How to Become an EKG Technician: Salary & Career Guide

Posted on 01.24.2024

If you’ve ever considered becoming an EKG (electrocardiogram) technician, this guide will help you learn more about this healthcare role. You’ll learn about the responsibilities, educational requirements, and opportunities available. You’ll also get insights into the day-to-day experiences of EKG technicians and see if you’re a good fit for the job.

We interviewed Daisy Manteris, a seasoned Allied Health instructor and combat medic, about being an EKG technician: what a typical day may look like, how much you can make, and some other great insights we’ll share! If you’re looking for a new healthcare career or want to switch it up, keep reading! We’ll cover (nearly) everything you need to know about being an EKG technician.

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What is an EKG technician?

An EKG technician is a specialized healthcare professional skilled in performing electrocardiograms (EKGs) to monitor and record electrical impulses transmitted by the heart. This role is crucial in diagnosing and treating cardiovascular issues.

Why become an EKG technician?

Daisy emphasizes the joy of being in a role where you can contribute significantly to patient care without the extensive responsibilities of a medical assistant. This career is ideal for those drawn to patient care but who prefer avoiding tasks like injections or blood drawing. Many who pursue an EKG certification are already working in healthcare, looking to “stack credentials.” This is a great way to improve your marketability and earn more in your current role. But don’t worry- if you have no experience, that’s okay too! You aren’t required to have a healthcare background to become a certified EKG technician.

What does an EKG technician do?

Using EKG machines, they capture data that helps doctors identify and treat heart diseases, arrhythmias, and other cardiac issues. The quick, painless test provides valuable information about the patient’s heart in real-time.

Read more: Can You Become a Pharmacy Tech Without Going Back to School

Day in the life of an EKG technician

EKG technicians spend their days conducting tests that track the heart’s rhythm and rate. Allied Health instructor Daisy Manteris says, “It’s a role that allows direct patient interaction without the need for follow-up care typically associated with primary care settings.” Here’s what it could look like:

  1. You begin by setting up and calibrating the EKG equipment, ensuring everything functions correctly. This might involve checking the electrodes, wires, and the EKG machine.
  2. Throughout the day, you’ll meet various patients. You’ll explain the EKG procedures to your patients, ensuring they’re comfortable and informed. This involves attaching electrodes to the patient’s chest, arms, and legs and monitoring the EKG readings.
  3. You accurately record the EKG readings, paying attention to any abnormalities. These readings are critical for doctors to diagnose and treat heart-related conditions.
  4. You’ll frequently collaborate with doctors and nurses, discussing EKG results and patient conditions. Clear communication and teamwork are essential.
  5. Regularly cleaning and maintaining EKG equipment is a part of your responsibilities. You also adhere to strict hygiene and safety protocols to ensure a safe environment for patients and staff.
  6. Staying updated with the latest cardiac care and EKG technology is a part of your job. This might involve attending workshops or undergoing additional training.

Read more: Medical Billing & Coding Job Duties, Requirements, & Salary

8 Steps to becoming an EKG technician

The path to becoming a certified EKG technician is straightforward. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate your way to becoming a certified EKG technician:

1. Get your high school diploma or pass a GED (General Educational Development) test.

2. Enroll in an EKG technician program offered by community colleges, vocational schools, or online platforms.

3. Get some hands-on training in an externship.

4. Start preparing for the certification exam as you finish your program courses.

5. Take and pass a recognized EKG technician certification exam, such as the one offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

6. With your certification, you can apply for EKG technician positions in hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

7. Get an EKG technician job and apply what you’ve learned in your program.

8. Keep your certification valid by fulfilling any required continuing education units (CEUs) and renewing your certification when needed.

Read more: What is Present on Admission (POA) in Medical Coding?

Frequently asked questions about becoming an EKG technician

You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers!

Is becoming an EKG technician hard?

Daisy Manteris, Allied Health instructor and combat medic, shares that one of the challenges for EKG technicians is learning to identify various heart rhythms. However, she reassures, “Once explained in simplified terms, many students find the concepts much easier than anticipated.”

Like any new skill, developing your skills as an EKG technician takes time and practice. However, the role can be physically demanding and requires great attention to detail. You’re also working with patients who may have serious heart conditions, which could be emotionally taxing. This role isn’t for you if you don’t want to work directly with patients.

Do you need to be certified to become an EKG technician?

Certification is essential for an EKG technician. Allied Health instructor Daisy Manteris highlights the minimal requirement of completing ten live EKGs before certification, making it a feasible goal for aspiring technicians.

