Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (and around the world), with one in every four fatalities in the U.S. occurring as a result of the condition. More people die from cardiovascular dysfunction than from cancer, dementia, accidental death, and lung disease. The health care industry is fully aware of the issue, and cardiovascular nurses are some of the most in-demand nursing professionals as a result.
Working as a cardiac nurse is a demanding job that often requires practitioners to operate in some of the most challenging health care settings, exclusively dealing with critical health concerns. The heart is one of the body’s vital organs, and working with the cardiovascular system effectively necessitates extensive education, experience, and training.
It takes up to five years to get qualified as a cardiac nurse, but the rewards and career satisfaction make it worthwhile for individuals with the appropriate skill set. In this article, we’ll explore the career of a cardiovascular nurse in-depth, including the education pathway, salary, skills, settings, and job outlook.
A cardiovascular nurse is a registered nurse who specializes in the heart. These nursing professionals treat patients with a variety of conditions, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, angina, cardiac arrest, cerebrovascular disease, congenital heart disease, and blood clots.
The role involves closely following instructions outlined by a cardiologist, including monitoring vital signs and tracking progress. Many cardiac nurses work in acute care settings such as hospitals, where they spend a majority of time administering defibrillators. Others work in surgical settings, where they prepare patients for surgical procedures and guiding them through the recovery process.
Here are some examples of cardiac nursing daily duties and responsibilities:
To become a cardiac nurse, you’ll need to earn an associate degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited school. However, employers tend to prefer a BSN over an ADN. Next, you obtain licensure as a registered nurse by sitting the NCLEX-RN examination, and then pursue professional clinical experience in a cardiac nursing unit.
In order to become eligible for a cardiac-vascular nursing certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, you need to meet the following criteria:
There are other options a cardiac nurse has when it comes to professional certifications. We’ll explore more later on in the article.
Working as a cardiac nurse is challenging, varied, and has plenty of opportunities for career progression. You can work practically anywhere in the country and choose between working in a hospital or private practice. Here are some of the main benefits of becoming a cardiovascular care nurse:
While cardiac nurses can earn exceptionally high salaries, there are other nursing career paths that offer similar or better annual wages:
A cardiac nurse’s salary can vary considerably depending on factors such as whether they have an ADN, BSN, or master’s degree. Certification can play a major role in the salary you command, with accredited certificates demonstrating your commitment to go over and above what’s expected of you.
That said, the skills you demonstrate on the job have the biggest long-term impact on how far and fast you progress in your career. If you have all the necessary clinical skills and soft skills, there’s a good chance you’ll climb up the career ladder and excel in your chosen path within cardiac nursing.
Read on to discover everything you need to know about cardiac nursing degrees, certifications, and skills.
An ADN is the minimum educational requirement for individuals pursuing a career as a cardiovascular nurse. These courses usually take two years, although accelerated options are open to eligible candidates. Bear in mind that accelerated courses provide the same information in a much shorter timeframe, so you need to be prepared to spend double the amount of time studying than you would if you opted for a two-year course.
Students from less privileged backgrounds can study for an ADN at community or junior college, and either go straight into becoming an RN or take an ADN to BSN course to earn a higher starting salary. Employers generally prefer a BSN, but you’ll still be able to find work without one.
An ADN is a technical degree that focuses on the practical aspects of nursing, but you also study essential courses such as microbiology and anatomy. In addition to clinical experience, you learn how to perform patient assessments and advanced clinical skills.
A four-year BSN is the traditional option for a registered nurse, and the university degree most employers look for when hiring. In some states, a BSN is already the minimum requirement. In a few years, ADN courses might no longer count towards RN certification at all.
Undergraduate nursing programs are usually split in two, with the first two years spent focusing on general education course. During this time, you might study anatomy, psychology, physiology, sociology, and introduction to nursing, among others. There are usually a mixture of pre-requisites and electives to choose from at this stage.
The final two years are zeroed in on specialty nursing practice, with a focus on physical and emotional patient care and practical skills. You learn how to take vital signs, give bed baths, listen to breathing patterns, and give preliminary diagnoses. Additionally, students learn the importance of ethics, communication, legality, and professional standards.
At master’s degree level, learners can focus exclusively on cardiac nursing and gain the professional experience necessary for advanced certification. On an MSN course, you delve into case management, emergency response, and long-term care. Plus, you gain insight into developing management policies in a health care setting, supervising junior cardiac nurses, and assessing patients’ condition.
Before you graduate, you’ll conduct clinical rotations under supervision from a registered nurse. You’ll also learn about nursing education, research, and theory, in view of improving cardiac services and outcomes.
