EKG Technician Training: FAQs and Answers
As an EKG technician, you can provide an essential healthcare service. But, whether you are just beginning or already an allied health professional wanting to learn a new skill, it's important to understand what EKG training involves.
What is EKG or ECG?
Also known as an electrocardiogram or electrocardiograph, an EKG is a test that monitors and records the electrical impulses and rhythms of a patient's heart. The patient's physician can then interpret the results and diagnose any heart abnormalities.
An EKG technician, sometimes also known as a cardiographic technician or an electrocardiograph technician, performs the test by first explaining the procedure to the patient. The technician then attaches electrodes to the patient's chest, arms, and legs and operates the EKG machine. Once the test is done, the technician prints out the results and prepares them for delivery to a cardiologist, the patient's doctor, or other members of a medical team.
Both EKG and ECG are names for the same technology, with the only difference being that EKG comes from the German name of this test—Elektrokardiogramm.
How do I get started in this career?
There is no single path to becoming an EKG technician. However, most EKG technicians come to the job either while studying for, or having already earned a degree in a related healthcare field. Such technicians usually receive on-the-job training from their employers, which can last from four to six weeks.
If you have not yet begun your post-secondary education, it is possible to complete a certificate program that takes one year or less. Most employers, however, prefer to hire people with multiple skills and at least an associate's degree in allied health. For this reason, many people choose a broader course of study, often combining their training with development in related skills like phlebotomy training or schooling to become a nursing aide.
Assuming you do pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree, you can expect your coursework to include subjects like anatomy and physiology, heart pathology, pharmacology, cardiovascular technology and medical ethics. Practical, hands-on training is also likely to be included, since EKG technicians and other allied health professionals must know how to use and maintain special medical equipment.
How long does training take?
Depending on the program you choose, obtaining an education can typically fall within the range of weeks to months. However, there are advanced degree programs that can last between two and four years. You could also choose a program that combines EKG training with other specialized medical skills, such as phlebotomy or medical assisting, which may add additional time.
Is a high school diploma required?
There are programs that do not require a high school diploma or GED to enroll. However, it is often a requirement for certification or licensing exams, so it would be a good idea to review the requirements of individual organizations that oversee the industry.
Is certification necessary?
While certification is not legally required, it is considered standard industry practice to obtain EKG tech certification. Certifying boards, including Cardiovascular Credentialing International, which offers the Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT) designation, can provide you with the opportunity to prove that you possess the skills employers are looking for in new hires.
Where can I find job opportunities?
The majority of EKG tech jobs can be found in the cardiology department of hospitals. However, employment opportunities do exist within outpatient clinics, doctors' offices, medical imaging centers, and other health care settings.
What is the job outlook?
The demand for health care professionals, including EKG technicians, is growing. This can be attributed to an aging population, which is retiring at an escalating rate—creating job openings within the industry, and generating an increased need for health care services.
The best way to secure opportunities as an EKG technician is to obtain certification and specialized skills, especially in the areas of Holter monitoring and stress testing.
What is the average salary?
On average, EKG technicians can expect to make in the range of $20,000 to $30,000-plus annually, depending on experience, level of training, area(s) of expertise, and other factors. In addition to on-the-job experience, the best way to increase earning potential in this field is to become certified in various areas of testing.
What additional training & career options are available?
It is rare for someone to work only as a basic EKG technician. Since employers like to hire people with multiple skills, it is common for EKG techs to go beyond their primary expertise.
Holter monitoring involves connecting a patient to a portable, wearable EKG device that records their heart's activity for 24 hours. This type of EKG provides doctors with the ability to observe heart conditions that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to track in the short amount of time that a basic test takes.
Stress testing is a way to monitor the performance of a patient's heart while undergoing exertion. The technician connects the patient to the monitor, gets the patient's baseline reading and resting blood pressure, and starts the patient walking on a treadmill. Gradually, the technician increases the treadmill's speed, thus allowing for results that can clue a doctor in to whether the patient's heart strains too much during physical activity.
Holter monitoring and stress testing can be learned in separate certificate programs that take one year or less. Many technicians may also have the option of on-the-job training for these specialties, which can take as long as 18 to 24 months.
EKG technicians are not required, by law, to be professionally certified. However, many people in the field do choose to gain professional certification, because most employers prefer it. The two most commonly used certifying bodies are the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians and Cardiovascular Credentialing International. Both organizations require you to pass an exam to gain certification.
Where to go from here?
As an EKG technician, you can play a very important role in the healthcare field. If you're up to this exciting challenge, then exploring your options for training is a great way to begin. You could soon have a career that's all heart!