By Published On: May 10, 2023

Heart disease is the top killer of men and women in most racial and ethnic groups in the US. Every 34 seconds, one person in the US dies from cardiovascular disease. In 2020, heart disease will be the cause of 1 in every 5 US deaths (about 697,000 people).

All these statistics indicate the need for more cardiac rehabilitation specialists and other experts in the management of cardiac ailments.

What is a Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist?

Cardiac care is a specialized medical field that has to do with caring for the heart to ensure improvements and recovery. Training for cardiac specialists includes studies in basic anatomy and physiology as well as cardio-pulmonary conditions and structures and more.

A cardiac or cardiopulmonary rehabilitation specialist (also known as cardiac rehab specialist or therapist) is a healthcare professional that assists patients who have undergone heart surgery or suffer from chronic heart and lung diseases or other heart/cardio/respiratory problems in order to help them improve and, if possible, eventually recover fully from their conditions.

In trying to come up with the best care and recovery plan for patients, cardiac rehabilitation specialists often collaborate with other healthcare professionals. These professionals may include cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, and other physicians, as well as registered nurses, among others.

What are the Job Roles of a Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist?

A cardiac rehabilitation specialist is faced with many job roles, all aimed at assisting patients’ recovery. For instance, a cardiac rehabilitation specialist can help with improving heart functionality and regular physical movement as well as coping with pacemakers and other cardiac tools. As noted above, cardiac rehabilitation specialists usually work with other members of a recovery team to provide medical and psychological support for patients.

Below are some other responsibilities of a cardiac rehabilitation specialist.

Creating and Administering Exercise and Recovery Plans

A cardiac rehabilitation specialist creates and administers new exercise regimes and recovery plans for patients according to their individual needs and circumstances. He/She also helps patients understand all aspects of the plan. A patient’s recovery plan can sometimes be confusing, for instance, in terms of the level or kind of care needed and the complexity of the situation, among others. A cardiac rehabilitation specialist helps break down all the information in a recovery plan or program for easy assimilation and practice.

They also teach patients that strictly following the plan’s directives is in their best interest and may sometimes be present to monitor or supervise exercise sessions. Monitoring and supervision ensure that exercises are performed in ways that will yield the best outcomes. Moreover, the presence of a cardiac rehabilitation specialist during exercise sessions can be helpful should any health complications develop during the session.

Providing Nutritional and Hygiene Education

One important duty of a cardiac rehabilitation specialist is to educate and counsel patients on the most appropriate dietary and hygiene habits to complement their exercise regimen so as to maintain cardiac integrity and overall sound health. These may include nutrition-related weight management tips such as the required cholesterol and calorie levels as well as how to manage blood pressure and improve personal hygiene.

Offering Advise Against Cardiac Risk Factors

Cardiac rehabilitation specialists counsel patients to beware of certain risk factors that can impact negatively on their cardiac condition and health as a whole. Some of these factors include the use of certain medicines, poor nutrition and hygiene, smoking and the use of tobacco products, and sedentariness. A cardiac rehabilitation specialist will also assist patients with blood pressure and heart rate analysis.

Helping Patients Understand and Cope Better With Lifestyle Changes

Coping with lifestyle changes can be tasking. Such changes can be even more difficult to cope with if they come suddenly or are induced by serious health challenges.

It is the job of the cardiac rehabilitation specialist to educate and counsel patients on the need to understand not only these lifestyle changes but also the likely consequences of not adhering to them. Some examples of lifestyle changes include the avoidance of certain medications, foods, and habits such as smoking and alcoholism.

Where can a Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist Work?

Cardiac rehabilitation specialists can work in both the public and private sectors of any economy. Examples include rehabilitation centers, medical and surgical hospitals, cardiac wellness centers, outpatient clinics, medical and diagnostic laboratories, nursing and residential care facilities, and more. They may have to work overtime, night shifts, and weekends, and sometimes be called up suddenly to attend to emergency situations.

Is a Referral Necessary Before Seeing a Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist?

While there is no formal law that directs it, seeking your physician’s approval before seeing a cardiac rehabilitation specialist is a wise decision. As noted earlier, cardiac rehabilitation specialists partner with physicians and other healthcare experts to help patients recover.

