The role of the registered nurse (RN) is constantly evolving. With continual advancements in healthcare technology, demand is growing for nurses with specialized training in technology-centered fields such as telemetry. This article walks you through the steps to becoming a telemetry nurse and explores the career doors that this specialty opens.
What Is a Telemetry Nurse?
A telemetry nurse is an RN who specializes in treating acute patient conditions that require the use of telemetry tools to monitor patient vital signs.
The word “telemetry” derives from the Greek root words tele, meaning “remote,” and metron, meaning “measure.” In medical settings, telemetry machines measure a patient’s vital signs (body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate) through sensors and transmit that data to a central machine.
The telemetry unit of a hospital is reserved for patients who need continuous electronic monitoring of their condition. For example, hospitals use electrocardiograph machines to monitor patients with cardiovascular abnormalities, such as those recovering from cardiac surgery or complications. Telemetry nurses work in this unit and have extensive knowledge of how to interpret the data displayed by these tools to assess patients’ conditions and risks.
Reasons to Choose a Career in Telemetry Nursing
Among the current international shortage of nursing staff, the situation is especially pronounced in the critical care specialty in the United States, where turnover was 18.2% in 2018. ((Melissa Bloomer and Suzanne Bench, “Critical care nursing workforce: Global imperatives, innovations and future-proofing – A call for papers,” Intensive Critical Care Nursing, Oct. 2020: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7338853/)) With global health challenges on the rise, healthcare systems require more skilled and qualified RNs who can become certified in their specialty.
With heart disease still the leading cause of death in the United States, telemetry units are essential for cardiac patient care. ((Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Leading Causes of Death,” https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm)) Life-extending treatment relies heavily on telemetry technology and the nurses who are trained to use it. Most importantly, telemetry nurses play an invaluable role in emergency response. They are trained to provide early intervention with medication, cardioversion, or defibrillation as appropriate during a patient’s cardiac crisis. ((Wikipedia, “Coronary care unit”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronary_care_unit#Subacute_coronary_care))
If you work well under pressure, are comfortable using technology, and are drawn to helping patients with acute needs, telemetry nursing may be the right specialty for you.
How to Become a Telemetry Nurse
Before becoming a telemetry nurse, you must fulfill certain educational and training prerequisites as outlined below.
Step 1: Earn Your Nursing Degree
The first step on this career path is to become an RN. To do so, you will need to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) from an accredited program.
Step 2: Receive Your RN Certification/License
Once you graduate from your nursing program, you must take the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN). Applicants who hold either an associate degree (ADN) or bachelor’s degree (BSN) in nursing are eligible for the exam. You must register for the NCLEX-RN in the state where you wish to practice.
Every U.S. state has a board of nursing that sets eligibility requirements that candidates must meet before taking the exam. Once the board validates your eligibility, you will register for the NCLEX-RN with Pearson VUE, the company that administers the test. Upon scheduling the date and time of your exam, you must pay the $200 registration fee.
After you pass the NCLEX-RN and obtain your license from your state’s Board of Nursing, you are officially an RN—your first step toward pursuing any specialty field.
Step 3: Gain Relevant Experience: Training and Courses
Some telemetry specialty certifications, such as the PCCN, require RNs to have at least 1,750 practice hours working in progressive care with critically ill patients. ((American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, “PCCN (Adult)”: https://www.aacn.org/certification/get-certified/pccn-adult))
A good way to build knowledge and skills while working is to take courses and get hands-on training in telemetric duties. Many such courses are available through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), including Essentials of Critical Care Orientation and Essentials of ECG.
Step 4: Obtain a Telemetry Certification and Credentials
Once you have the necessary clinical hours, many hospitals will require you to earn one of the following accredited certifications from the AACN:
The Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN) is a specialty certification that permits registered nurses to provide direct care to acutely ill patients in any location.
Cardiac Medicine Certification
The Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC) is a subspecialty certification administered by the AACN for RNs to provide direct care for acutely ill adult cardiac patients. ((American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, “CMC (Adult)”: https://www.aacn.org/certification/get-certified/cmc-adult)) With this certification, nurses can work in telemetry units, medical ICUs, cardiac care units, and more.
Telemetry Nurse Job Description
In addition to their standard nursing duties, telemetry nurses work with a variety of technical equipment that monitors a patient’s vital signs. As a core member of the care team, a telemetry nurse can identify abnormalities of patient vitals in real time and take appropriate action. The job description may include the following duties and skills.
- Work with high-risk patients, educating them about their conditions and informing them of changes to their vital signs.
- Know their patients’ typical vital signs and risk factors.
- Remain calm during high-stress situations and take effective action under pressure.
- Provide patients with recommendations on lifestyle adjustments to recover from a cardiac crisis.
- Correctly place electrodes and other sensors on the body and hook up telemetric machines (e.g., EKGs).
- Interpret data transmitted by telemetry, monitoring patients’ vital signs to detect changes and risks.
- Assist with cardioversion, including defibrillation, as needed.
- Stay current with medical technology and treatment protocols for various cardiac conditions.
- Understand cardiac conditions (e.g. congestive heart failure, myocardial infarctions, arrhythmia) and their effect on vital signs.
- Administer medication.
- Assist physicians with surgical procedures.
- Perform diagnostic tests.
- Work long shifts in a fast-paced setting.
The telemetry unit, like other critical care units, can be an intense place due to the patients’ life-threatening conditions. Keep this in mind when applying for these nursing roles. If you work in such an environment, make sure to take time for self-care so that you don’t experience nurse burnout.
Given that the skills and certifications needed for telemetry are transferable to other acute care settings, many nurses looking to further their career or try something new go on to work in ER and ICU positions. Similar nursing specialties include critical care nurses and neonatal nurse practitioners.
Telemetry Nurse Career Opportunities
While telemetry nurses typically work in hospitals, they may also work in less-critical environments such as patient homes, sleep centers, and outpatient care centers. Career opportunities in this role are available in almost any facility that uses electrocardiography and similar technology to monitor a patient’s condition.
Telemetry Nurse Salary
According to Payscale, the average salary of a telemetry nurse is $67,538 per year ($32.47/hr x 2080 work hours) as of February 2021.
Telemetry nursing can be a demanding yet rewarding role for RNs who want to make a positive impact on patient lives. If you’re looking for exposure to technology and intensive patient care, telemetry nursing is a promising career path.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator,** and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.
*The FNP role specialty includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.
**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.