How to become a Cardiac Care Nurse

If you are a nurse who has proficiently mastered medical-surgical nursing and all the phases of the nursing process, you may want to further develop and expand these basic skills and abilities and seek out an opportunity to work in a specialty care area, like cardiac care.

Many healthcare facilities only hire registered nurses to work in this specialty area, but some have both registered nurses and licensed practical or vocational nurses, in their cardiac care areas. Each of these nurses functions within their scope of practice and the registered nurse supervises the licensed practical or vocational nurse at all times when both types of nurses work in this specialty area.

To be successful in this area, you will need the knowledge, skills, and abilities to assess, diagnose, plan, implement and evaluate nursing care in a fast paced environment that provides services to seriously ill clients with a cardiac disorder.

Cardiac care nurses can work in a hospital's cardiac care unit, a medical, intensive care area or a cardiac care step down, or progressive care unit. They are also hired to work in cardiac catheterization areas, telemetry units, cardiac stress areas, cardiac surgical suites and cardiac rehabilitation centers.

Cardiac care nurses work with patients, of all ages across the lifespan, and family members who have been affected with a wide variety of cardiac disorders such as a myocardial infarction, unstable angina, cardiac arrhythmias and heart failure.


Education Requirements

Although many hospitals staff the cardiac care area with both registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, many restrict this complex area only to registered nurses. 

Most hospitals require that the registered nurse has a cardiac care nursing certification with an organization like the American Nurses Credentialing Center(ANCC) or the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

These certifications are highly similar in terms of eligibility requirements, their examinations, and renewals. Eligibility is based on a current and unencumbered license as a registered nurse and a minimum number of clinical hours in the specialty area before sitting for the certification examination. The multiple choice examinations are available online.

Additionally, most, if not all, cardiac care areas require that all nursing staff are certified in both the American Heart Association's Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS).

The tests for BLS and ACLS have two parts. The cognitive or knowledge part of the examination can be taken online, and the skills part of the examination can be taken in a geographic area close to you. Many hospitals also have American Heart Association certified BLS and/or ACLS instructors who can perform the skills testing. 


Job Description

Assessment and treatment must be accurate and timely. These patients are typically in a life-threatening condition. The cardiac care area cares for highly complex patients with multiple physical needs in a fast-paced and responsive environment that preserves, maintains and restores life.

As nurses care for their patients, they continuously monitor, assess and reassess their clients with their astute professional judgment and a large number of complex, technological advances, such as central venous monitoring devices, and ongoing cardiac rhythm strips. Most of these patients have intravenous fluids and medications, many of which are titrated according to the patient's current physical status and their responses to the medications that are given. Nurses must also be readily prepared to shift priorities and to effectively respond to changes in the patient's status and emergency situations such as a cardiac arrest.

These nurses work in collaboration with other multidisciplinary members of the cardiac care team such as medical doctors, particularly, cardiovascular specialists and cardiac surgeons, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, radiology staff, laboratory staff, social workers, and dietitians, among other staff.


Job Outlook and Salary

Nurses who work in the cardiac care unit earn more than nurses who work in the other areas such as a medical or surgical unit.

Nationally, these nurses are paid about $68,000 a year. Many also work three 12 hour shifts per week which is highly desirable to many nurses.

Cardiac care nurses are in high demand because of several reasons including the fact that our population is aging and the number of people with chronic heart disease is increasing. Additionally, this specialty is in demand because many nurses are not adaptable to this fast-paced environment, and because of the many complex skills that have to be acquired and maintained in order to work in cardiac care areas.