Your Path to Program Success: Expert Advice

A Celebration of Excellence: Saluting Radiologic Technologists in the Cardiac Cath Lab

Amy Newell, Director,
Cardiovascular Consulting
Division, Corazon, Inc.,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Amy Newell, Director,
Cardiovascular Consulting
Division, Corazon, Inc.,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Each November, the healthcare industry celebrates “National Radiologic Technology Week” — not only to commemorate the discovery of x-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen (on November 8, 1895), but also as a salute to radiologic technologists and their commitment to the dynamic and rapidly-evolving profession. 

As a healthcare consultant with my own beginning as a radiologic technologist, I often reflect on, and at times am overwhelmed by, the variety of sub-specialties that have been generated as new technologies or treatments have emerged in the imaging field. Today, technologists graduating from an accredited and/or associate- or bachelor-degree program have many choices as to what specialty they want to pursue, including mammography, radiation therapy, ultrasonography, MRI, and CT. Many of these “specialties” require additional training, or even an additional board exam, which further fine-tunes expertise, experience, and knowledge in one of the narrow fields within radiology technology.

The specialty I consider near and dear to my heart (for obvious reasons) is that of the radiologic technologist (RT) who chooses to work in the cardiac cath lab.  Those of you reading this know who you are! As you think about the impact the cath lab has had on your own lives, take a moment to also stop and think of all of those lives that you have touched, and in some cases, literally saved, through your commitment to treating patients who are having (in many cases) a heart attack, no matter what time of day or night. No doubt, some of you may have already thought about that one patient or situation that you will never forget. Of course, there is nothing more gratifying than saving a life. This is especially true for those of you who work in the on-call environment caring for myocardial infarction and other acute patients. But the day-to-day cath lab setting affords opportunities for a full range of clinical, professional, and personal experiences as well. Radiologic technologists working in the cardiac cath lab have many responsibilities, not only to the patient, but to physicians and to their co-workers as well. 

The RT is responsible for understanding each level of complexity relative to radiation safety, cardiac anatomy, physiology, and hemodynamics, and the technical aspects of ALL the equipment utilized during any cardiac or vascular procedure. It takes many years for an RT to become astute in this clinically complex environment. At Corazon, we assist many hospitals that want to expand the level of cardiovascular care in the cath lab, and we spend a great deal of time working with the clinicians in these areas, including RT professionals.

In many cath labs across the United States (depending on state regulations), RTs with an advanced practice certification administer conscious sedation. Usually this permission is coordinated through a collaborative practice model with nursing, as well as a strict competency pathway. Kudos are in order for cath lab professionals who have been able to cross roles through this collaboration, be it in monitoring or circulator responsibilities. In fact, in many labs, the RT is responsible for providing the hands-on training to the other clinical professionals working within the cardiac cath lab, especially given the their traditional technical expertise.

Corazon recommends that those specialists in the cath lab — the RN, RT(R), as well as the CVT — pursue the registered cardiovascular invasive specialist certification. Meeting the qualifications can be considered a significant professional accomplishment, and often will open the door for greater opportunities.  

Although the RT has many responsibilities, they are ultimately responsible for adhering to ALL radiation safety procedures and guidelines set forth by the ASRT (American Society of Radiologic Technologists), as well as the hospital or facility’s radiation safety guidelines. The interventional cardiologists in the lab can refer to radiologic technologists for their technical expertise with the balloons, stents, or other interventional equipment selected. 

Based on Corazon experience and our client work across the country, the RT is often the “go-to” expert for interventional devices, such as manual or mechanical thrombectomy, intravascular ultrasound, fractional flow reserve, optical coherence technology, percutaneous valve repair, or directional/rotational atherectomy, just to name a few. The RT is also challenged daily by busy physicians and demanding patients. Juggling the potential for multiple scenarios — both elective as well as emergent — along with on-call time and the impact it can have on your personal life can be challenging. However, this is what makes the work and commitment to this professional so unique and gratifying.

Choosing to work in such a tumultuous environment takes tenacity and most often a type-A personality, along with the ability to think on your feet any hour of the day, especially after working a full shift only to be called back at 2 am to treat an acute cardiac patient. The rewards of such a profession far outweigh the drawbacks. In fact, most often, you will find the RT in the cath lab to be committed to this field for several years. Often, as they gain significant experience, an RT may elect to leave this environment to take on a leadership role within the organization.

Corazon pays tribute to those individuals who have chosen the field of radiologic technology. The many hours of dedication and technical excellence that you bring to this rapidly changing field are invaluable to the cath labs of which you are a part. We ask those reading this to take a moment during National Radiologic Technology Week to celebrate your fellow radiologic technologists in the cardiac cath lab — they help make a difference through their compassion, commitment and expertise.

Amy Newell is a Director with Corazon, Inc., offering a full continuum of services for the heart, vascular, and neuro specialties, offering consulting, recruitment, and interim management services to hospitals nationwide.

For more information, visit www.corazoninc.com. To reach Amy, email anewell@corazoninc.com.