A cardiac catheterization laboratory, or cath lab, is an area of a hospital or outpatient clinic where patients have catheterizations done. Commonly used as a diagnostic tool, a cardiac catheterization involves the insertion of a catheter into a major vein or artery and advanced into a heart chamber to look for abnormalities. Prior to patients receiving pacemakers, defibrillators and angioplasties, they may undergo this diagnostic heart test. A cardiac cath lab nurse is a trained health care professional who assists cardiologists performing cardiac procedures such as this. The nurse will be on hand to help the physician in any way possible to ensure that the patient is kept safe and that the procedure is done efficiently.
Often, the work of a cardiac cath lab nurse will begin outside of the lab. The nurse may begin with preparing the patient for a procedure before he or she actually enters the laboratory. This may include meeting with the patient upon arrival and going over the procedure to be done. He or she may go on to prep patients by taking their blood pressure, temperature and oxygen levels. In addition, the nurse will be available to address any questions the patient may have.
There are other duties that may be done by a cardiac cath lab nurse leading up to a procedure. He or she may perform an electrocardiogram (EKG) on the patient to test the heart's activity before work is done on it. The nurse may start an intravenous line before the patient goes into the laboratory rather than doing it afterward. An intravenous line may be used to administer medications to help an extremely anxious patient relax before a procedure. Additionally, the line may be used during the procedure to administer medications to the patient as needed.
During procedures in the laboratory, a cardiac cath lab nurse will assist the doctor in any way needed. In many cases, patients will be awake for the procedures. For this reason, a great deal of the nurse's job may be to calm patients and assure them that everything is going okay. The nurse will also monitor the patient's vital signs. He or she will keep a close eye on the patient's blood pressure and heart rate and assure that the numbers remain in a normal range.
After a patient is discharged from a catheterization lab, he or she will generally remain in a recovery area for an extended amount of time. During this time, the patient will be under the care of a cardiac cath lab nurse. The nurse will be on hand to ensure that there are no extreme side effects from the procedure, such as excessive bleeding, pain, vomiting, or fever. In the event of a side effect, the nurse is equipped to treat the patient accordingly. To become a cardiac cath lab nurse, an individual will typically need cardiac care certification in addition to a registered nurse (RN) license from an accredited institution.