Nurses can go into so many different areas in the field, cardiovascular nursing being just one of them. But as with all career choices, nurses need to have the right information to determine if this area is right for them.
We interviewed Jill Price, PhD, MSN, RN, senior director of Chamberlain University’s College of Nursing Post-Licensure programs. Price has nearly two decades of experience in Critical Care and Cardiovascular Nursing, and trained nurses at the first cardiac care center in the U.S. Virgin Islands—St. Croix—in critical care and cardiovascular care. Previously, Price worked as an advanced cardiac life support instructor and pediatric advance life support instructor.
What are the different types of nurses used in cardiovascular care? What do their jobs entail?
For nurses who don’t have any sort of critical care experience and want to go into cardiovascular nursing, I would first recommend the nurse seek out a critical care training course and then either a job in a critical care step down unit or an intensive care unit. Some hospitals require a year of medical-surgical nursing experience first before seeking a position in a critical care unit, so the nurse would need to check with the institution on what their requirements entail.
The different types of nurses who pursue cardiovascular care are those who love taking care of very sick patients with several comorbidities. These nurses are a unique group in that they like to help patients with complex medical problems, often times requiring advanced technology to maintain their heart rate. Cardiovascular nurses have advanced critical thinking skills.
If nurses want to pursue a job in cardiovascular care, what additional training or certifications do they need?
In terms of certification, I would recommend getting certified as a critical care nurse with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) organization. Additionally, they should seek out advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) and advanced pediatric life support (PALS) certifications.
What are the biggest challenges of being a cardiovascular nurse?
Since cardiovascular disease—which includes heart attacks—is the leading cause of death in the United States, nurses working in cardiovascular care, inclusive of interventional cardiovascular laboratories, are on call often. This requires not only working during the week at normal scheduled hours, but also being on call after normal working hours. And when a nurse is called in, they have less than 30 minutes to drop whatever they are doing to get to the hospital and save a patient’s life. Cardiovascular nurses are dedicated and committed to their job and time away from families can be challenging for some.
What are the greatest rewards?
Resuscitating a patient back from being in full blown cardiac arrest and seeing them walk out of the hospital like they were never sick. Or witnessing a patient whose limb was blue from an arterial vascular occlusion and working to open the occlusion and save the person’s limb by witnessing the blood flow restoration in the limb.
What were some of the most important things you learned while doing that kind of work?
I learned that with new devices and drugs consistently being developed, the cardiovascular nurse must stay abreast on all the latest technology and innovation in order to advocate for the patients’ best interests and choice in health care. Also, timing is everything, from saving the heart to the brain. You have to essentially dedicate your life to this kind of nursing, and even if you make a difference in one person’s life—but there will be many—you will feel proud knowing all that dedication and rushing to their care was worth it.
If nurses are interested in becoming a cardiovascular nurse, what advice would you give them?
Be prepared to devote time away from your family in return for helping save lives. Work in telemetry or acute care settings right out of nursing school and enroll in a critical care course, with the goal of becoming a certified critical care nurse, as soon as possible.
With advance research always being conducted on how to help decrease, prevent, and treat cardiovascular disease, you will get to learn something new every day.