Subjects MSN students can expect to study the following topics:
In addition to certification from the ANCC, there are other options for cardiac nurses who wish to enhance their resume and get into the most lucrative positions:
While you rely on clinical skills to get through each day and perform your duties, the following soft skills are essential for the most effective cardiac nurses.
Nurses are often the first line of contact between patients and health care professionals. They spent the most time on the ward, speaking to clients and their families, offering reassurance, education, and advice. In many instances, they’re the people who are expected to relay complex health care information from physicians to laypeople. As such, exceptional communication skills are non-negotiable.
You should be able to explain medical terms in language patients can understand, while being reassuring and kind. As someone working in a cardiovascular setting, you can expect to deliver sad news on a regular basis, so you’ll need to be emotionally strong but highly empathetic. You’ll be in regular contact with stressed doctors, upset patients, and concerned loved ones, and be expected to effortlessly switch between them.
Cardiac nurses usually work shifts that are between eight and 12 hours long, with the latter scale being the standard in acute care settings. You can expect to be on your feet for the entire time, using heavy equipment, and moving patients between departments.
Luckily, nurses shift patterns usually involve three or four days off instead of the usual two-day weekend. As such, you’ll have plenty of time to rest and recuperate before you get back into the ward. Nonetheless, physical stamina is crucial for every single shift.
Critical and independent thinking is essential for a cardiac nurse, who needs to be able to assess a situation and make life-changing decisions in an instant. There are usually several options for treatment, and you’ll need to confidently and accurately select the correct one in each instance. Most of a cardiac nurse’s job takes place under immense pressure, so a sharp mind under all circumstances is a key requirement for the role.
Whereas most professions allow workers to plan and prepare days, weeks, even months in advance—the career of a cardiac nurse in an acute setting is always unpredictable. Even in private practice and surgical settings, plans can change at the last minute, and you’re always expected to juggle the patients’ needs, the cardiologist’s requests, updating medical records, and supporting families.
Adaptability is vital for nursing professionals because a major part of your role is rolling with the punches and supporting patients. There’s no time for rigidity when someone’s heart health is at risk.
Paying attention to the smallest details is what allows you to spot changes in a patient’s condition and pre-empt the needs of your team, clients, and families. What’s more, you need to document absolutely everything notable that takes place and never make mistakes when it comes to administering medication and using medical equipment.
The medical field is one of the fastest changing because science evolves and develops every day to progress out understanding of health care and best practices. Earning your degree is just the beginning of your educational journey, and most cardiac nursing certifications require updating at least every five years. The best nursing professionals continue learning for as long as they remain in the role.
While it’s not possible to excel in the career without soft skills, you also need to be high adept in clinical skills. These hard skills might sound more complicated than soft skills, but they’re usually easier to learn with repeated practice. Soft skills are more embedded in temperament and personality.
Below are the main clinical skills a cardiac nurse needs to master during training and throughout their career.
Acute care and urgent care involve working with people who have had major medical events. This usually takes place in hospitals and surgical settings, although you might work in senior centers, home care, or private practices.
You’ll need to be able to work quickly under pressure and deal with multiple emergency situations each day. Skills such as dressing wounds, administering medication, and preparing patients for surgery are essential.
Case management involves working with a broad range of medical professionals assessing, planning, facilitating, evaluating, and advocating for patients. You play a key role as part of a team, and must be able to liaise professionally with all medical professionals and patients.
One of the most essential skills of all nurses, including cardiac nurses, in checking vital signs. You’ll learn how to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and respiration rate. This information provides you with all the data you need to decide on treatment protocols and make accurate calls on whether you discharge or transfer patients.
Technology is essential to the medical professional, and its role is only expected to get bigger. Electronic medical records are the standard now, and keeping these digital charts up-to-date is a major part of a nurse’s role. Not only should a cardiac nurse be 100% confident with computers, they should also know how to use an array of health care equipment.
Patient safety is more than just looking after the people in your direct care. As a health care professional, you have a responsibility to offer preventative advice. This is particularly important for cardiovascular nurses who treat patients with heart health problems.
There are many lifestyle factors that can contribute to poor heart health, and nurses play a vital role in encouraging patients to adopt healthier habits.
Above are just a few of the clinical skills a cardiac nurse must become proficient in. As you acquire more of these hard skills, you’ll be able to command a higher salary and progress through your career:
The salary of a cardiac nurse depends on several factors, including their education level, chosen setting, and certification. For example, a registered nurse, which is the minimum level of qualification expected of a cardiac-vascular nurse earns an average annual salary of $75,330, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics. At this level, the states that pay the most are California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Alaska.
Cardiac nurses who go on to earn a master’s degree can seek advanced certification as a nurse practitioner. At this level, you can expect to earn an average annual wage of $117,670, which is comparable to a CRNA salary nurse salary. The top paying states for nurse practitioners are California, New Jersey, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts.
