Becoming a Cardiac Cath Lab Nurse
Cardiac Cath Labs are specialized hospital rooms where cardiologists conduct minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease. A cath lab nurse assists doctors and provide care to cardiac patients during the post-catheterization recovery period.
Cath labs use imaging equipment designed to examine the heart’s arteries to ensure there is adequate blood flow to and from the heart. It can help identify blockages and other arterial damage that require stenting or bypass surgery to correct.
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What is a cardiac cath lab nurse?
Cath lab nurses are a vital part of the cath lab care team. Their primary role is to assist cardiologists during the catheterization procedure. They examine patients before the procedure and monitor their vitals throughout the entire process. Responsibilities of cath lab nurses include:
- Ensuring consent paperwork for the patient is completed and filed in the patient’s chart.
- Preparing patients for the procedure, which can include sterilization and shaving of areas where the catheter will be inserted.
- Monitoring sedation levels during and after catheterizations to ensure a patient is not experiencing an adverse reaction.
- Assisting in interventional procedures such as balloon angioplasty, stent placement, rotablation, or cutting balloon.
- Monitoring patients for signs of infections or side effects following the catheterization.
- Delivering discharge paperwork and instructions to patients and families that include details on medications, activities, and dietary restrictions following the procedure.
- Updating patient charts and documents with specific information about the procedure.
Cath lab nurses work in hospitals and independent cardiac care centers where catheterizations are performed. Like other nurses, they can expect to work shifts ranging between 8 and 10 hours for cardiac care centers and typical 12-hour shifts for hospital cath labs.
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Requirements for cath lab nurses
Nurses who wish to work in a cardiac cath lab must obtain the proper education and experience before they are qualified to work in this position. The first step is to become a Registered Nurse (RN) by pursuing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing program. Candidates also must pass the NCLEX-RN.
Once candidates become RNs, then they must gain experience in either a trauma hospital or cardiac care center. While working in these positions, RNs should network with cardiologists and cardiac intensivists. It will be these relationships that pave the way for a smooth transition into the cardiac cath lab.
In addition to earning an RN degree, cardiac cath lab nurses are expected to earn Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification.
While not required, cardiac cath lab nurses are urged to consider obtaining Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification. RNs can earn this certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). To qualify for the certification, RNs must:
- Hold a current RN license in any U.S. state or territory
- Have a minimum of 2 years’ experience as an RN
- Have a minimum of 2,000 clinical practice hours in cardiac-vascular nursing in the last 3 years
- Have completed 30 hours of CEU for cardiac-vascular nursing within the last 3 years
Following the completion of the course, candidates are required to pass an exam consisting of 175 questions. Of those questions, 25 are pre-test and the remaining 150 are scored. The exam must be completed within 3.5 hours. The certification is valid for five years and must be renewed at the end of the certification period. Online renewal is available.
Cath lab nurses also may wish to consider earning a Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification. It is administered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. There are requirements RNs must meet before applying for CCRN certification:
- Hold a current RN license in any U.S. state or territory
- Have a minimum of 1,750 hours in the direct care of acute or critically ill adult patients within the last 2 years, with 875 of those hours accrued within the most recent year
- Have practiced as an RN or APRN for 5 years with a minimum of 2,000 hours in the direct care of acute or critically ill adult patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the most recent year
Hospitals and cardiac care facilities may require additional certifications. It is an important question to ask when applying for cath lab nursing positions to ensure you meet all requirements.
Cath lab nurses also must complete CEUs to maintain their licensure in certain states. All but 13 states require cath lab nurses to earn continuing education credits or contact hours every two years. Contact hours and CEUs that focus on cardiac care are essential for renewing licensure.
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Salary and career outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks salary and career outlook information for all businesses and industries, including the healthcare profession. While it does not track salary specifically for cath lab nurses, it does provide details about Registered Nurses. According to the most recent data available, the average median salary for RNs is $73,300 per year. ZipRecruiter breaks down healthcare careers by category, with the latest figures indicating Cath Lab RNs earning on average $100,810 annually. Salaries range depending on location.
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