American Heart Month 2021: Expert Interview, Careers & Advocacy

“Broadly speaking, the role of non-physician cardiovascular professionals, the Cardiovascular Team, is critical to effective, efficient, and quality care.”

Craig Beavers, PharmD, FACC, Chair of the Cardiovascular Team Section at the American College of Cardiology (ACC)

For years, cardiovascular disease has been the number one cause of death in the US as well as the leading driver of healthcare costs. Such a monumental challenge requires not only physicians but also an army of cardiovascular professionals: non-physician health workers who coordinate in teams to look after the heart of America.

This year’s Cardiovascular Professionals Week takes place from February 14-20, 2021 and February is American Heart Month. It’s a time to recognize the importance of heart health, as well as the work of the non-physician cardiovascular professionals who help ensure it. After a year spent underneath a global pandemic, it’s as urgent as ever.

Cardiovascular professionals can work in invasive and non-invasive settings, in administrative and clinical roles, providing both emergent and routine care for every section of the patient population. They earn expert certifications, take on niche specialties, work in high-pressure procedures, and operate advanced medical technology. Alongside physicians, they stand on the front lines of the fight for cardiovascular health.

“Broadly speaking, the role of non-physician cardiovascular professionals, the Cardiovascular Team, is critical to effective, efficient, and quality care,” says Craig Beavers, PharmD, FACC, Chair of the Cardiovascular Team Section at the American College of Cardiology (ACC).

The Role of the American College of Cardiology

Founded in 1949 by 13 cardiologists, ACC now has over 54,000 members from all over the globe. Over the last 70 years, it’s become the go-to place for cardiovascular professionals to learn, grow, and share. ACC envisions a world where innovation and knowledge optimize cardiovascular care and outcomes. Cardiovascular professionals are a key part of that vision.

“The management of cardiovascular disease and the increasing complexity of patients are best supported, and proven in the evidence when various non-physician members are engaged and are working at the top of license or with full scope of practice,” Dr. Beavers says.

“This has become more critical in recent history with efforts moving toward value-based care, and also was clearly demonstrated with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lastly, as clinician well-being and burnout have become a topic front and center, it is clear that working in highly functional and dynamic teams can reduce burn-out and improve clinician well-being.”

ACC’s Cardiovascular Team Section is a unique blend of forum and network and acts as the organizational home for cardiovascular professionals. Since its inception in 2003, it’s reached nearly 6,000 members. ACC’s Cardiovascular Team Section includes a wide swathe of cardiovascular professionals: technologists, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers, physiologists, genetic counselors, physician assistants, nurses, and more.

“For over more than a decade, the ACC has been the professional home for the cardiovascular team,” Dr. Beavers says. “This includes the diverse array of professionals who touch our patients’ lives. The ACC has embraced being a multidisciplinary organization and works to advocate and advance the priorities for the team. This includes through the pillars of education, research, advocacy, networking, and professional development.”

Cardiovascular care is a dynamic field, and cardiovascular professionals engage in a wide variety of advocacy issues around scope of practice, administrative barriers, health disparities, and diversity and inclusion. ACC’s Cardiovascular Team Section pushes forward on those issues, advocating for its members, its patients, and cardiovascular care at large.

“We welcome you with open arms to the ACC,” Dr. Beavers says.

Meet the Team: Careers in Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians help test, image, diagnose, and treat cardiovascular ailments. While there is overlap between the two job titles, technologists generally perform more complex tests and procedures.

Cardiovascular technologists can work in either an invasive or non-invasive setting: the former involves inserting instruments into a patient’s body, while the latter uses external scans. Cardiovascular technologists who are invasive specialists can work in a cardiac catheterization lab—also known as a cath lab—where they perform complex procedures or even assist in monitoring patients during open-heart surgery. Technicians generally practice in non-invasive settings and may specialize in a particular diagnostic method, such as electrocardiogram (EKG) machines.

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians can also specialize in other diagnostic areas, such as cardiac sonography, phlebological sonography, rhythm analysis, electrophysiology, or echocardiography. Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) offers dedicated certifications in several categories, with which cardiovascular professionals can demonstrate both their mastery of and commitment to their chosen field.

Cardiovascular Nurse Practitioners

Cardiovascular nurse practitioners (NPs) are highly-trained health professionals who specialize in treating patients with cardiovascular conditions. They can work in either inpatient or outpatient care, and sometimes in a combination of both.

