4 Steps to Become an EKG Assistant

Interested in a healthcare career? You may want to consider becoming an electrocardiography (EKG) assistant. This healthcare professional is a cardiovascular technologist that specializes in doing tests on the heart that product electrocardiograms.

EKG assistants are responsible for doing EKGs, stress tests and Holter monitoring on heart patients. These professionals take readings of the heart activity of the patient and provide doctors with heart data to analyze and diagnose. Some of these tests can be performed during regular patient appointments, and sometimes before a surgical procedure.

These tests provide essential information about the heart that helps doctors to diagnose heart related problems and conditions. An EKG test can be done while the patient is either exercising or at rest.

EKG assistants typically have an associate’s degree or certificate in the field that they earn after high school. Some EKG professionals may earn a bachelor’s degree. If you are interested in becoming an EKG assistant, here are the steps you need to follow:

#1 Earn High School Diploma with Science Courses

Students who are interested in being an EKG assistant and cardiovascular technology should take classes in anatomy, physics, math and physiology. Your EKG program will have classes in medical terminology, anatomy, and the applied sciences. So you should have a strong background in the sciences and mathematics to maximize your chances of admission and career success.

#2 Earn Certification as an EKG Technician

Some employers may train entry level EKG technicians on the job in a four or six week program. As long as you have a high school diploma, you can will learn what you need to in this on the job training.

However, some employers will want you to complete a semester or year long certification program. This is becoming more common today as Medicare and other health insurance organizations only pay for the EKG for the patient if it is done by a Certified EKG Technician (CET). Also, earning your certificate as a CET will greatly increase your chances of getting a job.

Many EKG technician certification programs are available at local community and vocational colleges. There also are some online courses available.

For example, on the Phlebotomycareertraining.com website, you can earn your EKG technician certification  online. After the course has been completed, you have up to six months to take your National Telemetry Certification Examination.

The purpose of the certification program is to train EKG students to read/interpret 22 different types of cardiac lead tracings that are produced from five and 12 lead monitors.

This program is certified by the National Telemetry Association and it covers these areas:

  • Anatomy and physiology of the heart
  • Etiology of hypertension and heart disease
  • Pharmacology of heart and blood pressure drugs
  • Cardiac abnormalities
  • Reading P, QRS, ST and PR intervals
  • Normal sinus rhythms
  • Ventricular rhythms
  • Atrial rhythms

The online certification program covers each of the biomedical mechanisms of a 12 lead EKG and more than 20 various cardiac rhythms and arrhythmias. The course focuses heavily on the student being able to recognize a myocardial infarction.

A person who has a myocardial infarction will normally complain of some or all of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Pain in the inside of the left arm
  • Jaw pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting

Myocardial infarctions are focused on in the certification course because not all people have the same physical symptoms. The clearest sign of a myocardial infarction event is on an EKG that shows widened QRS complexes, depressed or flattened ST segments or elevated or depressed T waves.

The certification program stresses that while the physician is ultimately responsible for the final interpretation of the EKG, the EKG assistant is the first responder who is in position to notice a rhythm that could be life threatening.

As you are looking for EKG certification programs, note that employers may prefer that the program be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or CAAHEP.

#3 Take EKG Certification Examination

After you have completed your program, you can take your national EKG certification examination. Note that there is no one national EKG certification examination. There are several organizations in the US that offer EKG certifications.

There also are no federal regulations requiring that you be certified to use the EKG machine, but you will need to be certified to be employed by virtually any health care organization. Some of the organizations that offer certification examinations for EKG assistants include:

National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

The NCCT offers its National Certified ECG Technician (NCET) designation. This is an independent organization that offers many types of certifications in the medical field. The examination is developed through a rigorous process that involves a job analysis and collecting information on EKGs from universities, employers and professionals in the field.

To qualify for the exam, you need to be enrolled in an approved EKG or ECG program, or completed one in the last five years. You also have to show proof every few years that you have taken continuing education classes.

National Healthcareer Association (NHA)

The NHA offers the Certified EKG Technician (CET) designation. Certifications from this association are developed through research and test development teams.

To be eligible for this exam, you need to have a high school diploma. Also, you must have proof that you have performed 10 EKG tests through work experience or a certified training program. This examination features 100 questions, and topics include:

  • Cardiovascular system
  • Medical terminology
  • EKG interpretation
  • EKG equipment
  • Patient rights and professionalism

With this certification, you are qualified to set up and administer EKGs and stress tests. You also may prepare patients for ambulatory or Holter monitoring, and can edit and deliver final EKG results to doctors. Also, you can transcribe the doctor’s interpretations of the EKG.

To be recertified, you have to show proof of 10 CE credits every 24 months.

#4 Receive Your Certification and Find an EKG Assistant Job

After you have your certification, you will be eligible for many EKG technician and assistant jobs. We anticipate that you will have little problem finding good work: The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the employment picture for cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including EKG assistants, is very bright.

Employment in this field will increase by a very healthy 22% by 2024. This is much faster than average. BLS also states that EKG technicians or assistants with certification will have the best career prospects.


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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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