A day in the life of a Cardiac Physiologist

A day in the life of a Cardiac Physiologist

A Pulse cardiac physiologist reflects on her role as a cardiac physiologist, the rewards it brings and how her life has benefitted from becoming a locum.

“In my profession, no two days are the same. I work mainly in cardiac catheterization laboratories which is a specialism I have a real passion for. Working for Pulse, I get to choose what type of assignments I undertake, and because of the wide range of skills required in cath labs, every department is different.

I got into cardiology via quite an unusual route. I used to work as a hospital receptionist for a cardiologist back in the 1980s and always wondered how a heart attack could be seen on a 12 lead ECG recording. So I took a pay cut, changed jobs and become a student cardiac physiologist. I can honestly say I’ve never looked back.

My primary remit is to keep a patient safe during heart angioplasty, heart valve replacement, septal hole closures along with left atrial appendage closures and pacemaker implantation. I achieve this with differing aspects of monitoring ECG and blood pressure wave forms. I determine early signs of patient deterioration and help the rest of the team to reverse these signs and thus re-stabilise the patient. If a patient is unfortunate enough to have a shockable rhythm cardiac arrest, then it’s my job to deliver the shocks to bring the heart rhythm back to normal.

All patients in my working environment are nervous and apprehensive; they usually perceive a cath lab and a hospital theatre as one and the same. Usually when a patient comes into a cath lab for treatment, I’m one of the first healthcare professionals they come into contact with. In what can often be perceived as a very stressful environment, I consider it a fundamental part of my job to put them at ease as quickly as possible. I stress to every patient that all the people present in the cath lab are there to look after them – that they’re the most important person in that room. This is often all it takes to help make them feel more at ease.

Teamwork is crucial to any procedure undertaken in the cath lab no matter how complicated. A good multidisciplinary team results in a far more rewarding shift, especially when working in centres that treat high-risk patients such as out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. Watching a strong team working together to save a patient’s life is like watching a highly-tuned machine - everyone knows instinctively what needs to be done and when. This helps create a positive environment, regardless of the outcome for that case.

The hours I work are pretty consistent: usually 8am till 6pm. Obviously you need to be flexible with lunch breaks and be sensitive to the fact that you’re there to help boost staffing levels and fill vital skills gaps. The odd weekend shift I commit to is always recognised.

I love working in all centres no matter how large or small. The larger centres, where the more complex procedures are undertaken, require a high skill level and you suddenly realise that your input has an instant dramatic positive effect in making that patient well again.

My working life has never been so flexible. If I require a specific week off I give as much notice as possible, but I’m really able to work around my family and their needs. I feel in control of my life (a feeling I can’t say I had when working either full or part-time at the NHS).

The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a locum is being the ‘new kid on the block’. Being a locum can mean other staff perceive you initially as an unknown quantity, questioning, “Can this person actually perform the job they’ve been employed to do?” But after actively participating in a cardiac arrest, as I did earlier today, the permanent staff quickly become aware that we’re highly-trained and professional individuals that do our job well. In a way, the opportunity to help treat very sick patients helps you to demonstrate the breadth of your skills and abilities. A sense of trust develops and you soon become part of the team.

Advice for budding Physiologists

  • When working with colleagues don’t just ‘look after your own back yard’. Always try to help them, in any small way you can. These gestures will not go unrecognised.
  • Never presume anything in your job. Communicate with your patients and your colleagues. Check, check and check again.
  • Prior preparation prevents poor performance. Try to pre-empt situations by getting kit and equipment ready, checked or prepared just in case.
  • Trust your gut instinct. Many a time I’ve listened to it and it’s gone a long way to help saving a patient’s life.
  • Never forget this patient is someone’s mother, husband, sister. No matter how busy you are, caring is key.