Pulling together their mastery of patient advocacy, patient education, and team-based care, cardiovascular NPs act as translators between cardiologists, patients, and caregivers. Cardiovascular NPs can also act as a patient navigator and help with either virtual or in-person visits, especially during transitions of care.

Cardiovascular NPs are trained to perform a wide range of services, and in many states they can operate with a high degree of autonomy. They can also specialize even further: a cardiovascular NP can work in a cardiac ICU, treat heart transplant patients, or manage patients with other acute and chronic cardiovascular conditions. In some ways, cardiovascular NPs already inhabit a specialization within a specialization, but their numbers are growing and they have an integral role to play in meeting the cardiovascular needs of the patient population.

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) has a dedicated cardiology specialty group, which connects cardiovascular NPs to each other as well as over 100,000 other AANP members. Cardiovascular NPs may also look to other cardiology-based organizations such as the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses (AAHFN) and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA). The American College of Cardiology (ACC) also maintains a list of clinical competencies for NPs working in adult cardiovascular care.

Cardiovascular Administrators

A cardiovascular administrator is a healthcare administrator who specializes in the cardiovascular field. They will manage the staff, marketing, finances, IT systems, and overall operations of a cardiovascular department or facility. Despite serving in a non-medical capacity, cardiovascular administrators can have a large impact on patient outcomes, and a keen understanding of the unique needs of a cardiovascular facility must inform all of one’s leadership decisions.

The American College of Cardiology (ACC) offers a membership category specifically for cardiovascular administrators, a category that already includes over 700 cardiovascular administrators and practice managers. Through the ACC, they connect with 52,000 other multidisciplinary professionals and gain access to practice solutions, guidelines, appropriate use criteria, and quality programs to help them elevate standards of care.

Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists are certified health professionals who monitor, diagnose, and treat breathing issues related to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, lung trauma, and other conditions.

Working alongside physicians, nurses, and technicians, they can practice in a wide range of settings. They can also specialize in any of the following areas: adult respiratory therapy, emergency respiratory therapy, pediatric respiratory therapy, or geriatric respiratory therapy. In addition to diagnosis and treatment, respiratory therapists play an active role in educating the public about respiratory issues, such as the dangers of smoking or vaping.

Respiratory therapists have played a critical role in combating the Covid-19 pandemic by assisting with intubations and managing ventilators. These and other procedures are often performed in close proximity to the patient’s face, increasing a respiratory therapist’s chance of exposure. The pandemic has also highlighted a growing shortage of respiratory therapists, and a dire need for more.

To that end, the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) updated its regulations in order to allow more respiratory therapists into the workforce: waiving credential verification fees, extending licenses, and renewing the credentials of recently retired therapists.

Advocacy Resources for Cardiovascular Professionals

In cardiovascular care, it’s all about a team-based approach. So if you’re a new or aspiring cardiovascular professional, it’s crucial to get connected with the broader cardiovascular community. Below, you’ll find resources around jobs, tool kits, colleagues, research, advocacy efforts, and continuing education opportunities in cardiovascular care.

  • American College of Cardiology (ACC): Founded in 1949 by 13 cardiologists, ACC aspires to be the indispensable home of all cardiovascular professionals, providing both clinical and non-clinical solutions for every stage of their careers. The Cardiovascular Team Section has nearly 6,000 members and plays a central role in ACC’s strategic vision.
  • Association of Cardiovascular Professionals (ACVP): The only cardiac professional organization that caters to non-physician professionals, ACVP has over 3,000 members and 10,000 networked professionals involved in all levels of cardiovascular service and specialty.
  • American Heart Association (AHA): For nearly a century, AHA has been fighting heart disease and stroke, and striving to save and improve lives. Their focus on cardiovascular health has drawn in more than 40,000 volunteers and supporters and invested over $4.5 billion in heart research.
  • Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA): The leading nursing organization dedicated to preventing and managing cardiovascular disease, PCNA hosts a wealth of clinical resources and continuing education options for cardiovascular nurses on its webpage. Their 27th Annual Cardiovascular Nursing Symposium will be held virtually on April 8-9, 2021.
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog

Writer

Matt is a writer and researcher from Southern California. He’s been living abroad since 2016. Long spells in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America have made the global mindset a core tenet of his perspective. From conceptual art in Los Angeles, to NGO work on the front lines of Eastern Ukraine, to counterculture protests in the Southern Caucasus, Matt’s writing subjects are all over the map, and so is he.

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