Travel nurses in the cath lab care for patients before, during and after their procedures.

What you should know about cath lab travel nursing

Many people pursue the travel nursing path in an effort to gain insight and experience into a variety of different fields of nursing. Your first assignment could be in a clinic, the emergency room, a specialist’s department or just about anywhere in between. However, nurses with years of experience may be interested in the lifestyle that travel nursing offers but may also be looking for a more challenging experience than they’ve had in the past. If this is the case,  they may be interested in cardiac catheterization lab nursing.

What is the cardiac catheterization lab?
In the cath lab, doctors and nurses deal solely with heart disease. This lab is home to the diagnostic tests and procedures for anything from angioplasties to stent placements and pacemaker implants. Typically, these labs are the only locations in the hospital that have the machinery necessary to use fluoroscopy and contrast dye to check for clots or signs of narrowing in the veins. Though a cath lab isn’t usually as high stress as the emergency room, these positions aren’t for the faint of heart or an inexperienced nurse. A few of the procedures done in the cath lab, either by the doctors or nurses, include:

  • Angiographies.
  • Hemodynamic studies.
  • Angioplasty balloon inflation.
  • Contrast injection angiography.
  • Percutaneous interventions.
Nurses are essential in the cath lab.Nurses are essential in the cath lab.

What nurses are needed in a cath lab?
According to  the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future, in addition to obtaining your nursing degree and certification, cath lab nurses also need a cardiac vascular nursing certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and may even have to take a cath lab training course from the hospital they work in. There are usually a few nurses on duty in the cath lab for each shift. They may each take on a patient, but if the nurses outnumber those needing care that day, they may end up splitting the duties needed by the patient. Either way, these clinicians will always find themselves with a responsibilities to fulfill.

What are the nurse’s duties?
Speaking of the duties, there may be some adjustments for a travel nurse who’s new to the cath lab. One of the roles in the cath lab is scrub person, who assists in catheter insertion and stent exchanges, usually alongside the doctor. This nurse is also responsible for pre-procedure duties like taking blood, inserting IVs, filling out paperwork and letting the patient know what to expect. This nurse will also be needed for ECG monitoring once the procedure begins.

“A nurse’s job isn’t done when the procedure is over.”

This is typically the nurse on duty who has less experience working in a cath lab, while the more experienced nurse will likely have more intensive duties. For example, if a nurse has been working in the cath lab for years, he or she may eventually be able to take the reins for a cath procedure, especially if there isn’t a physician there to do it his or herself. Many hospitals prefer to always have an experienced cath lab nurse on hand for cardiac situations when a doctor may not be immediately available.

A cath lab nurse’s job isn’t done when the procedure is over, though. Like any other wing of the hospital, post-procedural care from the nurses is crucial. It’s the nurses’ duty to keep an eye on the patient and his or her vital signs and make sure he or she gets necessary medication on time. The nurse on duty will also be responsible for giving the patient all of the information he or she needs upon discharge.

It is important, though, to keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules for each and every hospital that a travel nurse may be assigned to. Cath Lab Digest states that the individual competencies of the nurses and physicians who work there in addition to hospital and city or state policies can affect the duties of nurses working in the cath lab.

“Cath lab nurses are in high demand.”

Cath labs and travel nursing
Cath lab nurses are one of the most specialized RNs, so anyone with these skills is in high demand in the travel nursing industry. If you’ve never worked in a cath lab and are interested in making that career transition, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting selected for a cath lab position. For example, you should start with getting to know nurses who currently work in the department.

Conduct informational interviews and learn what skills are crucial for a nurse entering the lab. You may have years of experience in other areas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be familiar with what assets are needed in a lab you’ve never worked in. Knowing this information is a great way to nail an interview despite not having hands-on experience. If the hospital you currently work in is open to the idea, check to see if you can shadow cath lab nurses to get an accurate feel for a day in the life of these clinicians. This is a good way for a travel nurse to get a wider array of experience in their hospital, while expanding his or her list of marketable skills.

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