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My job explained: Cardiac physiologist

Check the pulse of a career working with patients with heart disease, as Sharmila Govinde describes what it takes to become a cardiac physiologist.

Can you tell us a bit about your job?

I work in a NHS hospital as a Cardiac Physiologist and my job involves the diagnosis and treatment of adults and children with heart disease. I perform and report on cardiac tests, such as electrocardiograms (ECG), 24 hours Holters, blood pressure monitors, stress tests (ETT), tilt-table tests, pacemaker/ ICD checks and echocardiograms. A Cardiac Physiologist can also work in the labs, either assisting in cardiac catheterization - angiography, angioplasty, stenting - or pacemaker / ICD implantation, or in the operating theatre as a perfusionist. I like to say that cardiac physiologists are the tools that cardiologists and surgeons need to diagnose and treat heart diseases.

What qualifications and training do you have?

I received my degree after four years of study. It included both theoretical and practical components, with many internships and logbooks. During this time I also worked as a volunteer emergency technician to gain experience in working under pressure.

I also have a MSc degree in Medical Ultrasound (Echocardiography).

What was the training like?

Both challenging and very enjoyable. The practical components and the internships were very helpful when it came to choosing which areas interested me the most. It was while training that I came to fully understand how important it is to work as a team.

What other skills do you need?

Good verbal and interpersonal skills. Being self-motivated is important to keep up-to-date with current new guidelines. Good IT skills help, as our job is strongly dependent on different computers and software.

Why did you choose to go into healthcare?

I always liked to help people and felt attracted to cardiology in particular. Understanding heart physiology and its response to a whole range of factors is fascinating and challenging at the same time. There are a wide range of cardiac tests which means the job is full of variety.

What’s a typical working day like?

A typical day starts at 8.30am. Normally I am part of a big team and there is a rota that tells us which tests we are going to perform during the day. After the tests we need to report on them and send the results to the patient’s cardiologist. A typical day would finish at 5pm.

What’s the best thing about your job?

It is a constant challenge as each patient is different, which makes you develop and learn new skills. I also enjoy using new technology which makes our job much more precise and complete.   

It is really rewarding to see patients improve on the follow-up appointments. For example, with patients who had a heart attack, at first you see a dependent and fragile patient with heart problems and a few months later you see the same patient feeling much better and with minor or non-cardiac problems. That’s something that keeps me motivated. 

What’s the worst thing about your job?

Personally, the worst part is when my follow-up patients die. Often you are not surprised, because you can see the deterioration of their hearts and life in general, but it always makes me think twice.

One of the most annoying things is definitely when patients do not arrive for appointments. It is such a waste of my time, the hospital’s time and the hospital’s money.

What advice would you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Like everything in life, you need to work hard to have success and achieve your goals, so it is best to do something that you enjoy. Get some work experience. It is really useful to get volunteer work at a hospital and that will give you a better idea about being a cardiac physiologist.

Be passionate about your job and make sure that whatever you choose to do keeps you motivated.

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