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What Is a Cath Lab Nurse?

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No job in nursing implies a more direct route to the heart of your patients—literally!—than that of a cardiac catheterization laboratory nurse (a cath lab nurse, for short).

All catheterization puns aside, cath lab nurses play an essential role in detecting, treating, and preventing heart conditions. They also provide moral and educational support to their patients. In short, the job implies “working with heart” in several ways. 

If you’re interested in cardiology and bringing empathy and a calm demeanor to your work, chances are you’re a perfect candidate for this branch of nursing. In this article, we’ll look at the daily responsibilities, educational requirements, and job outlook for this type of nurse

What is a cardiac cath lab nurse?

Before we explain what a cath lab nurse is, let’s start with the basics. What is cardiac catheterization? 

This procedure involves passing a tube into the heart for diagnosing or treating cardiac conditions such as irregular heartbeats, clogged arteries, coronary angioplasty, and coronary stenting. The procedure can also be used for performing tests. 

Cardiac cath lab nurses, therefore, are a physician’s right hand before, during, and after any catheterization procedure. They also provide patients with moral support during what, for many, can be an emotionally taxing procedure. 


What are the responsibilities of a cath lab nurse?

Understand the basics? Great! So what does a cath lab nurse do to ensure that catheterization processes go as smoothly as possible? Here are a few key tasks cath lab nurses perform: 

  • Administering medications
  • Educating patients and their families on procedures and follow-ups
  • Preparing for emergencies 
  • Talking to patients about lifestyle changes
  • Managing paperwork 
  • Examining patients before and after their procedures
  • Monitoring patient progress and checking for side effects 

How to become a cath lab nurse

Think you’re ready to kick off a specialized career as a cath lab nurse? If so, it’s time to buckle up for one unique educational journey. Here’s what it will look like: 

  1. Get your degree

To become any type of registered nurse (RN), you’ll need to earn a nursing degree from an accredited program. You can opt for an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you are not sure how you wish to specialize or whether you might want to try an advanced nursing career later, we recommend getting a BSN. Although it will take two years more than the ADN, it’s a more widely accepted base certification for more advanced programs. 

  1. Take the licensure examination 

To be able to practice as an RN, you’ll first have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination–Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), and we’re sure you’ll ace it because your ADN or BSN will prepare you well. After passing, you can apply for licensure from your state, and you’re officially set to practice. 

  1. Put in some clinical hours 

In this step, you’ll get to know your specialty “up close and personal” through hands-on work alongside cardiologists. As you commence this journey, think ahead about what kind of cath lab certification you would like to earn. These programs will look for a certain amount of clinical hours on your resume as an eligibility requirement. 

  1. Get certified   

At a minimum, you’ll need to hold the Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certificates. However, many employers will look for additional certifications before hiring you. Here are two of the most common:

  • Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification: This is provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). You will need to log 2,000 hours of clinical practice, 30 hours of continuing education, and two years of experience as a full-time RN. 
  • Critical Care Registered Nurse Certification: This certification is offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). To be eligible, you’ll have to complete a number of clinical hours (this varies based on the number of years in which the hours were accrued) working in a critical care setting. 

What is the job outlook for a cath lab nurse?

It’s time to talk about money. On average, a cardiac cath lab nurse’s salary is roughly $121,000 annually in the United States, and the more experience you possess, the more you earn! What’s more, you’ll likely enjoy job security. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 7% growth in cath lab nurse jobs by 2029. 

If you prefer a flexible job that allows you to travel, consider becoming a cath lab travel nurse. In this role, you’ll earn roughly the same salary as a stationary cath lab nurse, but you’ll be on a constant adventure as you move from assignment to assignment, which, for many, is a major perk. 

You put in your heart and soul to save your patients’ lives, and we’re always here to cheer you on. As you take on the nursing career of your dreams, keep us in mind to keep you cool and comfortable in our performance scrubs.

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