If you are looking for an entry-level health care profession, with straightforward training and competitive salary, becoming an EKG Technician may be a good option.  EKG Technology is often used as a stepping stone to other fields in health care or as an additional skill for another healthcare position; a phlebotomist, for example, might also be cross trained as an EKG Technician.

You say EKG and I say ECG? What’s the difference? They are the same position. The term EKG Technician involved the German spelling as homage to the inventor of the cardiograph. An alternate term is ECG Technician, which stands for Electrocardiogram Technician.

EKG Technician Description and Duties

Let’s begin with a definition of electrocardiography. Electrical impulses precede the heart muscle’s contractions. A machine called a cardiograph can record these impulses and is a key diagnostic tool for patients who are at risk for or have heart disease. EKG Technicians operate and maintains cardiograph machines by monitoring a patient’s heart beats for a specified time period and as prescribed by the physician

EKG Technicians have responsibilities that can be summarized as “monitoring.” This occupation requires that patients be monitored before, during and after testing.

  • Obtaining identification and medical history from patients
  • Setting up the test according to general protocol or to the specifications of the ordering physician
  • Explaining the test to the patient
  • Attaching electrodes or leads to the major areas of arterial blood flow (chest, arms and legs)
  • Monitoring the patient and equipment during the testing period
  • Noting the cardiograph report as the test progresses as well as the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate
  • The technician may note sections of the test print out that should be reviewed by the referring physician

Requirements to Become an EKG Technician

First, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED and will need to be able to speak English well.  Second, you’ll need to be trained in electrocardiography, which is typically done by completing an accredited EKG program.  Lastly, you’ll want to gain you EKG certification from one of several agencies.

In addition to these requirements, some employers may also prefer an Associates of Arts degree, which takes approximately 2 years to complete.  Typing and CPR training are also desirable skills.

As well as the educational requirements, there are some characteristics that would be a good fit for this occupation.  Two of the most valuable are being observant and a good listener because patient and machine monitoring are the primary job duties of an EKG technician. The ability to verbally communicate with diverse types of people and sensitivity to other cultures is helpful especially when working in major U.S. cities.

The ability to logically and reasonably problem solve are also valuable because maintenance of the cardiograph often falls to the technician. Being a good time manager with the ability to prioritize and schedule work are other assets for the potential technician. As with any profession in the health care industry, a desire to help others would contribute to success.

EKG Training Programs

Community colleges and the California state university system offer EKG technician training, as do several vocational schools.  Be sure to find an accredited program.

View a list of schools in California offering medical training programs.

On–the- job training for EKG technician can be as little as three hours (for resting cardiography), and up to four to six weeks, depending upon the employer. Specialized training such as stress testing and Holter monitoring involves more in-depth study of cardiovascular anatomy and physiology and can range from eighteen months to two years.

EKG Certifications

Once trained in electrocardiography, you’ll want to take an exam to become certified.  Certification is offered through the American Certification Agency for Health Care Providers.  They require that you have had six months of EKG recording experience (as might have been obtained in-house) or completion of a structured program in order to take an online certification test. There is a $100.00 fee to take the initial test for certification and then a $60.00 to $95.00 fee to re-certify every two years. The price varies according to how many categories are included in your re-certification request. This process also requires continuing education units during a two year period (.5 CEU hours per month).

In addition to the American Certification Agency for Health Care Providers, EKG certification agencies include:

Finding a Job as an EKG Technician

When applying for jobs as an EKG Technicain, you can help stand out by:

  • Having some basic community college education, if not an Associates degree
  • Having successfully tested and received an EKG certification
  • Being cross-trained in other allied health professions

If you are called for an interview, you will likely be tested on heart rhythms. If there has been a gap between your training and an interview, stay updated on technical aspects. In your oral interview, be very sure that the information you are providing is completely accurate.

Average Salary for an EKG Technician

According to Salary.com, the median salary for an EKG Technician in San Diego, CA is $34,827 (as of March 2011).

EKG Professional Associations

The Alliance of Cardiovascular Professionals provides nationwide job opportunities, message boards and online education for continuing education units (which are required to maintain certification). One of their main goals is to set standards for their membership, which also serves to increase professionalism.

References

Employment Development Department of California
Alliance of Cardiovascular Professionals
California Community Colleges Statewide Health Occupations Directory
Cal State LA EKG Technician Program
National Certified ECT Technicians
National Association for Health Professionals
Cardiovascular Credentialing International
Occupation Information Network
Allied Health World
EKGTRaining.org

View a list of schools in California offering medical training programs.