What is a Cardiology Nurse Practitioner? (Answered by a Nurse)

Written By: Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH

What is a cardiology nurse practitioner? He or she is an advanced practice nurse who provides care for individuals with cardiac disease. Since cardiac disease manifests in many different ways, cardiology nurse practitioners have a broad scope of practice. Cardiology nurse practitioners see individuals of all ages, from neonates born with heart defects to senior citizens affected by aortic valve thickening and calcification. Some of the most common problems cardiology nurse practitioners routinely help diagnose and treat include coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, myocardial infarctions, arrhythmias, valvular irregularities, cardiac infections, and aortic aneurysms. Cardiology nurse practitioners also play an important role in the prevention of heart disease and the promotion of heart health.

According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of all Americans are affected by cardiac disease. In fact, cardiac disease is the leading cause of deaths in the U.S. every year. Advanced nursing practice cardiology, in other words, is a field with many professional opportunities. If you’re interested in learning how to become a cardiology nurse practitioner, please keep reading.

Where Do Cardiology Nurse Practitioners Work?

Nurse practitioners who specialize in cardiology most frequently work in medical centers. They are often associated with hospital cardiology departments, but they may also be members of cardiothoracic surgical teams, work in Intensive Care Units, or partner with cardiologists in catheterization laboratories. Cardiology nurse practitioners are frequently employed by emergency departments as well.

As an advanced practice nurse specializing in cardiology, you will also find work in rehabilitation and long-term care facilities, community clinics, home healthcare agencies, and ambulatory medical clinics. Some cardiology nurse practitioners run their own EP (Electrophysiology) practices, either under the guidance of a supervising physician or autonomously, depending upon the practice stipulations in the state they live in.


What Does a Cardiology Nurse Practitioner Do?

The specific responsibilities that cardiology nurse practitioners pursue in their workplaces depend upon the clinical environment in which they practice. As an associate in a hospital cardiology department, for example, they may examine and diagnose patients who’ve been referred to them for complaints like high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and dizziness, and they will also follow up with patients affected by chronic cardiac complaints. In a private cardiac practice, these professionals may administer stress tests, prescribe medications (if state regulations allow them to do so), and counsel patients on important lifestyle changes.

As part of a cardiothoracic surgical team, NPs may be responsible for post-operative care in the cardiac step-down unit and for the transition of that care within other units as patients recover. Cardiology nurse practitioner duties in an ICU setting include developing treatment plans and managing the cardiac care of patients for whom cardiac symptoms are not the chief complaint. Cardiac NPs who work in hospitals typically act as liaisons between physicians, patients, family, and other hospital staff members.

When these professionals work in rehabilitative settings, their scope of practice often focuses on the supervision of ongoing cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation services under the auspices of the 2008 Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act.

Typical Working Hours

Cardiology NPs associated with cardiac departments or private cardiac practices can expect to work standard 9-to-5 workdays because that’s when those places are generally open; they will be expected to be on call for emergencies a certain number of hours each month, however.

Hospital clinical units are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and NP cardiology professionals who work in these environments may be expected to work day shifts, swing shifts, and night shifts.

What is the Difference Between a Cardiology Nurse & a Cardiology Nurse Practitioner?

A cardiac nurse is a registered nurse who works in a clinical setting at a hospital, most frequently in an ICU or in a specialized cardiac care unit. He or she may have graduated from a two-year community college or hospital-diploma program, but increasingly, employers prefer to hire nurses who’ve completed their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees when they fill this challenging role. Many cardiac nurses pursue certification by sitting for the Cardiac-Vascular Nursing Examination administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

A cardiology nurse practitioner, on the other hand, is an advanced practice nurse who has earned a Master’s of Nursing Science (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree and who has completed the requisite number of clinical hours to sit for one of the nurse practitioner certification exams. Nurse practitioners have a much broader scope of practice than nurses; depending upon regulations in the state they practice in, they can diagnose, develop treatment plans and prescribe medications for the cardiac patients that they see.

