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What Does a Cardiac Physiologist Do?

A cardiac physiologist may conduct tests on patients who have heart problems.
A cardiac physiologist needs excellent communications skills when dealing with patients and caregivers.
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  • Written By: Meghan Perry
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2014
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A cardiac physiologist has a variety of responsibilities that often vary depending on where the cardiac physiologist works as well as what his or her specialization is, if any. A cardiac physiologist performs tests on patients who have or might have heart or blood vessel problems. In addition to performing these tests, the cardiac physiologist often must explain the procedures and prepare the patient to undergo the tests. Some cardiac physiologists assist doctors or perform more invasive procedures on patients, and they might perform certain clerical duties and provide follow-up care for patients.

"Cardiac physiologist" is a term more commonly used in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom; in countries such as the United States, cardiac physiologists are often referred to as cardiac technicians or cardiovascular technologists. The job duties are similar, regardless of the job title. The tests performed by a cardiac physiologist might include electrocardiograms (EKGs), exercise or stress tests to measure a patient's heart rate, echocardiograms and ultrasounds, to name a few. These noninvasive procedures are part of a specialization called echocardiography.

Some physiologists specialize in the field of invasive cardiology. For example, they might assist a cardiologist with cardiac catheterization. This procedure is often used to check for blockages in the blood vessels around the heart. Another invasive procedure that a cardiac physiologist might perform is assisting with the implantation of pacemakers. They also often provide follow-up care for pacemaker recipients.

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A third specialization is vascular technology. In this field, cardiac physiologists focus on the blood vessels and circulation rather than the heart itself. This is also considered a noninvasive specialization, because there is no probing or inserting of catheters or pacemakers in this specialty. Cardiac physiologists often must perform other duties as well, including scheduling appointments, reviewing patient files and transcribing notes.

About 75 percent of cardiac physiologists work in hospitals, and most who work in hospitals work in the cardiology department. They might perform tests in other departments within the hospital as well, such as the labor and delivery, surgery, recovery and emergency departments, to name a few. They generally work with cardiologists, other doctors and nurses.

Outside of hospitals, cardiac physiologists might work in cardiologist offices, in outpatient surgery centers or as independent contractors who can outsource their services as needed. The educational requirements to become a cardiac physiologist generally include a two-year degree, although four-year degrees are also available and can help the physiologist earn a higher salary. Hospitals might require other licensing or credentials as well. Many hospitals prefer that cardiac physiologists have previous experience working in the medical field.

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