a certain number of continuing education contact hours.

Working as a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner

Heart disease costs the U.S. $363 billion every year in healthcare costs and lost productivity. Cardiac nurse practitioners work on the front lines of care management and prevention. Nearly every 40 seconds of every day an American has a heart attack. Cardiac NPs must be adept at assessment and diagnosis of heart-related conditions, prescribing treatment plans, and managing chronic care.

Openings for cardiac nurse practitioners require several years of practice in cardiology, which many cardiology NPs get as an RN. Job openings can be found in online job postings, at hospitals and outpatient clinics, or through networking with other NPs and physicians.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), an average annual cardiac nurse practitioner salary is $110,000 base salary and $115,000 with bonuses. According to the AANP survey, it is in the top 10 NP clinical focus areas.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner

How long does it take to become a cardiac nurse practitioner?

Candidates must complete a BSN and have several years of experience in cardiac care nursing before completing a two-year MSN degree. This can take six years of school and two to three years of clinical experience.

What is the fastest path to become a cardiac nurse practitioner?

A nurse may begin by completing a two-year ADN program. While working, a student can complete an RN-to-BSN program that generally takes one year. Accelerated bachelor’s programs may take even less time. The student can work in cardiology during the RN-to-BSN program and complete another one to two years in cardiology before completing a two-year MSN program. Using this schedule a student might become a cardiology nurse practitioner within five years.

How can new nurses gain experience in cardiology?

New RN or BSN graduates may begin working in a cardiac step-down unit before moving into an ICU or cardiac ICU. Additional experience can be gained in an outpatient cardiology clinic.

How do you go from RN to cardiac nurse practitioner?

RNs with their ADN must first complete an RN-to-BSN program while getting cardiac nursing care experience in the hospital. Once a student has completed a BSN program and has two to three years of cardiac experience, they may complete an accredited two-year MSN program. After graduation, a candidate must pass a national certification examination from the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine. Requirements for licensure may vary by state so candidates should check with their state board of nursing.

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Portrait of Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.

Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners here.

Page last reviewed November 3, 2021

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