Nurse in a hallway

How to Become a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Nurse in a hallway

Despite all the amazing breakthroughs in modern medicine, heart disease still remains the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming over 650,000 lives per year according to the CDC. However, our understanding of how to prevent and treat heart disease is better than ever, thanks largely to the work of healthcare professionals like cardiac nurse practitioners. If you love the idea of helping people at risk for heart disease live healthier lives—and sometimes even saving them directly—becoming a cardiac nurse practitioner is an exciting and fulfilling nursing specialty worth serious consideration. The fact that it’s one of the top-paying nursing careers certainly doesn’t hurt either! In fact, we recently featured cardiac nurse practitioners on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a cardiac nurse practitioner, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a cardiac nurse practitioner is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the 18 highest-paying nursing jobs.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Definition

What Is a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner?

Cardiac nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who specialize in preventing and treating heart disease. While they frequently collaborate with cardiologists, cardiac nurse practitioners also have a great deal of independence when treating their patients. They’re trained and authorized to perform many functions traditionally reserved for physicians, like prescribing medications and performing many medical procedures.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner: Job Description

What Does a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Do?

While some cardiac nurse practitioners work in research or academia, most cardiac NPs spend the majority of their time working directly with patients. Depending on the work environment, that may mean conducting checkups and cardiac exams, designing treatment plans to improve patients’ cardiovascular health, and consulting with patients on lifestyle changes that may be necessary to improve their overall wellness. Cardiac nurse practitioners also frequently treat patients before and after heart surgery and are sometimes even part of the operating-room team. It’s a surprisingly flexible nursing career with a lot of room to specialize in the areas that interest you most.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of cardiac nurse practitioners include:

  • Assessing patients and developing treatment plans
  • Educating patients and their families on how to improve heart health
  • Ordering diagnostic tests and interpreting their results
  • Caring for patients experiencing cardiac emergencies
  • Administering treatments using high-tech medical devices
  • Prescribing medication and performing certain procedures
  • Providing patient care before, during, and after heart surgery

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Skills

The ability to think and act quickly and accurately is paramount for cardiac nurse practitioners. While not all cardiac NPs work in emergency departments, a career in cardiac nursing requires extensive experience handling all types of heart conditions, including life-threatening emergencies. Interpersonal skills are also quite important for cardiac nurse practitioners, as you’ll frequently be consulting with patients on necessary lifestyle changes to improve their heart health—and people are much more likely to take advice from somebody they like!

Emergency room sign

Where Do Cardiac Nurse Practitioners Work?

Cardiac nurse practitioners work in a relatively wide variety of healthcare environments. Of course, you’ll find many cardiac NPs working in hospitals, emergency rooms, and specialty cardiac-care facilities. They also commonly work in outpatient care clinics or assisted-living environments. However, cardiac nurse practitioners can also find jobs with medical device manufacturers, government agencies, and educational institutions. Most cardiac nurse practitioners work full-time, and hours can vary significantly depending on the individual employer. Some cardiac NPs in hospitals or urgent care clinics will likely need to work nights, weekends, or on-call shifts. However, cardiac nurse practitioners who focus on preventative care or work in outpatient clinics may keep more standard business hours.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner?

Cardiac nurse practitioners are highly-trained medical experts who are equipped to diagnose and treat life-threatening heart conditions. That means a career as a cardiac nurse practitioner requires earning multiple degrees, plus gaining significant experience in cardiac nursing. Like any other nursing specialty, you’ll need to start by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that requires spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months! Cardiac nurse practitioners will also need to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) before they’re able to practice as an APRN.

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a cardiac nurse practitioner is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a cardiac nurse practitioner:

1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

The first step in your cardiac nurse practitioner education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. While graduating from nursing school will certainly require significant effort and study time, nearly anyone who’s willing to work hard enough can become a registered nurse. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

BSN sign on a stack of books with a stethoscope

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Your first major accomplishment on your journey to a career as a cardiac nurse practitioner is earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. While these classes may not have a direct connection to nursing or medicine, they’ll help you become a better problem-solver under pressure, which is critical for cardiac nurses who must think and act quickly to administer life-saving treatments.

