How to Become an EKG Technician

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EKG technicians, otherwise known as cardiovascular technicians or technologists are an essential part of any cardiovascular healthcare team. These technicians are specially trained medical professionals who have specialized in conducting electrocardiogram tests on patients with heart and lung conditions. An electrocardiogram test is used to record the electrical signals that are emitted from the heart. These tests help to determine what heart and or blood conditions a patient may be suffering from and help their doctor to formulate a treatment plan for them.

Working as an EKG technician would see you interacting closely with patients who are in a particularly vulnerable state. A technician in this role needs to have excellent communication and people skills as well as be highly competent and detail oriented. Although the type of testing done by these technicians is not painful or particularly invasive they still need to be compassionate and have a good bedside manner in order to help patients feel calm and secure.

EKG Technicians must have good stamina as they may spend long hours on their feet as they move from patient to patient. They may also be required to partially lift and lower patients with mobility issues. Patients are often required to be laying down for tests so technician may be asked to help them into the optimum position for a test. Days are often fast paced, but are much less stressful than other positions in the medical field. Hours can vary widely depending on where you end up working but you may not end up working a 40 hour work week right away. This can be a seen as a benefit or a drawback depending on what your long term goals are. Even with less than a full week of work, EKG techs can still expect a lucrative career in the long term.

An EKG technician can expect to perform a wide variety of duties on a daily basis and does not need to worry about being stuck in one place for any prolonged period of time. Those interested in the occupation should know that they may be expected to complete any of the following tasks during their daily rounds.

  • Prepare patients for procedures and answer any questions they may have during procedure
  • Prepare and maintain all diagnostic equipment
  • Operation of technical equipment
  • Record patients medical history
  • Review test results and analyze for quality and coverage
  • Record test findings and provided analysis for patients physician
  • Create reports based on data findings
  • Assist physicians during procedures
  • Schedule appointments

If working in the health care industry, interacting daily with different types of people on a daily basis and knowing you’re making a difference in people’s lives sounds appealing to you then you may wish to consider becoming an EKG technician.

What is Required to Enter the Industry

In order to become an EKG technician one must have at the very least completed their high school diploma or GED. Formal post-secondary training or a specific EKG technician program is not mandatory to begin working in the field, but it is rare for someone without training to be considered for a position. Obtaining a qualified certificate as an EKG technician or as a Medical Assistant can take as little as 9 months and is an excellent way to begin a career in the medical industry.

Further training and certifications will help a technician to advance their career and open up the possibility for more advanced positions and higher salary.

Studying

There are several ways that students can go about pursuing this particular career path. Some technicians choose to start out by completing a qualified medical assistant program which can lead to many different careers in the health industry one of which being an EKG technician.

Medical assisting programs teach students about the fundamentals of working in the medical field and programs tend to focus on the following subjects:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Phlebotomy
  • Basic surgical assisting
  • Patient Care
  • Clinical courses
  • Office Administration

For those interested in attending a medical assisting program, the following five colleges and universities should of interest.

  1. Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

A leading technical college that offers medical assisting program in New Richmond, Rice Lake and Superior Wisconsin.

  • Bryant and Stratton College

Offering an associate of applied science degree in medical assisting, with locations in Ohio, Virginia, New York and Wisconsin.

  • Kaplan College

Well known in allied health learning, Kaplan offers a diploma in medical assisting and has offerings across Texas, North Carolina and Florida.

  • Globe University

Offering an associate of applied science degree in medical assisting. The program is offered at locations in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

  • Pima Medical Institute

Offering a diploma in medical assisting and located in New Mexico, California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas and Washington.

All of the above mentioned program are accredited and offer students the opportunity to sit for their American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) certification if they desire. This would not be required to become an EKG technician, but it could become useful at a later date if the student decided to move their career in a different direction.

Another route to working in this field would be to complete an associate’s degree in cardiovascular technology. This can take about two years to complete but covers many important topics that will prepare a student to succeed as a cardiac technician.  Students will learn about ultrasound technology and the various ins and outs of the cardiovascular system. Some of the topics that students can expect to be covered in these programs are.

  • Anatomy
  • Medical terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Microbiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Cardiovascular technology practice
  • Clinical skills
  • First Aid
  • Principles of Electrocardiography

For those interested in pursuing an education in cardiovascular technology, Universities.com lists the following 5 schools as the best places to study in 2022.

  1. New York University, New York City, NY

This is a very large private university offering 1 Cardiovascular Technology/Technologist Degree in the heart of Manhattan.

