Are you a nursing student with a special interest to help patients with cardiac diseases?
Or perhaps you are already an RN who wants to focus your career on cardiac cases?
We’re going to discuss how to become a cardiac nurse in just 4 simple steps.
We’ll also answer some common questions, such as:
- Are cardiac nurses in demand?
- How much does a cardiac nurse earn?
- Where can I work as a cardiac nurse?
- How long does it take to become a cardiac nurse?
If you’re ready, let’s dive right in!
Before We Begin… What Are Cardiac Nurses Again???
Cardiac nurses (also called ‘cardiovascular nurses’ or ‘cardiology nurses’) can have a very crucial and meaningful career.
They are part of a team (including cardiologists and heart surgeons) that specializes in the prevention, care, treatment, and rehabilitation of patients with various heart conditions.
Some of the most common cardiovascular diseases include coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, heart arrhythmia, and heart valve disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. Every 34 seconds, someone dies of cardiovascular disease.
Cardiac nurses, therefore, can impact the lives of individual patients and the healthcare system as a whole in a big and meaningful way.
How to Become a Cardiac Nurse in 4 Steps
Alright, now that that’s out of the way…
Here are the 4 steps to becoming a Cardiac Nurse!
- Become a Registered Nurse
- Start Practicing as an RN and Gain Relevant Experience
- Gain Appropriate Certifications and Keep Them Up-to-Date
- Consider Taking an MSN or DNP Degree
How to Become a Cardiac Nurse Step#1: Become a Registered Nurse
To become a cardiac nurse, you first have to become a Registered Nurse (RN).
You can read a more detailed article on how to become an RN here.
But we’ll still discuss some of the steps in this article, especially focused on becoming a cardiac nurse.
Enroll in an RN Education Program
There are two main education programs you can choose from to become an RN – an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
An associate degree only takes about two years to complete. It’s faster, cheaper, and can qualify you to take the NCLEX-RN.
The bachelor’s degree takes about four years to complete. It takes more time and is more expensive, but it also opens more doors of opportunity for work and career advancement.
Although the minimum educational requirement to become an RN is an ADN, most hospitals prefer to hire BSN graduates.
This may also affect your career if you want to advance as a cardiac nurse.
However, if you’re limited on time and resources now, you can take an ADN first, get work as an RN, and then finish off a BSN in the future. There are RN to BSN bridge programs that you can look into.
Do an Initial Application in Your State’s BON
After graduation, the next step is to take the NCLEX-RN.
This is a national exam that evaluates if you meet the minimum requirements to work as an entry-level RN.
But before you can take the exam, you need to apply for it through your state’s board of nursing (BON).
Most states have differences in the exact requirements and fees to become an RN. You can check the specific requirements of your state on this page.
Generally, they will ask you to submit:
- the filled-out application form (which can be found on their website)
- the Transcript of Records (TOR) from your nursing education program
- a criminal background check or fingerprint scanning
- an application fee
After submitting these documents, the BON will assess if you qualify for the exam and will authorize you to test if you do.
Take and Pass the NCLEX-RN
Once your application is approved, you can register for the NCLEX, schedule your exam, pay the exam fees, and take the exam.
If you pass the exam, you will be given your RN license in a few weeks or months.
If you do not pass on the first try, you will receive a diagnosis of your performance and you can retake the exam.
If you come from a Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) state, you can also apply for a multistate license.
This will allow you to practice as an RN in any other compact state.
How to Become a Cardiac Nurse Step#2: Start Practicing as an RN and Gain Relevant Experience
The next important part of your journey is to gain experience as an RN.
Every nurse who wants to advance his/her career first has to master the basics in real-life scenarios.
Most certification programs or exams require at least 2,000 hours of prior experience.
If you are considering proceeding to an MSN or DNP, you will also be required to have at least 1-2 years of work experience.
As an aspiring cardiac nurse, some areas where you can gain relevant experience are acute care, intensive care, medical-surgical units, the operating room, and telemetry units.
How to Become a Cardiac Nurse Step#3: Gain Appropriate Certifications and Keep Them Up-to-Date
Although it may not always be required, gaining cardiac nursing certifications is a great way to show dedication to your profession and to make sure that you provide the best quality of care to your patients.
It is also beneficial to you because it increases your chances of employment and career advancement as a cardiac nurse.
Some facilities or employers may even require you to get these certifications, especially if you work in a specialty unit.
We have prepared a list of your certification options below.
Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (CV-BC)
This certification is offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
To be able to get this certification, you need to take an exam that will evaluate your knowledge of cardiovascular assessment techniques and tools.
To qualify for this exam, you need:
- an active RN license
- 2 years of full-time RN experience
- A minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in cardiovascular nursing within the last 3 years
- 30 hours of continuing education in cardiovascular nursing within the last 3 years
Cardiac Surgery Certification (CSC) and Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC)
These certifications are offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).
The CSC is for nurses who care for patients after undergoing cardiac surgery.
The CMC is for nurses who care for acutely/critically ill cardiac patients.
