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The heart is a crucial part of our life and our world. There are songs about it, movies that focus on it—at least the love part, and without it, unlike other organs, we wouldn’t be able to survive.
So, what’s it like to be a nurse focusing on patient care with the heart?
We interviewed Caitlin Fetner RN, BSN, Cardiac nurse, University of Maryland Capital Region Health. (She’s also a proud military wife. Her husband is an officer in the U.S. Navy.)
What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.
How did you get interested in being a cardiac nurse? What drew you to it? How long have you been doing it?
I got interested in cardiology when I was still in nursing school. I studied at the University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing. Of all the different topics I studied in school, cardiology was my favorite.
I got a job after graduation in a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and haven’t looked back since. It was there that I learned more in-depth about cardiology, including cardiac catheterization, atrial fibrillation, post-cardiac arrest, and open-heart surgery.
I started on the night shift, and on slow nights, we would all sit with our notebooks and study hemodynamics and how to manage cardiac patients, specifically bypass patients. I have been a nurse for seven years and have loved every minute. I currently work with open-heart surgery patients.
A cardiac nurse takes care of your heart. We make sure your heart has everything it needs to function appropriately. If it is not functioning as it should, we step in with different therapies to help it get back to where it needs to be. We serve patients whose hearts beat in irregular rhythms to patients who need open heart surgery—and everything in between. We provide medications that help keep the heart in rhythm; we provide teaching and education so when patients go home, they know what to do, and we provide strength and encouragement to help patients get out of bed and walk those days after surgery.
Did you need to get additional education for this position?
A BSN is the only educational requirement for this position, but there are different certifications you can get as a cardiac nurse, such as a CCRN and Critical Care Registered Nurse Certification. This certification requires a test that goes into more detail on how to care for ICU-level patients. After passing this exam, you could get a specific cardiac certification as well.
What do you like most about working as a cardiac nurse?
What I like most is the delicate balance we manage between the patient’s vital signs and the medications being given. Whether it is medications running as drips or giving oral medications, the nurse must always be aware of what’s happening and how to change the medications accordingly. The heart and its’ function are a beautiful balance, and I love the challenge of managing it all.
What are your biggest challenges as a cardiac nurse?
The biggest challenge is managing every detail—but it’s also what I love most. You must dot every I and cross every T and be on your toes all shift, but it’s worth it.
What are your greatest rewards as one?
My greatest rewards are getting the patients up to walk after surgery who thought they couldn’t do it or seeing the patients who have been down long roads and hospital stays finally get to go home. Also, I love talking to and getting to know my patients.
Every patient has a story, and everyone can learn something from everyone. You never know the things you can learn just by talking to someone.
Anything else that is important for our readers to know?
Cardiac nursing is not for the faint of heart. Cardiac nursing is checking vitals for the slightest changes every minute, measuring EKG strips every few hours, and managing multiple drips that, if they were to run out, the patient’s blood pressure could drop quickly.
The heart function, blood pressure, and volume status are all delicate balances that must be monitored closely. Cardiac nursing is busy and sometimes exhausting, but ever so worth it at the end of the day to see the sickest patients go home to their families once more. That’s what nursing is all about.
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