Options in nursing: becoming a cardiac cath lab nurse

September 3, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Two gap medics students with one of the nurses at McCormick Hospital in Thailand. Cardiac cath lab nursing is one specialty with which you may not be familiar. Cath lab nurses care for patients while they are undergoing different procedures in a cath lab. For example, cardiac catheterization is a procedure that involves inserting a thin tube called a catheter into a vessel going to the heart. The procedure could be used to diagnose or treat different heart conditions.

Nurses working in a cath lab don’t perform a cardiac catheterization, but they do assist the doctor with the procedure and care for the patient during and after. Nurses in the cath lab may also help with procedures like stent placements and the insertion of pacemakers and defibrillators.

The responsibilities of a cath lab nurse begin before a procedure and may include educating the patient about the procedure, checking vital signs and administering intravenous medication. During a procedure, nurses may operate medical equipment, such as a ventilator, which helps a person breathe, monitor a patient’s blood pressure and oxygen level and assist the physician as needed.

Education and training to become a cath lab nurse

The first step to working as a cath lab nurse is graduating with either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and becoming licensed as a registered nurse. Cath lab nursing is not a specialty where new graduates usually work. Most healthcare facilities prefer to hire a nurse who has experience working in a cardiac care or intensive care unit. Nurses will need to have knowledge of cardiac medications and electrocardiogram monitoring experience. Most facilities also require cath lab nurses to become certified in advanced cardiac life support.

After gaining experience, nurses may take an exam in order to earn cardiac vascular nursing certification offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Certification has to be renewed every five years. Although not all facilities may require the credential for employment, it can give a nurse an advantage over other applicants.

Working conditions and salary

Although many procedures performed in a cath lab are scheduled during daytime hours, emergencies happen that require cath lab nurses to be available around the clock. Employment opportunities for cath lab nurses can be found in private clinics, hospitals and cardiac catheterization labs. As with most specialties in nursing, salaries will vary depending on years of experience, credentials and geographic area. The average salary for a cath lab nurse in 2013 was between $65,000 and $83,000 a year according to a survey completed by Springboard Inc., which is a medical staffing agency.

Nurses who are interested in working in a cath lab should be detail-oriented. They work very closely with cardiovascular technicians and physicians, and should work well as part of a team. The work can become stressful, and emergency situations may develop quickly. Cath lab nurses should have a calm demeanor and work well under pressure. Medicine continues to evolve, and new technologies are always emerging, especially in cardiovascular care. Nurses who work in the cath lab should enjoy learning and stay on top of the latest information.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.