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Cardiac Care Nurse: Education and Career Information

Cardiac care, or cardiology nurses work in a specialized field that make up about two percent of nurses in the field. This is a very competitive specialization where the nurses are equipped to treat patients who have serious heart conditions. This nurse can work in a number of areas, including pediatrics, surgical, ambulatory and adult and geriatric care. They work directly with cardiologists in helping to carry out directives to keep cardiac patients comfortable and on their recommended regimen. There is an estimated 66 percent increase in cardiovascular diseases through the year 2030 in the U.S., which increases the need for qualified nurses. This helps fuel the growing demand for nursing professionals in this area who have taken the time to get the education and experience required for this field, as they can take on some of the functions of the doctor when needed. This career path takes a lot of preparation and schooling.

What does a cardiac care nurse do?

A cardiac care nurse is a registered nurse who has a specialization in cardiovascular medicine. They can teach other nurses and give patients advice on maintaining good cardiovascular health. They often seek advanced education beyond the initial graduate degree. They help treat conditions related to cardiovascular or pulmonary diseases. They work directly with the cardiology unit to develop preventative medicine treatments and diagnostics. They are equipped to handle electrocardiograms and specialized tests that will help minimize heart risk and offer solutions for rehabilitation. They work in private medical facilities, hospitals, coronary care units, cardiac rehabilitation centers and government agencies to help put policies in place that will help progress the field of cardiac medicine. Some of the duties of a cardiac care nurse:

•Health assessments
•Monitoring the electrocardiogram
•Stress test evaluations
•Cardiac monitoring
•Vascular monitoring
•Prescribing and managing cardiac medications

Cardiac care nurses treat a number of diseases such as coronary artery disease, cardiac monitoring, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure and more. They must have specialized skills like medical administration and defibrillation through an IV drip and electrocardiogram monitoring. Cardiac care nurses also work in Cardiac Catheterization Labs, Electrophysiology Labs and Telemetry Care.

How much do cardiac care nurses earn?

Experience plays a huge role in this career field, but compensation may vary from $72,000 a year upwards to over $100,000. There are over 1.5 million heart attacks per year, with over 80 million Americans suffering from heart disease, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This has created a need for cardiac care nurses, as there is an increasing shortage of qualified nurses. With these demands, this salary will continue to grow. The salary is also contingent on the location and type of facility and role the cardiac care nurse plays.

What types of skills are needed to be successful in this field?

The critical care nurse has a number of roles depending on where they work. A nurse must be versatile and able to deal with a number of stressful situations at the same time. In a critical care department, the stress levels can be intense and life-threatening. Having a level head is one of the most important skills a critical care nurse must possess, and the ability to be a viable support system for the doctors and patients. Critical care nurses must be able to make fast decisions and think on their feet in very short blocks of time. Some additional skills needed to succeed in this career field are:

•Critical Thinking and Evaluation Skills
•Problem Solving
•Time Management
•Administration skills
•Research skills
•Teaching ability
•Ability to work with others
•Ability to work independently
•Good communication skills
•Good grasp of technologies
•Good grasp of medical concepts
•Ability to speak to patients and families

Internship requirements

There are rigorous internship requirements for the standard nursing program that progress as the career advances. After the initial two or four-year program, there is 2,000 hours of clinical experience in cardiovascular nursing required, with more anticipated hours and experience over time and depending on the specialty or certification the nurse is seeking. Every certification exam has specific guidelines and required clinical internship experience that must be completed prior to submitting an application to sit for the exam.

Education requirements

The education requirements are rigorous and intensive. First, it is necessary to obtain either an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Most cardiac care nurses have a BSN, as they are also required to have an extended degree after the bachelor’s. After receiving the degree, they must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed to practice as a nurse. There are a number of clinical internship experiences required in cardiovascular nursing. Coursework in a standard cardiac nursing program include:

•Advanced Physiology
•Advanced Pathophysiology
•Advance Pharmacology
•Nursing Management of Cardiac Patients in Critical Care
•Advanced Health Assessment
•Clinical Prevention
•Nursing Management of Cardiac Patients in Acute Care

When that portion is completed, a person interested in becoming a critical care nurse must apply to take the Cardiac Care Nursing Certification Exam.

Passing this exam will award the nurse, the Cardiac Vascular nursing Certification (RN-BC) from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). There are a number of criteria that must be met to sit for this exam:

•Hold a current RN license.
•Have current national certification in a clinical nursing specialty.
•At least 1,750 hours of critically ill or acute care patients within a two-year period prior to submitting the application. 875 of those hours must have occurred within the last 12 months.

At a minimum, cardiac care nurses must have an educational background in Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support. Although not required, most nurses who specialize in critical care pursue a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) to succeed in this specialization. Concentrations in the master’s degree programs include:

•MS Nursing, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Cardiac Specialty
•MS Nursing, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Cardiovascular Specialization
•MS Nursing, Cardiac Care Concentration
•MS Nursing, Cardiovascular Health and Disease Management

The Certified Heart Failure Nurse (CHFN) is another major certification available for nurses who are working in the critical care nursing field. Criteria for this exam are as follows:

•Hold a current RN license
•Work for at least two years as an RN
•Have 1,200 hours of clinical practice in the two-year period prior to submission of the application
•Have at least 30 required hours of continuing education within the two-year period prior to submission of the application, with 15 hours in heart failure care

There is also a certification available from The American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine for acute and non-acute care that will assist in career advancement. This certification has three levels:

•CVRN Level 1 for Non-Acute Cardiology Care
•CVRN Level 2 for Acute Cardiology Care
•CVRN Level 3 for Catheterization Laboratory Nurses

Once all of the certifications have been obtained, there are 30 hours of continuing education required. Certification must be renewed every five years.

Nursing Scholarships

American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) American Cancer Society Doctoral Degree Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship
The Gates Millenium Scholars (GMS) National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA)
New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) Nurse Corps Scholarship (NCS) Nurses of Tomorrow
Nursing Economics Foundation Tylenol Future Care Scholarship American Holistic Nurses Association


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