Why Become a Cardiology Nurse Practitioner?

The average cardiology nurse practitioner salary is far above the average for other types of nurse practitioners, and this is a very compelling reason to become a cardiology nurse practitioner. Even though you will be earning a high salary in contrast to what other nurses and nurse practitioners earn, however, you’ll be earning less than what a physician might though your scope of practice in many ways is comparable. That means hospitals and other medical facilities will view you as a lower-cost substitute for a physician, and your services will be in high demand no matter how volatile the economy is. You’ll have your choice of employment opportunities; in fact, it’s likely prospective employers will be fighting over you.

Additionally, advanced practice cardiology is a versatile career choice. If you get tired of working in one subspecialty, it’s easy to change your focus and concentrate on another subspecialty, and no matter what subspecialty you pursue, you’ll have the gratification that comes from knowing you are making a real difference in a patient’s life.

Following is a Step-by-Step Process of Becoming a Cardiology Nurse Practitioner

Before you can be a cardiology nurse practitioner, you must be a registered nurse. Admission into nursing school is becoming increasingly competitive, and that means you may need to start preparing for your future career while you’re still in high school. Your high school coursework should include math, biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology if possible, and you might also want to consider volunteering at a local hospital or extended care facility a few hours each week.

Though there are still two-year community colleges and hospital diploma programs that will enable you to earn the credits you need to become a registered nurse, nearly all MSN and DNP advanced practice programs require you to have a BSN. A few of these programs will accept applicants with an associate or diploma degree, but they will require you to take the equivalent of BSN classes in your first year. Once you have graduated from a nursing school, you must pass the standardized The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX exam) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to be credentialed in your state.

MSN degree programs that train NPs in cardiology are rare. Duke University and the University of Southern Alabama are among the few that offer this option. Most nurses who go on to become NPs in the cardiology field earn their initial advanced practice certifications in adult/gerontology (acute or chronic) and then pursue certification through the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine (ABCM) after two years of cardiology-specific job experience. A few institutions such as the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences in Arizona offer cardiology nurse practitioner fellowships.

Once you have graduated from an NP program, you will need to pass the exam given by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board before you can begin practicing as a nurse practitioner. Cardiology nurse practitioners need to renew their certification through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners every five years, and this will require 75 contact hours of continuing education classes related to cardiology topics.

List of Certification Options for Cardiology Nurse Practitioners

Whether they’re advanced practice nurses or registered nurses, all nurses who work with critically ill cardiac patients should pursue Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification through the American Heart Association.

Registered nurses as well as advanced practice nurses are eligible to pursue the cardiac medicine certification and the cardiac surgery certification offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). Candidates for the former certification must have accrued at least 2,000 hours of direct care with critically ill cardiac patients; candidates for the latter certification must also have 2,000 hours of experience with critically ill cardiac patients, and at least half of that needs to be with postoperative patients.

The American Board of Cardiovascular Nursing administers the only exam for NPs that leads specifically to cardiology nurse practitioner certification.

Starting Salary for Cardiology Nurse Practitioners

As there are relatively few formal MSN/DNP programs and fellowships specifically designed for cardiology nurse practitioners, most of these professionals get their training on the job. You’d expect their starting salaries, therefore, to be commensurate with the starting salaries of NPs who aren’t cardiac specialists. When you’re starting out in this field, you can expect to earn $70,220 annually, which works out to $5,850 a month or $33.76 an hour.

Per Hour$33.76
Per Month$5,850
Per Year$70,220

Average Salary for Cardiology Nurse Practitioners

Once you accumulated some hands-on experience in your chosen field, you can expect your earnings to go up by more than a third. PayScale.com collects and compares salary data across jobs and professions; according to PayScale, the average cardiology nurse practitioner salary is $46.38 an hour, which comes to $8,040 a month or $96,461 a year. You can expect to see variations in this according to the geographical area where you’re working.

