Nursing is one of the most in-demand professions in the country. As providers of high-quality health care, nurses play a critical role by assisting doctors with examinations, medical testing, and the treatment of patients. Registered nurses (RNs) are equipped to work with patients on a wide range of medical issues and may specialize in specific areas, such as pediatrics or critical care. Cardiac nurses are RNs who specialize in working specifically with patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases or other heart-related issues.
What does a cardiac nurse do?
Cardiac nurses work under the direction of cardiologists in hospitals and cardiology departments. Although they have the broad knowledge base and training of an RN, their primary focus is treating patients with cardiovascular health issues. For instance, a cardiac nurse will be involved in the treatment of a patient who has suffered from cardiac arrest or a heart attack.
Cardiac nurses are well versed in the use of heart monitoring and cardiac devices. For example, they have intimate knowledge of artificial cardiac pacemakers, which help regulate the function of the heart. A cardiac nurse is also trained in operating a defibrillator to treat arrhythmia or restore a person’s heartbeat that has suddenly stopped.
Examples of heart conditions a cardiac nurse helps treat
The heart is one of the most critical organs in the human body. Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong with it due to age, heredity, or disease, for example. The conditions a cardiac nurse assists in treating are varied, but here are some of the most common:
● Cardiac dysrhythmia. Caused by a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system, cardiac dysrhythmia, or arrhythmia, is the improper beating of the heart — too slow, too fast, or irregular. Antiarrhythmic drugs may be prescribed. In some cases, more serious measures, such as surgery or the implant of a medical device, need to be taken.
● Congestive heart failure. This is a chronic condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood at optimum levels. Narrow arteries or high blood pressure can cause congestive heart failure. Lifestyle changes and prescription medications can be used to treat it. However, in some cases, surgical options such as artery repair and heart transplants need to be taken.
● Coronary artery disease (CAD). The buildup of fat deposits or plaque in the major blood vessels of the heart can clog the coronary artery, leading to coronary artery disease. Doctors and nurses will usually recommend lifestyle changes and prescription medications as treatments for CAD. Angioplasty or surgery may be required in severe cases.
Cardiac nurse interactions with patients
Not only do cardiac nurses assist in treating patients with common heart conditions, but they are also responsible for educating patients and their families on heart health and disease. Patients diagnosed with cardiovascular disease often aren’t familiar with the specifics of their condition. Cardiac nurses help relay these details to patients, keeping them informed about lab work/testing, treatment plans, and medications as well as answering any questions they may have.
A cardiac nurse needs certain soft skills — communication, professionalism, and empathy — and a strong bedside manner. Most of the information they relay to a patient is sensitive and can often be emotionally triggering. A great cardiac nurse exhibits compassion toward their patients.
What are the educational requirements of a cardiac nurse?
If you're interested in becoming a cardiac nurse, you will typically need to follow these steps to complete your education and get certified.
Step #1: Earn your degree in nursing
The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) are two varieties of nursing degrees that provide core knowledge of the medical field as it relates to nursing. These degrees are generally two-year programs that will educate you on a wide array of concepts such as anatomy, physiology, health science, microbiology, pharmacology, and mental health. An ADN or ASN degree will prepare you to enter the medical workforce as a nurse; however, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a licensed RN.
If you're brand new to the field, you may instead pursue a diploma in nursing, but keep it mind this will typically limit you to entry-level roles.
Additionally, once you have an ADN or ASN, you may then enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, which will take an additional two years of study to complete. Another option for aspiring nurses ready to make a four-year commitment is to pursue a BSN without first earning an associate degree.
Step #2: Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the NCLEX-RN exam determines if you’re eligible to receive an RN license so that you may begin practicing in your state. This standardized test mainly consists of multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions that cover all the critical areas of nursing and health care. Candidates have six hours to complete the exam, which costs $200 to take. If you fail the test, you must wait a minimum of 45 days before retaking it.
The average passing rate of the NCLEX-RN exam for someone with an associate degree is 85%; BSN grads pass 92% of the time.
Step #3: Complete cardiovascular training and certifications
Once you’ve passed the NCLEX-RN exam and earned RN certification, you can focus on the specialty of cardiovascular medicine and health care so you can become a cardiac nurse. This requires completing training and pursuing specialized certifications from accrediting bodies such as the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine (ABCM). Certifications are available in three areas: non-acute cardiology care, acute cardiology care, and catheterization laboratory nursing.
Additionally, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) administers two different certifications for aspiring cardiac nurses: Cardiac Medicine Certification (Adult) and Cardiac Surgery Certification (Adult).
What is the career outlook for cardiac nurses?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of RNs, including cardiac nurses, will increase 7% between 2019 and 2029, nearly double than the national average (4%).
RNs earn a median salary of $73,300, according to the BLS, but pay fluctuates depending on region, employer, experience, and certifications earned. Cardiac nurses with more experience and certifications will generally command a higher salary.
Find the best cardiac nursing path for you
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a cardiac nurse, Pearson Pathways can help you find the nursing program that fits your needs. Our recommendation engine considers which style of learning is right for you and finds programs that best fit your needs. You can receive these personalized results simply by providing a few key pieces of information about your goals and background.
Take your first step toward an exciting and fulfilling career as a cardiac nurse. Begin searching for nursing programs now with Pearson Pathways.