Pacemaker Training for Nurses

Nurses go through extensive pacemaker training

Pacemakers are life-saving devices for patients that suffer from abnormal heartbeats, a condition also known as arrhythmia. Cardiologists implant pacemakers through a patient's veins and pass this into at least one chamber of his or her heart. Pacemakers are powered by small lithium batteries and include sensors that detect a patient's natural heartbeat. Nurses undergo theoretical and practical training, allowing them to play a crucial role not only when working alongside a cardiologist during the initial insertion of the pacemaker but also maintaining the device, replacing the pacemaker's batteries, and checking up on the patient at regular intervals.

1 Theoretical Training

Theoretical training for nurses focuses on the types of medical conditions that peacemakers treat. This forms part of nursing and medical programs at universities.Theoretical training in inserting pacemakers is similar to what an electrophysiologist is required to study before being allowed to perform pacemaker surgeries. An electrophysiologist is a doctor who specializes in the electrical functioning of the heart. The main difference compared to nurses' training is that of emphasis. Nurses are trained to recognize heart troubles and to work efficiently as part of a team in charge of inserting pacemakers, while electrophysiologists receive extensive hands-on training on how to direct this minor surgery.

During theoretical pacemaker training, nurses learn about heart-related conditions such as bradycardia, a slow heartbeat, as well as atrial fibrillation, a very rapid and irregular heart rate. Pacemakers are used to treat and monitor patients with either condition.

2 Practical Training

Nurses undergo practical pacemaker training in the form of continuing education courses offered at colleges and on the job at hospitals. In both cases, nurses learn how to test and maintain pacemakers. Although nurses only assist electrophysiologists when pacemakers are implanted into patients, they also take an active leadership role in testing these instruments and providing long-term advice and care during check-ups.

During hands-on training, nurses are taught to apply good judgment and their medical expertise to common scenarios that they may encounter when helping patients with pacemakers. These include lessons on how to treat patients experiencing symptoms of heart failure and diagnosing or treating the arrhythmic contraction of heart muscles. This condition is called fibrillation and the nurse may treat it by administering anticoagulants, a type of medication that is used to relieve blood clots.

3 Length

The length of pacemaker training among nurses varies, depending on if he or she is enrolled in a bachelor of science program, a diploma in nursing, or is simply working towards an associate's degree in nursing. Those who obtain a bachelor of science degree go through four years of university and may also enter graduate school. Theoretical pacemaker training is extensive in these programs and there is a strong practical component. Nurses with a full university degree work alongside electrophysiologists.

Although nurses in associate degree or diploma of nursing programs learn about the workings of the heart, hands-on pacemaker training is limited. Those who expect to work in the field must supplement their diploma by taking continuing education courses at the university level in pacemaker technology.

4 Diagnosis

A key aspect of pacemaker training is how to diagnose arrhythmia in a patient. Nurses assist cardiologists in electrophysiologic testing (EPS). During training, a nursing student observes how cardiologists insert a wire through the patient's leg vein and drive it up into the heart. Doctors then take X-ray images of the heart's chambers. Cardiologists also use these wires to detect the precise location of arrhythmia before a pacemaker is prescribed.

5 Check-ups

Nurses play a lead role when patients with pacemakers arrive at hospitals for regular check-ups. During training, nurses learn how to test a pacemaker, gather vital medical information from patients on their symptoms, and detect signs of heart failure. Nurses always work on the front-line and as such, their training also helps them develop essential conflict resolution skills when dealing with worried or upset patients.

Rupert Winston has worked as a freelance writer for over five years and has published both online and in print, including in "The Jewish Tribune," "The National Post" and Transitions Online. Winston has a B.A. degree in English literature, as well as an M.A. in history. He is a professor of history and is preparing to defend his Ph.D. dissertation.