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ICU vs ER experience for employment at a Cath Lab


I am a nursing student and I am about to graduate with my BSN. I took a cardiac cath lab specialty rotation last semester and have been in love ever since. My mind could definitely change when I actually get into my career, but as of right now, the cath lab is where my mind is set. So, I would really appreciate any advice from current nurses that work or have worked in a cath lab!

1.) Be brutally honest, what are the best and worst parts of the specialty when compared to other areas.

2.) I understand that many cath labs require ICU or ER experience prior to going in. Of the two, which would be the better option for pre-cath lab experience? I've heard ER more, but I've also seen very successful cath lab nurses that came from an ICU.

Other than that, any other advice or tips would be appreciated!

I would say the only downsides are taking call overnight, if you dislike that. That means coming in for STEMI's at 2 am and such. Another potential downside, constant radiation exposure...although you can ensure safety with properly fitted lead and careful maneuvering within the lab.

The upsides all trump the few downs.

I personally came from ICU prior to Cath Lab. My coworkers all have either ER or ICU exp. prior to CL. However, the ICU nurses, including myself, came from an open heart CVICU with CABG, valves, TAVR experience, etc.

Cath Labs will vary, however my hire manager said recovering open hearts was a piece of my ticket in getting hired. You will love the Cath Lab when you make it there one day. It's an incredible, little known, place for nurses to work. If you ask me, one of the best kept secrets. I will never leave.

Ideally your prior position will have you well versed in 12 lead EKG interpretation, decent IV skills, exposure to using a defibrillator, and exposure working with vasoactive, titratable medication on a regular basis.

Edited by ICUman

Wolf at the Door

Has 7 years experience.

ICU experience is needed.

At my facility I go to cath lab and titrate drips for the ER and Med surg trained cath lab nurses.

RVTtoRN0227, BSN

Specializes in Cardiac Cath Lab. Has 2 years experience.


I saw your post and decided to chime

in. I graduated with my BSN in Dec. I did a paid Summer Internship at a Cath Lab as a nursing student and it went well and they asked if I wanted to stay for my senior capstone/fall preceptorship. I loved it so much but I knew that I would not get hired at a Cath Lab as a new grad. Regardless, I did it because I also fell in love with the idea of being a Cath lab nurse.

All of the RNs that I was working with had ICU experience...and I was told that ICU Experience was better Prior to going into the Cath lab because of all the drips, codes etc. you’ll be exposed to as an RN in the Cath lab.

I’m here to say that dreams

do come true for new grads like us. I just got hired at a hospital in their Cath lab because they are prepping to build a hybrid Cath lab and guess what? I don’t even have to move out of state or in the middle of nowhere. I live in the Bay Area (San Francisco Area) and it’s about an hour away. I will be with a preceptor and she was initially an ICU nurse. I was told that I got hired because they liked how I did an internship and preceptorship consecutively at a Cath lab- so that definitely helped.

It’s not impossible! There is hope!! Good luck with everything!

Thank you all for the comments! Cath lab is still the main goal for me, and I appreciate all of the advice!