The Advanced Certificate in Cardiac Sciences, offered by the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), is the only credential of its type in North America. Available in three study options (Electrophysiology Technology, Cardiovascular Technology, or Cardiac Rhythm Device Technology), the advanced certificate prepares students for a specialized career in cardiovascular labs, electrophysiology labs, and cardiac device clinics. In this interview, we speak with Robin Wolfe, Program Head and Instructor of Advanced Cardiac Sciences at BCIT, and Emily Murtagh, Electrophysiology Instructor at BCIT.
How long has the Advanced Certificate in Cardiac Sciences been available?
Robin: It began as a Cardiovascular Technology program in the late 1990s by Gary Clifton, a cardiovascular technologist. The Cardiac Rhythm Device Technology program was introduced in 2008, and the Electrophysiology Technology program began in 2014.
Who are the ideal candidates for the program?
Robin: The intention for BCIT’s Advanced Cardiac Sciences certificate is to offer options for grads from our Cardiology Technology diploma program to advance their clinical cardiac practice. It’s not limited to cardiology technologists, though — people with different backgrounds, such as nurses or kinesiology graduates with clinical cardiac experience, have also gone through our programs.
Explain the curriculum and program structure for the EP Technology and Cardiac Rhythm Device Technology options.
Robin: They are built off the same model, so they both have 5 didactic courses specific to their specialty as well as a clinical practicum. The clinical practicum for the EP certificate is a bit longer at 800 hours (23 weeks), but this is intended to keep in line with guidelines from Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) — graduates from our EP program should be eligible to complete the CCI exam under the RCES5 protocol. The practicum for the Cardiac Rhythm Device Technology certificate is a minimum of 625 hours (4.5-6 months).
Emily: We start with a course called concepts in EP/pacemakers/cardiac rhythm device implant (depending on which option is chosen), where we build foundational knowledge. The next EP course is called advanced EP diagnostics, where we learn more about various pacing maneuvers such as HIS-synchronous pacing and VT mapping strategies. The last course is cardiac electromapping, where we learn more about 3D anatomical mapping systems. These courses must be successfully completed before entry into the clinical practicum.
Robin: It is important to note that we are an open program, so students can either complete the entire program and practicum to receive the credential, or register for individual theory courses for professional development without applying for the full program. The only course that is not eligible in this instance is the clinical practicum, which requires that students be accepted to the program.
Emily: Yes, we see this often with nurses who have transitioned to work in the EP lab or are interested in a refresher course to get them up to speed with the signals, basic pacing mechanisms and diagnostics.
Robin: I also want to mention that we are not yet an accredited program — our programs and number of students are too small in size at this point. We eventually might look into accreditation, but at this stage, we’re not there yet. However, BCIT’s Cardiology Technology Diploma is an accredited program by the Canadian Society of Cardiology Technologists.
What type of time commitment is needed?
Robin: There are 3 terms – fall (September to December), winter (January to March), and spring/summer (April to June). Each term is 12 weeks, with the thirteenth week being exam week. Since approximately 90 percent of our students are already working full time in their clinical professions, they complete the program part time to accommodate work or lab schedules, and average 1 or 2 courses per term. Therefore, the certificate generally takes about 2 years to complete.
What are the admission requirements?
Robin: Either an allied health diploma or a Bachelor of Science degree in a related field (human anatomy and physiology) is needed to enter the program. Two years of recent clinical cardiac experience is also required; in many circumstances, our students are cardiology technology grads who already have 2 years of experience working in an ECG department, or are nurses working in the cath lab. We require completion of required prerequisite courses or a similar equivalent, to ensure that anyone that comes into our program has a solid understanding of electrocardiography. Our courses are taught with the understanding that students can interpret a 12-lead ECG, which is taught in our entry-level diploma program. They also need a basic understanding of cardiac pharmacology and pathophysiology. Finally, because we’re a small program and there is a limited number of EP labs and device clinics available, we don’t want to take people in if we can’t find them a clinical placement. Therefore, it is the applicant’s responsibility when applying to our program to secure their own clinical site for the practicum. However, I would estimate that most of our students are already employees at their clinical placement site, so it is easy for them to have their clinical verification form signed off by their site sponsor.
Tell us about the most recent graduating class. Approximately how many students participated?
Robin: It’s quite variable. For the advanced program, people are coming in as working professionals and because of the flexibility with our advanced programs, students can do the practicum whenever it’s feasible for them and/or the clinical site. For example, I just had a student finish the pacing courses in the fall, but there is a short wait period before she can start her practicum, so she is starting in April. In the 11 years that the pacing program has been up and running, we’ve had over 60 graduates of the program. In addition, many people have taken the didactic courses but not the entire program. The EP program is still fairly new, and a lot of people are enrolled in courses but have not applied to the program itself, but we’ve graduated close to 8 students and currently have 6 students in the program. We definitely want to grow our program, because we think we have a good product. We would love to see more people take advantage of our courses, especially for people in Eastern Canada or in the U.S. who would be interested in taking some or all of the program.
What kind of feedback do you receive from students?
Emily: I think students are always a bit surprised when learning EP — they first look at EP signals and it’s a whole different world for them. It’s really challenging at first. We have to remind them to be patient and keep practicing. By the end of the term, everyone is enjoying it much more. I started with BCIT last January, so it’s nice to see the progress of our students, who are eager to learn but start with little experience in the EP lab.
What do students generally go on to do after receiving a diploma or certificate?
Robin: It depends on the individual’s circumstance, but I would say most grads go on to work in the area in which they studied. We are now having grads from one of the specialty areas come back and complete the course work in another specialty area. For example, some of the grads from the Cardiac Device program are now moving into the EP lab and are completing the EP Technology program.
What unique advantages does this program offer students? What is the demand for trained EP talent?
Robin: The demand for trained EP talent is very high, but I think there are a limited number of jobs in the field. I think there previously used to be more on-the-job training. Because EP is so complex, it has been really difficult for some sites to recruit people who are really qualified. Therefore, the idea for a standardized program such as the BCIT certificate is appealing, since it means there is less onus on the employer to do all of the training (or share training if they’re participating in the clinical practicum). I think another appeal of our program is that we’re agnostic, meaning that our students are not being trained on products by any one specific device manufacturer. Finally, as long as students meet the entry requirements, we can be flexible with each individual student in terms of program delivery.
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