Different types of electrocardiography (ECG) courses can prepare an individual to become an ECG technician. Prospective ECG technicians should choose from among three types of ECG courses. The primary or foundational course is 12-lead ECG interpretation. Other courses typically build on, or enhance, the 12-lead course. These might include rhythms interpretation and case studies of 12-lead tracings, depending on where the student takes his or her courses.
Electrocardiography is a noninvasive diagnostic test that measures electrical activity in the heart through electrical sensing devices, or leads, attached to key areas of the body. The leads relay information to the technician on a ECG machine’s monitor. The purpose of an ECG is to determine any underlying heart conditions a person might have that require treatment.
The ability to read and interpret results of an ECG is essential, because it enables the technician to correlate ECG results with the individual patient’s pathophysiology and clinical status. It is, therefore, one of the most important clinical tests for a medical student to learn to perform. The 12-lead ECG interpretation course provides students with the knowledge and practical application that they need to understand cardiac anatomy and the circulatory system, place skin electrodes on patients properly and execute the ECG in less than five minutes. Students also learn to use the ECG machine properly, interpret results on the ECG strip and differentiate between heart activity and abnormal electrical activity — known as artifacts — that can cause inaccurate or misinterpreted readings.
Another one of the essential ECG courses is the rhythms course, which covers the 26 rhythm patterns of the electrical activity that typically occur in the heart and are recorded as tracings on the ECG strips. This course teaches aspiring ECG technicians to recognize the respective voltage and waveform related to each rhythm. In addition, students will acquire a systemic-analytical knowledge about rhythms interpretation.
Among supplementary ECG courses is the case studies course. This typically contains reviews of 12-lead ECG tracings; the number included depends on who offers the course, but a course might provide 50 samples or more. These samples offer either a review for current ECG technicians or a supplement to other ECG courses. Students will analyze actual clinical tracings of common patterns seen during electrocardiograms.
Anyone who desires to become an ECG technician should complete the necessary ECG courses. These are often included as primary nursing courses in medical school, continuing education units (CEUs) or allied health courses through a community college. ECG tutorials are also available online, sponsored by various schools and organizations, but they typically require hands-on experience in a radiography externship to fulfill the program requirements.