Everything You Need to Know About Cardiac Nursing
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, it is responsible for one in four deaths, killing more people than cancer. Taking care of the heart and the cardiovascular system should be a top priority for everyone—and the importance of heart health is not lost on the healthcare system.
Given that the heart and the system supporting it is so important, it should be no surprise that there are healthcare professionals of all stripes who specialize in cardiology. Cardiac care nurses treat and care for patients with a variety of heart diseases or conditions.
If you are curious about what it’s like to be a cardiac nurse, then keep reading. We’ve detailed the specialty to help you see what makes cardiac nursing so vital.
What do cardiac nurses do?
Cardiac nurses, also called cardiovascular nurses or cardiology nurses, are registered nurses (RNs) who have specialized in the cardiovascular system. They work with patients who have heart problems by following the treatment plan a cardiologist assigns, monitoring patient progress and administering medication to help the healing process.
The daily tasks of a cardiac nurse can vary based on the work setting. Cardiac nurses working in acute care scenarios might spend a lot of time around the defibrillator, for example—responding to patients in cardiac arrest. Cardiac nurses working in a surgical setting will spend lots of time preparing patients for surgery and helping them recover afterwards.
What skills do you need to be a cardiac nurse?
We analyzed over 30,000 cardiac nursing job postings to identify the top skills they look for in a qualified candidate.* As with nearly any nursing job, direct patient-care skills are highly desirable. Another top skill employers seek is telemetry, a skill set for monitoring patient vital signs in acute care with an electrocardiogram or similar device. Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) is the third most-wanted skill for cardiac nurses.
Additional skills employers are seeking in cardiac nurses:1
- Case management
- Interventional radiology
- Catheterization laboratory (cath lab)
- Treatment planning
Along with the technical skills, would-be cardiac nurses also need to refine their “soft” skills. Communication skills were the number-one desired soft skill, with planning, teamwork and collaboration abilities close behind.
Additional soft skills employers are seeking in cardiac nurses:1
- Critical thinking
- Computer skills
- Problem solving
- Physical ability
Cardiac nurse salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 2016 median annual salary for registered nurses (RNs)—regardless of specialty—was $68,450.2 But how does a cardiac-specific nursing salary stack up? Most of the analyzed online job postings for cardiac nurses in the last year did not offer an advertised salary. That said, of the 4,983 cardiac nursing jobs posted that did list salary information, the median advertised wage was $79,000.2
The difference between the two salaries can be explained by a couple of factors. First, the general rule of thumb that an employee with a specialized skill set is harder to find, so employers are typically willing to pay a premium to fill the need. The other factor to consider is that cardiac nurses typically need general nursing experience—usually in a medical-surgical nursing role—and with that typically comes higher pay.
How to become a cardiac nurse
To specialize in cardiac nursing, you must first become a registered nurse. While in rare cases, you may be able to find a position on a cardiac nursing unit straight out of school, odds are you’ll need to spend some time honing your general nursing and patient care skills—ideally you can find a role that incorporates telemetry or other relevant skills. From there it is just a matter of applying for cardiac nursing jobs.
Additionally, you may want to pursue a certification to bolster your resume. After you have two years of full-time RN experience, have logged 2,000 hours of clinical practice in a cardiac nursing setting and have completed 30 hours of cardiac-vascular nursing continuing education, you are eligible to apply for a certification exam, according to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
When you pass the exam, you will receive the cardiovascular certification as Registered Nurse-Board Certified (RN-BC).
Career advancement opportunity for cardiac nurses
A cardiac nurse certification can lead you deeper into the cardiovascular specialty. If you decide you want to follow the rabbit hole down, you can choose to continue your nursing education and become a certified nurse practitioner.
Cardiac-vascular nurse practitioners assess patients, educate patients and families about chronic cardiovascular diseases and their treatment plans and analyze lab work or radiology results to create a plan of care. As a cardiac-vascular nurse practitioner, you could work in a private practice cardiology clinic, seeing your own patients.
If the nurse practitioner route doesn’t sound appealing, there are other options. Cardiac nurses can also advance to nurse management positions where they’re responsible for the oversight, training and direction of a team of cardiovascular nurses.
The heart of the matter
This information about cardiac nursing is just a launching point to inspire some ideas for your career path. Nursing is more varied and vital than it has ever been before. According to Johns Hopkins Magazine, nurses are responding to a crisis of high costs, poor outcomes, workforce shortages and access disparities by reshaping healthcare and “getting better at what they already did well.”
No doubt, as nurses continue to specialize and improve care in every arena of healthcare, cardiac nurses will find more ways to save lives, which for any nurse is truly the heart of the career.
If you think you’d like to be part of that incredible workforce, check out the first step to becoming a cardiac nurse: becoming an RN with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 30,000 cardiac nursing job postings from Dec. 01, 2016 – Nov. 30, 2017).
2Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.