  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

A very large public university offering 1 Cardiovascular Technology/Technologist degree in the small city of New Brunswick.

  • The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA

Another very large public university offering 1 Cardiovascular Technology/Technologist program in the small city of Iowa City.

  • University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

A very large public university offering 1 Cardiovascular Technology/Technician bachelors program in the medium sized city of Columbia.

  • Barry University, Miami, FL

A medium sized private university offering 1 Cardiovascular Technology/Technician program in a suburb of Miami.

Keep in mind that any program you consider should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs. This can be especially beneficial if you are planning to obtain accreditation later in your career. The CAAHEP is the largest programmatic accreditor of the health sciences professions.

You should also be wary of short programs that promise to get you on your way in as little time as possible, those serious about becoming an EKG technician will look for a program that provides valuable hands on training and does not skimp on course work. Although a quick and low cost route may seem appealing it would be really disappointing to find your studies to not be acceptable or recognized when you go to apply for employment.

Find EKG technician training programs near you. Start by selecting your state:

Continuing Education

As with many occupations, more educations is rarely a bad thing. The more knowledge you possess the better you can perform your chosen career. Continuing education for EKG technicians is not required but many will find it beneficial in the long run.

Some technicians who really enjoy their work may wish to specialize within the EKG community in order to earn a higher salary. These various specialties include cardiac technicians, cardiographers, cardiology technologists, cardiopulmonary technologists, echo cardiographers, perfusionists, cardiac sonographers and vascular technologists.

Many employers are interested in hiring technicians that have trained in the use of a holter monitor. These monitors are wearable devices that record the electrical output from the heart continuously over a period of 24 hours or longer. These devices are used when a patient reports an irregular heart beat or when a doctor wishes to perform a stress test on the patient.

If you’re looking to advance beyond working as an EKG technician obtaining your Bachelor’s degree in cardio pulmonary sciences would be a good step. Doing this would take about 4 years to complete but it’s possible that some of your credits from your associates degree could be applied to your bachelor’s degree in order to reduce the time and cost to complete the program. During your studies you would learn about the following areas.

  • Patient management
  • Legal and ethical aspects of healthcare
  • Leadership
  • Community health
  • Diagnosis and intervention

Once you have earned your bachelor’s degree you will find that you have opened up the doors to many different potential career paths such as: respiratory therapist, cardiovascular invasive specialist, vascular technologist and echo cardiographer just to name a few.

Becoming Certified

Once a technician has been working for about one to two years they may want to consider becoming certified. Certification is not legally required but it does signal to potential employers that you are serious about cardiovascular technology and are committed to staying current and up to date in your particular field. Becoming certified may also lead to better employment opportunities and a higher salary. You should also keep in mind that many insurance companies will not pay for procedures unless they are performed by a certified technician thereby making a candidate who is certified or who plans to become certified much more attractive to an employer.

Certification is available through several nationally recognized organizations. The three governing bodies and the certifications that they offer are.

The National HealthCareer Association

The Certified EKG Technician (CET) is probably the most common certification acquired by EKG technicians and is obtained by sitting and passing an exam. In order to qualify you must be able to prove the following

  • That you possess your high school diploma or GED
  • That you have completed an EKG Technician program within the last five years

Or

  • That you possess your high school diploma or GED
  • That you have completed one year of supervised work experience in an EKG technician field within the last three years

With these requirements in place you can submit your application to sit the exam. The steps to do that are:

  1. Apply for your exam – create an account through the NHA and submit your Certified EKG technician (CET) application.
  2. Select a date and location for your exam (exams can be completed online) and submit a non-refundable fee of $117 to write the exam
  3. Study for your exam. The NHA has study materials and practice tests available for purchase through their website.
  4. Sit the two hour exam – This can be done through your school, at a PSI testing centre near you, or through live remote proctoring.
  5. Get your results – if you completed your exam online your results will be delivered to your NHA account within two days of completion. Otherwise you will receive your results within six to eight weeks through the mail.

Your CET certification must be renewed every two years and costs $169 which works out to about $7 per month. In order to qualify for renewal candidates must have completed 10 continuing education credits. The NHA offers an entire library of CEU courses to choose from which are all included in the cost of certification. Courses generally take two hours to complete and can be completed online from the comfort of your own home.

