Cath Lab Tech Career Overview

Apr 6, 2023
Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN

Cath lab techs assist cardiovascular surgeons to diagnose heart conditions. They must have strong communication skills as they are often called upon to explain procedures and provide reassurance when patients are nervous.

Discover more about a cath lab tech, what they do, the skills they need, and the average salary so you can decide if becoming a cath lab tech is right for you.

What is a Cath Lab Tech?

Cath lab techs are also called cath lab technicians or cardiac catheterization technologists. These professionals work in healthcare facilities where patients undergo tests aimed at uncovering heart conditions.

Although the duties of a cath lab tech, electrophysiology tech, and vascular interventional radiology tech are similar, the heart procedures are different. For example, a cardiac catheterization evaluates anatomical structures and looks for blockages within the heart. 

The electrophysiology lab focuses on mapping the electrical system within the heart and vascular interventional radiology is a subspecialty of radiology that uses image-guided procedures to diagnose and treat conditions of the vascular system.

What Does a Cath Lab Tech Do?

Cath lab techs can specialize in one of three areas of practice. These include cardiac sonography, vascular technology, and invasive cardiology. They often work throughout the week, evenings, and weekends, and may be required to take on-call shifts. Responsibilities can vary depending on the facility and the employer. Typically, the job duties of a cath lab tech include:

  • Performing EKG tests
  • Assist with treadmill stress testing
  • Complete blood pressure assessments
  • Assist with invasive cardiac catheterization
  • Recognize cardiac arrhythmias
  • Assist physicians during adverse reactions or acute emergencies
  • Verifies lab results before procedures
  • Patient education
  • Scheduling appointments and maintaining patient files
  • Caring for equipment used in cath lab procedures
  • May assist in open heart or pacemaker insertion procedures

What Skills Does a Cath Lab Tech Need?

Cath lab techs need a strong grasp of human anatomy, the ability to interpret diagnostic images, an understanding of how to maintain sterile procedures, and the use and maintenance of diagnostic imaging equipment. Beyond the technical requirements, a cath lab tech will require a strong mix of soft skills to be an effective member of the team. These include:

  • The ability to stay calm and think clearly in an emergency
  • An eye for detail
  • Effective communication
  • Seamless team member
  • Ability to adapt to change
  • Comfortable using medical equipment
  • Empathy

Cath lab techs should also have experience with airway maintenance, defibrillator setup and use, blood pressure monitoring, and using the special equipment found in a cardiac cath lab. The role a technician plays varies based on the cardiovascular test, healthcare organization, and potentially the cardiovascular physician with whom they are working.

Work Settings For Cath Lab Techs

Cath lab techs generally work in inpatient healthcare facilities that maintain a cardiac catheterization lab. These hospitals are equipped with state-of-the-art imaging technology to diagnose and treat blockages and other heart problems so patients do not need surgery. Not all cardiac catheterization labs offer interventional radiology or electrophysiology.

Common Cases Cath Lab Techs Encounter

Patients who require cardiac catheterization, electrophysiology, or interventional radiology are suspected of having a cardiovascular problem or are undergoing a minimally invasive, non-surgical procedure to correct a heart problem. This might include patients with:

  • Cardiomyopathy that interferes with the ability to pump blood
  • Congenital heart disease, including ventricular and atrial septal defects
  • Coronary artery disease such as narrowed or blocked arteries
  • Heart failure prevents the heart from effectively pumping blood
  • Valvular heart disease in which there is leaking or narrowing of one of the four valves in the heart that regulate blood flow

Electrophysiology technicians collaborate with physicians to identify the electrical reasons for heart failure or cardiomyopathy. Vascular interventional radiology techs may be involved in the treatment of coronary artery disease, guiding minimally invasive procedures such as stenting or angioplasty using imaging.

Education Requirements & Helpful Certifications

Cath lab techs work with complex health challenges and equipment. They require a two-year associate degree in a cardiovascular technology program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs

This is a two-year classroom and clinical approach to teaching students how the cardiovascular system functions and prepares them to operate the equipment needed during procedures. The graduate is then eligible to take the nationally recognized certification examination, which is the Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS).

This examination is offered by Cardiovascular Credentialing International and is a 3-hour, multiple-choice certification that improves employment prospects and salary potential. The certification must be periodically renewed, including continuing education requirements.

How to Become a Cath Lab Tech

It generally takes two years to finish an associate degree and become a cath lab tech. This assumes that the student attends full-time without unscheduled breaks. Some programs allow students to complete the program part-time, which is helpful when a student is also working. The steps include:

  1. Identify an accredited cardiovascular technology program in your area.
  2. Confirm you meet the admission criteria, which often include but not limited to:
  • High school graduate
  • General education prerequisite credits
  • CPR certification
  • Physical and immunization record
  • Drug screening and background check

        3. Apply to the program with the required admission material

How to Advance Your Career as a Cath Lab Tech

After successfully completing the associate degree and certification examination, a cath lab tech can choose to advance their career by acquiring skills as an electrophysiology lab tech or vascular interventional radiology tech. 

While this may require additional education, many programs will accept past credits from an accredited program. A cath lab tech may also be interested in attending a nursing program, which enables them to work as an RN in the cath lab and opens up a variety of other fields and advancement opportunities.

Average Salary For Cath Lab Techs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median wage is $57,720 and the median hourly wage is $27.75. Over three-quarters of cath lab techs work within hospitals, yet the top-paying industry is outpatient care centers where the annual mean wage is $77,740. The top-paying states are Oregon, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.

The Pros of Being a Cath Lab Tech

  • Requires fewer years to enter the medical field
  • Flexibility to assist in non-invasive or invasive cardiovascular procedures
  • Positive job outlook and an increasing number of job opportunities
  • Potential to take a travel position
  • Flexible work schedule

The Cons of Being a Cath Lab Tech

  • Standing on your feet for long hours
  • Manipulating heavy equipment used for testing and procedures
  • Exposure to minor levels of radiation

Specialty Organizations & Communities

Professional organizations and associations offer an opportunity to network and options to advance your career. These organizations were designed to help meet the needs of cath lab techs.

Ideal Personality Traits

Cath lab techs spend most of the working day interacting with patients and other healthcare professionals. Personality traits that are ideal for this position include:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Empathetic
  • Detail oriented
  • Organized
  • Capable
  • Perceptive
  • Disciplined
  • Thorough

If this sounds like the right career for you, check out Trusted Health's Allied Jobs to search for cath lab opportunities all over the country and get started today!