EKG technician career overview
What is an EKG technician?
Electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians are allied health professionals that measure the natural electrical activity of a patient’s heart using specialized equipment. They play an important role in the healthcare industry—physicians and other healthcare providers use the information they collect to understand a patient’s cardiac health and make diagnoses and treatment plans as needed.
EKG technicians may also be referred to as ECG technicians, which are the same thing. EKG comes from the German spelling (Elektrokardiogramm) which is more commonly used in the United States.
The requirements to become an EKG technician are not standardized, which means that they are usually determined by employers themselves. Generally speaking, most EKG technicians need to complete an EKG technician training program, many of which can be done in as little as three to six months.
With an above-average expected job growth rate, a career as an EKG technician can be a great way to enter the healthcare field or have a fulfilling and stable career to last a lifetime.
The role of the EKG technician
EKG technicians work with patients of all ages to monitor and interpret their cardiac health using EKG tests. There are a few types of EKG tests, but all of them measure the electrical activity in the patient’s heart via sensors (called electrodes) that are attached to the body. The electrical activity is automatically recorded on a monitor or printed out of a piece of paper.
“EKG techs work in hospitals and they perform electrocardiograms on inpatients and outpatients,” said Terri Glazewski, one of the program advisers for the EKG/Cardiac Monitor Technician certificate program at Edmonds College in Lynnwood, Washington. “Their day is filled with going from room to room, performing EKGs on patients with various medical and surgical problems.”
EKG tests may be ordered by a physician for numerous reasons. Patients experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness and more may need an EKG which can help detect:
There are three primary kinds of EKG tests:
EKG technician job duties
EKG technicians perform all the duties associated with administering EKG tests, including:
- Preparing patients for EKGs: Explain the process; answer any patient questions; shave any of the patient’s body hair if it’s excessive enough to interfere with the electrodes; attach electrodes to the patient’s body, making sure they remove any jewelry or clothing that could interfere with the test; provide a gown for the patient’s privacy, if necessary.
- Conducting EKGs: Start the machine to record the patient’s electrical activity in the heart, which typically lasts about five minutes.
- Interpreting EKGs: Deliver the test results to the patient’s physician(s) or other relevant members of their medical team.
- Documenting EKG results: Record test results in patient’s medical record; write up reports for the patient’s medical team.
- Maintaining EKG equipment: Understand how the equipment works and when technical assistance is needed to keep the equipment working properly; take and track inventory of EKG equipment.
Qualifications for becoming an EKG technician
The process of becoming an EKG technician is not the same everywhere, nor are the qualifications universal. What you need to become an EKG technician really comes down to the requirements of individual employers and any state-specific requirements that may exist for allied health professionals where you live. In fact, some employers may even offer on-the-job training, meaning you may not need any prior healthcare experience to become an EKG technician. This is not usually the norm, however—most employers require EKG technicians to complete an EKG technician training program and/or have an EKG technician certification. At the absolute least, EKG technicians must possess a high school diploma or equivalent education.
Regardless of what’s required, you should consider completing a training program and getting a certification to prepare yourself for this allied health career. Having these credentials may qualify you for most jobs and/or set you apart from the competition in the job market.
Glazewski stressed that a solid educational foundation is going to prepare you for the job way more than just doing the bare minimum. Plus, it could lead to better patient outcomes.
“Some people will just take an online class to learn EKG. However, that is really pushing the job as a technician and not a practitioner. You have the technical skills to do the EKG, but you don’t have the education to go, ‘Wow, this EKG is very problematic.’ I mean, anybody can read what the computer says. But the computer is not always right, and there are lots of times in my career that the computer is wrong. Having the education to know what the rhythm actually is makes you be better because you can go to the nurse who’s busy and say, ‘I need to look at this right now,’ versus throwing the EKG results on the desk for someone to look at later.”
“Having the education to know what the rhythm actually is makes you be better because you can go to the nurse who’s busy and say, ‘I need to look at this right now,’ versus throwing the EKG results on the desk for someone to look at later.”
EKG technician certificate programs
Numerous community and technical colleges offer EKG technician training programs. Most are certificate programs that can vary in length from school to school, but they are usually between three and nine months long. It’s common for shorter programs to require students to complete a few general prerequisite courses prior to applying to the program, whereas longer programs may already have these courses built into the program itself. Either way, you can expect to take courses in the following subjects as part of an EKG technician program:
Some certificate programs also require that students complete a clinical experience or externship to graduate. These experiences place students in a healthcare setting where they can observe and be trained by experienced professionals.