The American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians

Going by the same name the ASPT also offers accreditation as a Certified EKG Technician (CET). In order to obtain this certification you must be able to prove the following:

  • That you are a current ASPT member
  • That you have completed five EKG’s by a supervisor
  • That you are a graduate of an accredited program

Once you have met the above requirements you may apply to write the exam. The exam costs $115 and applications should be sent in 30 days in advance of your chosen date to account for any postal delays. Exams are delivered through many local hospitals and colleges. Exam results should be received by mail within six weeks of completing the exam. If six weeks have passed and you have not received your results you can call the office to receive them.

Certification must be renewed every year by December 31st in order to remain active. Renewals season runs from August 15 to November 30and cost $35. Any applications received after November 30th will be subject to an additional charge of $30. If you have not submitted your application by January 1 you must contact the main office for next steps.

Candidates must complete six continuing education credits during each year in order to be eligible to renew. A CEU quiz can be completed through the ASPT website and submitted as proof of completion and costs $65 to complete. Another option would be to complete six hospital and or laboratory units along with signatures from your supervisor which may be submitted plus a $45 processing fee. See also phlebotomy schools.

American Certification Agency of Healthcare Professionals

The ACA also offers accreditation as a Certified EKG Technician (CET). The ACA is a member of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE).

In order to obtain certification through the ACA candidates must be able to prove the following.

  • That they have completed their high school diploma or GED
  • That they have at least six months experience recording EKGs
  • Or, that they have completed a structured EKG technician program

The exam takes two hours to complete and must be taken online through a closed examination site provided by the ACA. Candidates must submit their application to sit the exam at least 15 days prior to the exam date. Late applicants will have to attend the next exam session. Applications must be accompanied by the non-refundable $100 exam fee or it will not be processed. All approved candidates will receive a study booklet through the mail.

Certification must be renewed every two years and candidates must complete 12 CEU credits in order to qualify. There are three different types of credits that will count towards recertification.

  1. Approved CE programs
  2. P.A.C.E , sponsored by the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science
  3. Programs provided by or approved by any national laboratory related professional organization
  4. Government agency programs
  5. Programs provided by hospital/healthcare facilities in service/training
  6. College or university courses
  7. Examples include science, computer science, management courses or any other courses related to health care.
  8. Teaching activities
  9. The development and or offering of any healthcare related course or workshop

Recertification cost $80 and payment must be included with the candidate’s application.

Requiring the completion of continuing education credits in order to recertify is an important step to making sure that all EKG technicians holding any sort of accreditation hold up to very particular standards of the health care industry. The medical field and its practices are constantly changing so anyone wishing to hold certification must be able to keep up to date with their knowledge and skills. This is especially important for those working in positions where ever changing technology is a large part focus of the job.

Salary Expectations and Career Outlook

The salary of an EKG technician can vary widely depending on education, time on the job, certification, and even the location where you will be working. According to the U.S bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), on the lower end of the scales and when just starting out technicians can expect to make around $30,140 per year. The average amount a technician can expect to make across the nation is about $59,100 per year and at the high end they can expect as much as $96,790 per year. There may not be much room to grow position wise within the occupation yet you can see from the huge difference between the lower and higher end of the salaries that education, training and time can make a large impact on what a technician can earn.

According to the Occupational Information Network (ONET), the position of EKG technician is expected to grow an average of eight percent from 2020-2030 which means an addition of about 4700 jobs per annum across the nation. Jobs in the health care industry have always been in demand and with an ever aging population people who specialize in diagnosing and treating illnesses such as heart disease and related issues will become even more in demand.

Working as an EKG Technician in the USA

No matter where you decide to work there will always be a need for EKG technicians across the United States. Some places across the states will offer more chances for employment, and others will offer higher rates of pay. So if you are able or interested in moving in order to find some of the best places to work as a technician than you should consider that ONET reports Rhode Island, Oregon, California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia as having the highest concentration of employed EKG technicians.  For those seeking higher paying positions the best states to look at are Texas, Florida, California, Pennsylvania and New York.

New graduates can look for employment in medical centers, laboratories, hospitals, doctor’s offices and clinics. The BLS shows that on average the highest paying positions were found in outpatient care centers with an average annual mean wage of $81,300.

One of the potential downsides of working as an EKG technician is the lack of room for advancement. There aren’t different levels to work up through in the position but for those who wish to advance their careers, further education can lead to many different opportunities in the healthcare industry. Many will also agree that EKG technicians are able to make a high sum of money for very little education as far as most occupations in the medical field are concerned.

For those interested in further information or networking opportunities the following resources may be of help.

National Performance Specialists

American College of Cardiology