Cardiac nurses don’t have as much choice when it comes to job location compared to more general specializations, but this isn’t surprising. While there are pediatric cardiac nurses who specialize in helping children with heart conditions, the majority of people in the role work with adults who are experiencing the symptoms of heart disease. This is because heart defects are less common than age or lifestyle related heart conditions.
The job often takes place in acute care settings like hospitals and cardiologist’s practices, but there are a range of other settings. Let’s take a look at the type of work nurses do in various locations.
Hospital settings are the most common place you’ll find registered nurses, and particularly those who specialize in heart health. In many instances, the symptoms of heart disease don’t show until middle age or later. By the time problems set in, the disease has usually progressed considerably. As such, cardiac nurses usually work in ER wards and surgeries, as well as geriatric and pediatric departments.
Emergency rooms are unpredictable and fast-paced, so you need to be able to think on your feet and act quickly without error. RNs in hospitals need technological skills in addition to clinical and people skills, and there’s plenty of opportunity to progress into a management or education role.
One of the main advantages of working in this type of setting is the constant immediate feedback. You’re helping patients overcome serious illnesses and educating them in how to prevent future heart problems. Shifts are often 12 hours, which means long weekends and plenty of days off.
On the other hand, you’re expected to work holidays, weekends, and anti-social hours. Plus, if you’re not emotionally resilient and don’t practice self-care, you could suffer from stress or burnout as a result of the demanding nature of the role.
Outpatient facilities provide route care, minor surgeries, and noncritical acute care. In this type of setting, you work with patients who don’t need to stay overnight, which means it’s slightly less exacting than hospital-based work.
Outpatient RN and nurse practitioners tend to have more authority than they would working in a hospital, administering medication and prescribing medications.
As the field of medicine advances and becomes more efficient, hospitals are going through a process of shortening patient stays and recommending fast-track outpatient procedures. This means opportunities for cardiac nurses in outpatient settings are set to grow in the coming years.
Cardiologists’ offices mainly offer non-emergency, routine health care services — although some might also provide surgical services. In this capacity, a cardiac nurse greets patients, asks questions to gain insight, assists the physician, and keeps medical records up-to-date.
Nurses working in physicians’ offices usually earn less than those working in hospitals, but shifts are usually less demanding, hours are sociable, and you often get weekends off. What’s more, patients are usually seen by appointment, so it’s more predictable than working in acute or noncritical care. You get the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with patients and see the results of your treatment and advice over time.
Home health care nurses visit people with heart conditions in their homes. It’s often older adults you’ll work with, but people of any age can present with a heart condition. While it’s more common to see nursing assistants and aides in this type of role, the demand for RNs is rising as more people elect to receive health care at home.
Large senior care settings might have an administrative team that includes a registered nurse who specializes in cardiac health. It’s uncommon for a cardiac nurse to work in a single facility, but they might work for a group of senior care facilities and spend the day traveling to check up on patients in multiple facilities.
Earning a registered nursing license and gaining the necessary experience is enough for a lucrative career as a cardiac nurse. However, if you want to climb up the ranks and see yourself in a top-level career in the future, there are a number of options. Below are three of the options for career progression as a cardiac care nurse:
Most cardiac nurse practitioners work in clinical settings with adults aged over 65 because this is when heart disease is most commonly observed. To get into the position, you need to earn 2,000 hours of experience as an RN, pursue certification if desired, and complete 30 hours of advanced education in nursing, and get an APRN license in the state you plan to work in.
As an NP, you’re involved with prescribing medication and have more accountability in the role due to the high level of education you’ve earned.
A cardiology nurse educator works for a health care organization taking full responsibility for the evaluation, planning, coordination, implementation, and oversight of clinical, educational, and quality initiatives. In the role, you’re responsible for clinical support, orientation, competency assessments, and staff development of all nursing professionals under your jurisdiction.
You aim as a nurse educator is to ensure all nurses in your team are as productive and effective as possible, but you’re also responsible for making structural changes that shape and impact best practices in cardiac nursing.
Nurse administrators are usually directors, managers, or CEOs of health care organizations. They use their extensive knowledge and experience in the field to optimize productivity, lead a group of teams, and consistently improve or maintain patient outcomes. These highly respected professionals usually have a vision of how to improve health care, and want to be on the front lines of implementing change.
You won’t be able to step straight into an entry-level career as a nurse administrator because it takes years, even decades, to gain the necessary skillset. Nurse administrators implement policies and procedures that create a positive environment for patients, staff, and management.
Cardiac nurses are in-demand across the board in the United States, and demand is set to grow at a steady rate. The locations with the highest concentration of jobs for registered cardiac nurses are South Dakota, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Mississippi. Cardiac nurse practitioners are most in-demand in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alaska, Kentucky, and Maine.