To qualify for these certifications, you need:
- an active RN license and
- a separate certification in clinical nursing
For clinical experience, you can choose between a two-year and a five-year option:
- Two-year option – 1,750 hours of caring for acutely/critically ill adult patients during the previous two years. 875 of those hours should be in the care of acutely/critically ill adult cardiac surgery patients within the first 48 hours postoperatively.
- Five-year option: 2,000 hours of caring for acutely/critically ill adult patients during the previous five years. 1000 of those hours should be in the care of acutely/critically ill adult cardiac surgery patients within the first 48 hours postoperatively.
Cardiovascular Nurse-Level I and Level II (CVRN-BC Level I and Level II)
This certification is offered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine (ABCM).
The CVRN-BC Level I is for nurses who provide care to non-acute cardiovascular patients. This is for nurses who work in telemetry, PCU, cardiac rehab, or post-procedure positions.
The CVRN-BC Level II is for nurses who provide acute care to cardiovascular patients. This is for nurses who work in CCU/CVICU, cath labs, and interventional cardiology.
To qualify for these certifications, you need:
- an active RN license
- 1 year of experience in non-acute care (for Level I)
- 2 years of experience in acute care (Level II)
Certified Cardiac Rehabilitation Professional (CCRP)
This certification is offered by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR).
This is for nurses who have experience in cardiac rehabilitation or secondary prevention.
To qualify for this certification, you need:
- an active RN license
- 1,200 clinical hours in cardiac rehabilitation/secondary prevention.
Certified Heart Failure Nurse (CHFN) for the Clinical or Non-Clinical RN
These certifications are offered by the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses (AAHFN).
These nurses provide care for patients with heart failure.
To qualify for this certification, the clinical RN needs:
- a current, active RN license for at least 2 years
- 1,200 hours of clinical practice in the care of patients with heart failure within the last 2 years
- 30 hours of accredited continuing education within the last two (2) years, of which a minimum of 15 hours must be focused on the care of patients with heart failure.
To qualify for this certification, the non-clinical RN needs:
- a current, active RN license for at least 5 years
- to be a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing [BSN] or equivalent bachelor’s degree + 2400 hours of experience in the current role
- evidence of how nurses are indirectly involved in patients with HF or how nurses complete action(s) in their role that are related to HF
- 30 hours of accredited heart failure continuing education within the last two (2) years.
Basic Life Support (BLS)
Although this certification is not directly related to cardiac nursing, it is important and may be required by your employers.
This is offered by the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association.
This evaluates the nurses’ CPR, defibrillator, and other life support skills.
To qualify for this certification, nurses must take the BLS course.
Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)
This certification is meant to evaluate the life-saving skills of nurses in cardiopulmonary emergencies. This includes skills in resuscitation, bag-mask ventilation, and other airway management techniques.
To qualify for this certification, nurses must take the ACLS course.
How to Become a Cardiac Nurse Step#4: Consider Taking an MSN or DNP Degree
Although becoming an RN and gaining certifications already sets you up nicely for a good career as a cardiac nurse, you may want to advance your practice even more.
If you are interested in doing so, you can consider becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), particularly a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner.
You can achieve this by taking an MSN or DNP and gaining national certification.
You can then apply for an APRN license.
This is only optional, but it can increase your career opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Cardiac Nurse
Now that we’ve discussed how to become a cardiac nurse, let’s consider some important questions you may still have.
Are cardiac nurses in demand?
According to the BLS, the employment of registered nurses overall is projected to grow by 6% from 2021-2031. They also predict that demand for all healthcare services will increase due to the growing population of elderly people with chronic diseases.
More specifically, we’ve already seen data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S.
With both of these trends, we see that cardiac nurses are in demand and will still be in demand in the coming years.
How much does a cardiac nurse earn?
According to the BLS, the salaries of Registered Nurses ranged from $59,450 to $120,250, with a median annual wage of $77,600.
The salary varies depending on what state you are in, what your position is, how many years of experience you have, and what certifications you have.
If you are a cardiac nurse with certifications and lots of experience, you can expect to earn more than the average RN in your state.
Where can I work as a cardiac nurse?
Most cardiac nurses work in hospitals, particularly in post-op or ICU environments.
However, since cardiac health is relevant almost anywhere, they can also work in many other settings outside of the hospital.
They can work in cardiovascular centers, private clinics, home health agencies, nursing homes, correctional facilities, the military, etc.
How long does it take to become a cardiac nurse?
This depends on whether you take an ADN or a BSN and what certifications you get.
As we already saw above, different certifications require different hours or years of work experience before an RN can qualify for the exams.
The shortest route to becoming a cardiac nurse would take you about 4 years and the regular route about 6 years, but this can widely vary per person.
And there you have it – everything you need to know about how to become a cardiac nurse as well as answers to some FAQs!
In summary, we saw that you first need to become an RN, gain relevant working experience, aim to be certified, and consider pursuing an MSN or DNP.
We also saw how relevant and meaningful the work of a cardiac nurse is, especially since cardiovascular disease is the #1 cause of death in the U.S.
We hope that this guide will help you in your journey to becoming a cardiac nurse.
There is so much good you can do, and we wish you all the best!