EKG technician certifications
Certifications are another great way to validate the skills needed to be a successful EKG technician. There are several EKG certifications out there—some employers may prefer you to have one over the other, it just depends on their preference. To earn a certification, you must satisfy the eligibility requirements and pass an exam. Here are some of the most common EKG technician certifications and what you need to earn them:
|Name of certification and provider||Eligibility requirements|
|Certified EKG Technician (CET) from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)||Possess a high school diploma or equivalent education|
Completed an EKG technician training or education program within the last five years OR one year of supervised work experience in an EKG technician field within the last three years
|Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT) from Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)||Possess a high school diploma or equivalent education|
Currently enrolled as a student or graduate of a cardiovascular or allied health training program OR currently or previously employed in the field of cardiovascular technology or an allied health field recognized by the American Medical Association OR completed requirements for a graduate or undergraduate degree from a recognized institution in a field related to science or physical health
|Certified Rhythm Analysis Technician (CRAT) from Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)||Same eligibility requirements as CCT exam above|
|Nationally Registered Certified EKG Technician (NRCEKG) from the National Association for Health Professionals (NAHP)||A credential-relevant approved program of study from an educational institute accredited by the Allied Health Education and Accreditation of the American Medical Association (CAHEA), Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or any accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education|
Two years of medical training in the United States Armed Forces
Two years of full-time professional experience in a credential-relevant field
What to expect as an EKG technician
Glazewski said that a job as an EKG technician can be an excellent way to gain exposure to the field of healthcare or a rewarding career all on its own. “If somebody is kind of concerned whether patient care is for them, it’s a great way to explore and see if they are comfortable.”
EKG technicians can also usually enjoy flexible scheduling options, and most hospitals don’t schedule EKG technicians 24/7. “You’re not in a position where you’re going to have to work night shifts,” Glazewski said.
Although a given day on the job can be quite mellow, EKG technicians do have to deal with challenging and stressful situations at times, especially in emergency scenarios. “Sometimes they’ll have to go and do an EKG in an emergency when a patient is having a cardiac arrest, and it’s very stressful for them because nurses are trying to start IVs, doctors are doing other things, and they have to get in there and do what they need to do and they have to be accurate and detailed.”
Here are some important skills that Glazewski said all EKG technicians should have if they wish to be successful:
- Communication skills are essential for positive patient interactions, answering their questions, helping them feel comfortable as well as interacting with the rest of the medical staff.
- Flexibility is important when dealing with patients, too. Patients may not want to get an EKG done for any number of reasons, but a good EKG technician, Glazewski said, should be able to respond to the patient’s needs and find a way to deliver care comfortably.
- Critical thinking skills are necessary for EKG technicians to be able to interpret EKG results and respond in a way that is appropriate for each situation.
- Emotional fortitude is an essential part of just about every patient-centered healthcare career. When you’re working with ill patients, you’re not usually seeing people (or their families) at their best. “You have to be able to walk out the door, leave it behind and go, ‘Tomorrow’s a new day.’”
EKG technician salary and job growth
The median annual salary for cardiovascular technologists and technicians is $63,020 according to the 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Your salary as an EKG technician depends on several factors including your education, experience, work environment and possibly any certifications you may possess. Glazewski said that many EKG technician roles have the chance to work overtime and earn extra income, if they choose. EKG tech median annual salaries look like this for different states and highest and lowest percentiles of pay:
Median Salary: $63,020
Projected job growth: 3.7%
10th Percentile: $33,950
25th Percentile: $39,430
75th Percentile: $81,740
90th Percentile: $102,000
Projected job growth: 3.7%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$96,840||$42,380||$116,500|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries may vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
According to the BLS, the industries with highest level of employment of this group of professionals includes general medical and surgical hospitals, physician offices, outpatient care centers, specialty hospitals and other ambulatory health care services. Some EKG technicians may also find work in research settings or for home health care agencies.
“The majority of them are going to work in acute care hospitals,” Glazewski said.
In general, the employment of diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians is expected to grow 3.7% through 2032, much faster than the average across all occupations. One of the ways the BLS accounts for this growth is that as the baby boomer population continues to age, conditions such as blood clots and heart disease will likely increase. The demand for EKG tests—and EKG technicians—should rise as well.