Cardiac Nurse-Salary, Education and Jobs

Cardiac Nurses care for people with heart disease. They usually monitor and treat very ill patients, or they can also focus on cardiac rehabilitation—helping patients make changes in their lifestyle to prevent the worsening of their disease. To find out whether this career option is right for you, take a totally free career quiz.

Minimum degree: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

I have the hardest time explaining to non-medical people what I do at work. The easy answer is: “I’m a nurse in a cardiovascular ICU. A good percentage of our patients have recently had open heart surgery, but we also take care of patients after lung surgery, after vascular surgery, or people with exacerbations of congestive heart failure.” Okay, well that explains our patient clientele, but what do I do every day? Well…. uhhhhh…. that’s where the problems start. Everything I can think of to describe what I do in an average day comes out sounding like I’m a med-wielding, babysitting, doctor’s assistant.

The average day

The average day of cardiac nurse consists of:
-getting report on 1-2 patients (depending on acuity… aka how sick they are)
-doing assessments on these patients (listening to their heart, lungs, finding pulses, talking to them (if applicable), looking at what IV meds they’re on, etc)
-looking through the chart to find MD orders that may have been missed and looking up lab values that may need to be treated
-get ambulatory patients out of bed for breakfast; get patients their medications
-greeting family members as they arrive for visiting hours and giving them updates on their loved ones’ status
-collaborating with physicians to advance the patient’s care (discontinue monitoring lines?, plan for procedures?,  transfer out of ICU?)
-carry out physician’s orders
-Then, the cycle starts all over again at noon, when its time for another set of meds, another meal, and doctors continuously rounding all day (our sicker patients can have up to 8 doctors on their case, and each of them round every day)

Okay, so that’s an average day. But, even reading through it, I know it doesn’t give an adequate representation of what I do during the day. Heck, I even have a hard time writing on here what I do that makes me feel like my job is so worthwhile.

The rewards

The best days I have at work are ones in which I feel like I made a difference in someone’s life. More often than not, it’s the simple fact of sitting down with my patients (or their families) and making a real connection. For example, I had a patient who had a peripheral bypass surgery (where they harvest one of the patient’s own veins that is not necessary and use it to bypass a blocked vessel in the leg, restoring circulation to the extremity).

He was relatively young (about 60 years old) and in good spirits after the surgery, not having a lot of pain and hopeful that this surgery was going to fix the alternating numbness and pain he had been feeling in that leg. As the afternoon went on, the part of his leg around his incision was getting swollen and hard, meaning that blood was pooling under the skin. I explained to him what was going on and that I would have to hold some hard pressure on his leg, which was going to be sore, but necessary.

I stood there, holding pressure, for about 20 minutes straight and the whole time we talked about nothing in particular- living in the Midwest, swimming in the ocean, favorite places to eat out, etc. Luckily, holding pressure on his leg worked, and the hardness began to subside. At the end of my shift, he said to me, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m dying to know how old you are.”

And when I replied, “25″, he said, “wow, I’ve met a lot of nurses through my years and you having been a shining star, an angel even”. Such simple words from a patient, but they mean the world to me. I hope that each of my patients feel like they get my full attention and the best nursing care.

I can also have days when I feel like I’ve made a real difference and have never had the opportunity to speak with my patient. I had a patient who came in through the emergency room during the night after a cardiac arrest in his nursing home.

As per our “hypothermia protocol” (used on patients who had a witnessed cardiac arrest), he was started on the cooling blankets, taken to the cath lab to open his blocked coronary vessels, and brought to the ICU, ventilated, sedated and paralyzed and we continued to cool his body to 32 degrees (which reduces damage done to the body).

Due to this, I was never able to talk to him, but I spent all day adjusting IV medications, consulting and getting necessary orders from physicians, and speaking to his children who lived across the country. Days like that, where I’m getting a lot done, feel amazing. And it doesn’t hurt that he ended up being totally fine and back to his normal self just 4 days later.

What a job!

Even talking about these 2 examples, I still don’t feel like I’m giving a full picture of my career. I have a lot of crazy days (with plenty of crazy stories), but that’s not the usual. I’ve helped doctor’s crack a chest to massage the heart right in the ICU, I’ve watched doctors emergently stick long needles through the chest to drain fluid building up around the heart, I’ve helped in a resuscitation attempt when a man had an esophageal tumor that ruptured his esophagus and was hemorrhaging out of his mouth, etc, etc.

I am a team leader in the ICU, which means I go down to the telemetry floor to run codes; I am a preceptor which means I orient new graduate nurses to our ICU; I am an ACLS instructor, which means that I teach nurses the proper way to run a code, or handle a situation when a patient is doing poorly.

I love my job. I guess there is no reason why I should have to explain every detail what I do. When I worry about how others perceive what I do on a daily basis, I guess that might just be my ego.

Some people can’t deal with the stress, and often they take a free career quiz to see what other options they have.


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