So informing your physician of your decision to seek a cardiac rehabilitation specialist (if he or she has not already recommended it) can help smooth communication between the specialist and the physician. Going for cardiac rehabilitation is an excellent idea because research shows that those who partake in them feel better, become stronger, and are more likely to effectively reduce the risk of suffering another heart attack.

Studies also indicate that cardiac rehabilitation helps people, no matter their gender, age, or severity of heart challenges. Moreover, several insurance plans cover cardiac rehabilitation for certain clinical conditions.

Cardiac Rehabilitation Salary Range

Cardiac patients who take part in cardiac rehabilitation programs have a better chance of survival than otherwise. That is according to the American Heart Association. Because of the importance of cardiac-based work and an aging population, there is increased demand for cardiac rehabilitation specialists and other related professions.

But the salary range for cardiac rehabilitation specialists varies significantly because of the many diverse routes or career paths that can be followed to arrive at a career in cardiac rehabilitation.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salaries for several of these career paths fall between USD 48,990 and USD 89,440. This is shown in the table below.

Career Path Salary
Exercise Physiologist USD 49,170
Physical Therapist USD 89,440
Physical Therapy Assistants USD 48,990
Registered Nurses USD 73,300
Occupational Therapists USD 84,950
Respiratory Therapists USD 61,330

The BLS also estimates that, between 2019 and 2029, employment opportunities in each of these career paths will increase by 7 percent to 29 percent.

 

Career Path Estimated Job Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Exercise Physiologists 11 percent
Physical Therapists 18 percent
Physical Therapy Assistants 29 percent
Registered Nurses 7 percent
Occupational Therapists 16 percent
Respiratory Therapists 19 percent

An individual who eventually decides to focus on a cardiac rehabilitation specialist should expect an annual salary of between USD 40,000 and USD 50,000 or higher.

In summary, the median salary for individuals engaged in these professions is determined by a number of factors, such as level of education, years of experience, and professional certifications. Apart from academic degrees, certifications may be obtained from formal bodies like the AACVPR, ACSM, and NBCOT.

Other Necessary Skills for a Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist

Though education/certification in patient care is necessary for a career in cardiac rehabilitation, it is advised that your skillset be broader enough to include:

  • Attention to detail
  • High level of medical/work ethics
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Compassion for patients
  • Physical stamina for long periods of work
  • Advanced management skills
  • Basic computer training, etc

How to Train as a Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist

There are a number of ways to formally qualify as a cardiac rehabilitation specialist. One of them is obtaining a degree at a university approved by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR). The Association’s Board oversees studies in cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation to ensure course quality and consistency.

Though cardiac rehabilitation is not offered as a specific major in the US, other routes, such as bachelor’s degree programs in exercise science, physiology, and kinesiology, can be followed to become a cardiac rehabilitation specialist. These programs contain coursework in general sciences (such as introductory physiology, anatomy, biology, etc.) that can adequately equip students for entry-level work as cardiac rehabilitation specialists.

However, if you wish to deepen your knowledge and skills beyond basic entry-level requirements (and hence enhance your career prospects when it comes to more job opportunities), then you should be looking at a graduate program in exercise science, exercise physiology, or kinesiology. Some master’s degree programs in exercise science and clinical exercise physiology include specializations in cardiac rehabilitation. There are also non-specialized programs where students can select cardiac rehabilitation courses.

One highly recommended training program toward proficiency in cardiac rehabilitation is the Master of Science Program in Applied Exercise Science at Concordia University, Chicago. This Master of Science in Applied Exercise Science Program was designed in collaboration with the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

The program is divided into five distinct concentrations – exercise physiology, human movement science, strength & conditioning, sports nutrition, and sports performance training, all of which help prepare the students for certification exams with ISSN, ACSM, NASM, and NSCA. By the end of the program, the student should have internalized the necessary knowledge and skills in physiology, therapy, and other areas needed to excel as a cardiac rehabilitation specialist or in other careers.

Visit the University of Chicago website or the university campus at 7400 Augusta Street River Forest, Illinois [60305-1499] for all enrollment information. You can also call the number at (708) 771-8300.

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