Per Hour$46.38
Per Month$8,040
Per Year$96,461
(Source: payscale.com)

Job Market for Cardiology Nurse Practitioners

After leveling off significantly between 1999 and 2017, the incidence of heart disease in the American population is on the rise again, according to research published in 2019 in The Journal of American Medicine. This spike in cardiac disease has increased the demand for qualified medical professionals in the field of cardiology. Cardiology nurse practitioners perform many of the same functions as cardiologist physicians but at far less cost to the medical facilities that employ them. This means that the demand for these highly skilled NP professionals is likely to increase as well.

Useful Organizations & Associations

Cardiology NPs will find the following organizations useful for professional development and networking opportunities:

American Association of Heart Failure Nurses:

The American Association of Heart Failure Nurses is an organization dedicated to professional education and advancement that improves outcomes for patients affected by congestive heart failure.

Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association:

The Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association is a resource for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses that focuses upon providing opportunities for education and the improvement of skills.

Cardiovascular Nursing Education Associates:

Cardiovascular Nursing Education Associates provides educational resources and learning programs for RNs and NPs.

Society of Pediatric Cardiovascular Nurses:

The Society of Pediatric Cardiovascular Nurses is committed to expanding knowledge as it pertains to the care of children and adolescents with heart disease.

Summing It Up

As a cardiology nurse practitioner, many professional doors are open to you. You can work as a clinician or a manager in a large medical facility or you can work in a private medical practice, seeing your own patients. You can choose to specialize in the treatment of specific populations (for example, children) or in a specific procedure (for example, heart transplants.)

You’ll earn a handsome salary with good benefits, and you’ll enjoy job security. Best of all, though, you’ll have the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you’ve helped people. If you’ve ever wondered, “What is a cardiology nurse practitioner?”, the answer is that a cardiology NP is a professional who makes a real and positive difference in patients’ lives.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

How long does it take to become a cardiology NP?

The majority of cardiology nurse practitioners get their training on the job, so the length of time it takes before you will feel confident in this role can vary widely. If you get a BSN, an MSN with an NP specialization, and then put in the requisite 2,000 hours necessary to sit for the AACN certification exam, it will take you between eight and 10 years.

What are some heart conditions I’ll see as a cardiology NP?

Coronary artery disease is the most common heart condition you’re likely to come across in your professional work. You’ll also treat individuals who suffer from congestive heart failure as well as patients affected by arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillations or atrial contractions. Less commonly, you’ll treat patients with valvular heart disease, cardiac infections, aortic aneurysms, and congenital cardiac malformations.

Is it better to seek out a cardiology NP program or to learn on the job?

Both learning paths have their advantages. As an NP working in a fast-paced hospital environment, though, you will essentially be completing the equivalent of a cardiology fellowship although you will not have as much control over the pace of your learning process. Hospitals have classes, workshops, and in-services galore that will teach you how to stay at the top of your game when you’re providing care for cardiology patients, and you won't have to pay for them.

As a cardiology nurse practitioner, can I set up my own independent practice?

Although setting up an independent cardiology practice is theoretically possible in the 22 states where NPs can practice autonomously without physician oversight, for most NPs, it will not be a practical decision. For one thing, nurse practitioners do not have admitting privileges at most medical facilities, and this is something an independent practitioner needs to have because cardiac patients are frequently hospitalized. For another, between rent, payroll, malpractice insurance and equipment, setting up a cardiology practice can easily cost $100,000 or more, which most NPs will not have access to.

Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH
Pattie Trumble is a nurse who worked in both California and New York for many years as an emergency room nurse. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Associate Degree in Nursing from the Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing. After 10 years of providing direct care, she went back to school and earned concurrent Master’s degrees in both public policy and public health from the University of California, Berkeley. Thereafter, she worked for various public health agencies in California at both the community and state levels providing economic and legislative analysis.