Of course, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning the various aspects of nursing. Many of your classes will cover how to assess and care for all types of medical issues, including the cardiovascular conditions you can expect to encounter as a cardiac nurse practitioner. Other classes will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measure used in the medical field. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics and take classes that focus on improving your evidence-based decision-making. These courses are where you hone the clinical instincts you’ll need to make fast, accurate decisions in a high-pressure healthcare environment, and where you’ll learn how to handle certain situations that may have moral or legal implications.

Alongside your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. Overall wellness is a major part of heart health, and cardiac nurse practitioners must have a well-rounded knowledge of medicine and the human body to develop effective treatment plans for their patients.

The final step of your BSN education requires completing a clinical capstone program, which will give you real-world experience working with actual patients. While your nursing education will certainly involve plenty of hands-on training—including simulated cardiac emergencies—there’s no substitute for real-world experience where your patients’ lives are quite literally in your hands.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools, and one that’s committed to supporting their students all the way from their first day on campus to the beginning of their new nursing career. Nursing schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes even help you find RN jobs that will be waiting for you as soon as you finish nursing school!

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Like any of the other top-paying nursing jobs, anyone looking to become a cardiac nurse practitioner must first get licensed as a registered nurse, which requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you’re getting all the right answers! Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. Many people find it helpful to take a practice NCLEX exam before taking the real thing, as you’ll get an advanced look at the exam format and discover any areas that may require a little extra study time.

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, which gives you the flexibility to take your nursing skills just about anywhere. Future cardiac nurse practitioners will need to seek out experience working specifically with heart disease patients, likely at a cardiac specialty clinic or within the cardiology ward of a general hospital. The more relevant experience you can build at this stage of your nursing career, the better—cardiac nursing experience as an RN will be valuable when it comes time to get certified as a cardiac nurse practitioner.

Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs (like an MSN degree program, for example), keeping your nursing license current should be relatively stress-free.

Healthcare professional consoling a patient

5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree

Just like all other APRNs, cardiac nurse practitioners must complete a postgraduate nursing degree to receive the advanced medical training they need—almost always, that means earning a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Educational institutions all over the country offer MSN programs for advanced-practice nursing, many of which will include advanced-level cardiology courses. Many MSN programs even allow working full-time as a registered nurse while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though you can finish some accelerated programs as quickly as 18 months.

6. Become a Certified Cardiac Nurse Practitioner

After completing an MSN program centered on advanced-practice nursing, you’ll need to get certified as a nurse practitioner by either the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Many cardiac nurse practitioners first become licensed as family nurse practitioners or adult gerontology nurse practitioners before further specializing in cardiology. Your initial NP certification will be less important than building relevant experience working with cardiac patients. Once you’ve gained sufficient cardiology experience while working as a nurse practitioner, you’ll be eligible to become a board-certified cardiac nurse practitioner through the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine. Earning your CVNP-BC credential demonstrates a thorough mastery of all the skills required to treat cardiac patients safely and effectively, and is sure to be an attention-grabber when applying for cardiac nurse practitioner jobs.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Salary

How Much Do Cardiac Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to Salary.com, cardiac nurse practitioners are some of the highest-paid nurses in the entire medical industry—averaging an annual salary* of nearly $117,000, or just under $59 per hour. Cardiac nurse practitioner salaries for the top 10% of earners start at $128,000 per year, and can reach even higher for cardiac NPs with lots of experience.

Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Cardiac Nurse Practitioners?

While heart disease is more treatable than ever, it’s still a major health concern for millions of people every year. That means cardiac nurse practitioners should continue to be in high demand for the foreseeable future. While the BLS doesn’t provide detailed job data specifically for cardiac NPs, the overall number of nurse practitioners is expected to rise an enormous 45% by the year 2030. Considering the average growth rate for all other jobs sits at just 4% throughout that same time period, cardiac nurse practitioners can expect to enjoy excellent long-term career stability.

Aspiring healthcare worker looking for a job

Ready to Start Your Career as a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner?

Whether by responding directly to cardiac emergencies or by helping their patients develop healthier lifestyle habits, cardiac nurse practitioners are responsible for saving countless lives. If you love the thought of a nursing job where you’ll change people’s lives for the better—and frequently give people more time to enjoy with their loved ones—becoming a cardiac nurse practitioner could be the best nursing specialty for you! It’s a challenging and sometimes-intense career, but one that’s also immensely rewarding in more ways than one.

Ready to start your journey toward a rewarding career as a cardiac nurse practitioner? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and take the first steps toward your new career in nursing today!