How hard is the EKG test?

According to Daisy, the biggest surprise for many is the simplicity of the concepts once they understand the basics. She advises not to overcomplicate the learning process. The EKG exam is 100 multiple-choice questions focusing on basic anatomy, heart physiology, cardiac testing, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and basic life support emergencies. You get two hours to take the exam. You must score 80% or higher to pass the test.

Do you have to be good in math to be an EKG technician?

A basic understanding of math is helpful for EKG technicians, as they need to read and interpret data from EKG machines. This includes understanding rates and rhythms, which can be calculated with basic math skills. While advanced mathematics is not required, a comfortable grasp of basic math is beneficial.

What score do you need to pass the EKG certification exam?

The passing score for an EKG certification exam can vary depending on the specific certification body. For example, the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) requires a scaled score of 390 or higher out of 500 (80%) to pass their Certified EKG Technician (CET) exam.

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Do I need a high school diploma to become a certified EKG technician?

A high school diploma or equivalent (such as a GED) is required to enroll in an EKG technician training program.

Do I need a college degree to become a certified EKG technician?

A college degree is not required to become a certified EKG technician. EKG technician certification programs typically require only a high school diploma or GED.

How much do EKG techs make?

The more experienced, educated, and certified you are in healthcare, the more you can make. This includes EKG technicians, who average $18 per hour upon entering the field but can earn up to $25-30 per hour in certain markets. EKG technicians can earn as much as $78,210, on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You’re likely to earn more in an outpatient care center–nearly $20,000 more on average–than working at a hospital.

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EKG technician vs. other medical roles

Comparing EKG technicians with roles like medical assistants and phlebotomists, Allied Health instructor Daisy points out the unique niche EKG techs fill, focusing on patient care without the responsibilities of extensive follow-up treatments. Here are some comparable healthcare roles and how they stack up to being an EKG technician. All salaries are based on entry-level roles.

EKG technician vs. phlebotomist

Salaries: EKG technicians earn an average of $18 per hour, while phlebotomists make around $19 per hour.

Requirements: EKG technicians typically complete a certification program lasting 3 to 6 months, with no externship required. Phlebotomists usually undergo a similar duration of training, but their programs often include externship hours for practical experience.

Learn more about phlebotomy career training

EKG technician vs. medical assistant

Salaries: EKG technicians average $18 per hour, whereas medical assistants earn about $19-20 per hour.

Requirements: EKG technician programs usually take 3 to 6 months, focusing on cardiac care. Medical assistant programs, lasting 9 to 12 months, cover a broader range of clinical and administrative skills, often including an externship. Learn more about becoming a medical assistant.

EKG technician vs. cardiac monitor technician

Salaries: EKG technicians have an average hourly wage of $18, as do cardiac monitor technicians. Their average is between $36,200 and $44,300 per year.

Requirements: Both roles require similar training lengths of 3 to 6 months, but cardiac monitor technicians focus more on continuous heart monitoring and interpreting telemetry data.

EKG Technician vs. CNA (certified nursing assistant)

Salaries: EKG technicians earn around $18 per hour on average, while CNAs typically make about $17.50 per hour.

Requirements: EKG technician certification can be completed in 3 to 6 months, focusing on electrocardiography. CNA programs are shorter, generally taking 4 to 12 weeks, emphasizing basic patient care skills.

EKG technician vs. pharmacy technician

Salaries: EKG technicians average $18 per hour, while pharmacy technicians earn about $16 per hour.

Requirements: EKG technician training lasts 3 to 6 months, focusing on cardiac care. Pharmacy technician programs, also around 3 to 6 months, prepare individuals to handle medications and work in pharmacies. Read more about becoming a pharmacy technician.

EKG technician vs. medical billing and coding professional

Salaries: EKG technicians average $18 per hour, whereas entry-level medical billing and coding professionals earn around $22 per hour.

Requirements: EKG technician programs typically take 3 to 6 months to complete. In contrast, medical billing and coding programs can take 6 to 12 months, focusing on healthcare reimbursement, medical terminology, and coding systems. Learn more about the medical billing and coding career path.

Ready to take the first step to becoming an EKG technician?

Whether changing careers or looking to add to your qualifications, an EKG certification program with experienced instructors will bring real-world insights and expertise to the classroom, ensuring you’re well-prepared for the challenges and rewards of being an EKG Technician.

Join a community of successful professionals who have advanced their careers through CareerStep. Let us help you take your first step toward a rewarding healthcare career. Reach out to us today.