Careers

Learn About Being an EKG Technician

What does an EKG technician do?

Electrocardiograph or EKG technicians are healthcare professionals who perform diagnostic tests that help doctors identify cardiovascular problems in patients. The tests can help discover any irregularities in the heart that could lead to a heart attack or heart disease. They work mostly in hospitals, but can also work in long-term specialty care facilities or private practices. The EKG technician explains the test to patients prior to conducting them. Once the patient is on the machine, the technician monitors heart performance and the patient’s blood pressure. Other duties include:

  • Execute EKG services according to the hospital’s procedures
  • Maintain EKG equipment and any required inventory needed to run tests
  • Perform related administrative tasks including recording results, filing and data entry
  • Attend additional training programs as required by the healthcare system, including safety procedures
  • Perform and schedule EKG tests

Average salary

The average salary for an EKG technician depends on education, experience and location. EKG technicians can work either part-time or full-time, depending on the demands of the hospital.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $20.01 per hour
  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $43.40 per hour

EKG technician requirements

Acquiring a position as an EKG technician involves certain requirements:

Education

To become an EKG technician, you need a high school diploma or GED. You can also further your education with a certificate program, a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree. Although certification and higher education are not legally required, most employers prefer job candidates to at least be certified and may not hire technicians without it.

Training

There are three typical ways to gain the training to be an EKG technician:

  • The hospital may provide on-the-job training after hiring
  • Complete a one-year certification course
  • Complete an associate degree program, which includes practical training besides classroom learning

Certifications

Although not required, there are many educational institutions that provide certification for EKG technicians:

  • Certified EKG Technician: A Certified EKG Technician, or CET, involves an exam with approximately 100 multiple-choice questions and 20 pretest questions. The test is owned by the National Healthcare Association. To qualify to sit for the exam, you must have completed some on-the-job training and successfully performed at least 10 EKGs. The NHA CET exam uses a scaled scoring system that ranges from 200 to 500. A passing score is 390 on the scale, or about 78%.

Skills

EKG technicians need a variety of hard and soft skills to succeed in their role:

  • Attention to detail: An EKG technician needs to have an acute attention to detail to follow hospital procedures. You will review patient tests and need to understand if there is a life-threatening irregularity with their heartbeat. If there is an issue, you must follow the hospital protocol on how to alert the physician and explain what is happening to the patient.

  • Communication: EKG technicians need excellent verbal and written communication skills to interact with patients and hospital staff and file accurate reports. They may need to communicate test results to the patient’s physician or to the patient themselves. 

  • Empathy: These professionals need to clearly and calmly explain to the patient what they do as they do it to soothe worried patients. For example, you would alert them when you place adhesive pads that are connected to wires that are connected to the EKG machine. You will need to be calm and help keep the patients calm, as this can be a highly stressful time for them. Making sure they are calm will also ensure that you have accurate results.

  • Stamina: EKG technicians need physical stamina, as they are often on their feet for hours at a time. They may need to go back and forth between the patient and the machine, or between the physician and the workroom. These professionals may have back-to-back patients and will need to help the patient remain calm while getting everything set-up.

  • Technological skills: These professionals use computers and advanced electrocardiograph equipment regularly, so they must have the technical skills necessary to troubleshoot and maintain equipment and perform the necessary tests.

EKG technician work environment

EKG technicians usually work within a hospital environment, but some might also work in a specialty long-term care facility or a private practice. They are typically stationed in a separate room with the EKG equipment but will have interaction with patients, doctors and nursing staff throughout the day. 

EKG technicians typically spend long hours standing. Depending on whether they are part-time or full time, hours will depend on how many patients are scheduled for tests that day. Some technicians may work on the weekend, depending on demand and emergencies.

How to become an EKG technician

To become an EKG technician, you must be highly detail-oriented and have strong communication skills: 

  1. Earn your high school diploma. At a minimum, you will need your high school diploma or a GED to become an EKG technician. If you want a higher-level position, you could also get an associate or bachelor’s degree.

  2. Obtain on-the-job training. Once hired, you will receive on-the-job training, but you can also take a one-year training certification prior to looking for a position. In the one-year training program, you will gain valuable skills in helping you get to the next level in your career.

  3. Get certified. Although certification is not required, it looks favorable to hiring managers. If you have performed EKG tests on at least 10 people and have the minimum required education you can register, take and pass the Certified EKG Technician (CET) exam. The CET certification also makes you eligible to perform stress tests and Holter (portable EKG device) monitoring.

  4. Create a resume. Include your highest level of education, certification, relevant work history and skills on your resume. Search for open job positions and write a tailored cover letter for each position by using keywords from the job description.

EKG technician job description example

The Healthy Heart Hospital is seeking an EKG technician to perform EKG tests for our cardiovascular patients. The EKG technician will perform electrocardiograms for the outpatient, inpatient and emergency departments. The ideal candidate will be detail-oriented with the ability to understand test results and notify the proper staff in an emergency situation. 

The EKG technician is responsible for maintaining the EKG equipment and tracking required inventory, like electrodes and adhesive pads. They will also perform administrative tasks, including the recording of the test results and filing of important documentation. The EKG technician must have an empathetic demeanor with clear communication skills, as they will be explaining what they are doing to the patient and helping to calm nerves. The ideal candidate will be required to learn standard procedures and maintain them with precision in order to reduce test errors. The EKG technician must also foster camaraderie, as they will be interacting with hospital staff on a daily basis.

Related careers

An EKG technician can transfer some of their skills into other fields. With a CET certification, they can also open up other career opportunities, including monitoring athletes or performing stress tests in a private practice. Consider these similar careers: