I have a BS in Exercise Phys. and a BSN. I worked for two years in CCU and then returned to my first love, cardiac rehab. for 8 years. Cardiac rehab is wonderful if you enjoy walky/talky type patients; are really good at teaching and reaching people where they are; and enjoy watching people gain small steps towards an improved quality of life. It is NOT a good job if you get bored easily and enjoy the constant thrill of living on the edge in a busy cardiac unit.
As far as experience, our facility required cardiac rehab RN's to have some sort of tele/ICU or CCU experience. Even though the patients aren't as *sick* as hospital type patients, some of them are high risk (ejection fraction of 10%,etc.) and you will have up to ten of these types of patients at one time...experience in doing this will go a long way towards helping you do quick cardiac assessments. It was not unsual on any given day to have one patient having runs of ectopy, one who was hypoglycemic; one who was in new onset atrial fib with a rapid ventricular response and symptomatic and still another who had gained "just a few pounds" since his last visit and was a "little short of breath when walking on the track, but not really." You really need to know the acute side of cardiac care so you can recognize these symptoms, assess and treat appropriately. These patients are ambulatory, feeling SO much better and often do not want to admit to any problems they are having...so you really need to know the right questions to ask and how to aim your assessment. Without some cardiac care, you might find yourself overwhelmed.
If you were to walk into our hospital based facility with your experience, ACLS and the ACSM certification, you would strongly be considered for a position, but would also be encouraged to get a little tele or cardiac experience. I would suggest for starters that you contact a nurse manager of a local facility and offer to do some type of internship. We've had more than one nurse rotate thru for a few mornings just to get an idea of what it was like and if it was for them.
A lot of nurses think of cardiac rehab as the "country club" and think it is an easy job...and it is in a lot of ways. There are rarely any body fluids, rarely any Dr's barking orders and it is a fun environment: we regularly have Jimmy Buffett playing on the speaker system while patients are shouting out jokes and encouragement to one another. But it is very heavy on the paperwork part: each new patient had a full RN assessment, a teaching plan, team goals, a report to the referring physician at 6 weeks and then another at graduation. Each tele session must be reviewed for ectopy and ischemia and hemodynamic response to exercise, each teaching session documented,etc.etc.etc. I was also required to design and teach my own powerpoint lectures (and deliver them on a rotating basis ) on CHF; hypertension and my favorite..."Sex and Heart Disease."
And don't even get me started on how much interaction I had to have on a daily basis with insurance companies. Each patient must be pre-approved and some companies allow only one initial visit and then you must contact them with a huge letter of goals, team treatment,etc. to obtain more visits. Some only grant 6 weeks and then require all of that. Medicare has tightened the restrictions too and only those patients who have had an MI, CABG or stable angina meet the requirements...leaving a whole population of post-stent and CHF patients with no reimbursed care and a string of cardiologists who don't know about these newer guidelines and still refer their bewildered patients to your front door for care.
An exercise phys background would be MOST helpful and might balance out your lack of cardiac care experience. More than a few of our RN's are great at managing the tele part, but were unsure how to progress the post MI/ EF 10% patient on his program and how to return the truckdriver (who had to lift a 50 lb weight load on a daily basis ) back to work. I found my Ex. phys background VERY useful in this aspect and found it made me a much better cardiac rehab nurse.
I LOVED my cardiac rehab job and my patients. They truly appreciated all you did for them...we gave them their life back after bypass or MI at a time when they never thought they would have the energy to travel again or play with the grandkids. I loved teaching the busy young executive how to balance out his/her life and watch them learn to slow down. I loved cheering on the 300 lb woman as she lost a pound a week. I went to more funerals than I could count and I regularly ate breakfast with the group of old guys who have been doing rehab together for 20+ years. I LOVED my 4 day a week, no weekends and no holiday job and my coworkers were fun and helpful as well.
I left my job because I was getting a little stagnant and needed a more flexible job as I return to school. I now work PRN in the ER. I should also add that in a lot of areas the pay for cardiac rehab nurses is not as nice as for typical 'bedside' care nurses and there is no shift diff,etc. However, it is a LOT less stressful and like I said...SO fullfilling and fun.
I am rambling now, but left me know if you have any further questions. I am more than happy to help !