Stress testing or exercise tolerance testing, as it is sometimes referred, is one of the main tasks performed by a cardio tech on a daily basis. The stress test consists of having the patient walking on a treadmill while recording an ECG and watching what happens to the heart with increased workload. There are a lot of responsibilities of the cardio tech when performing a stress test. We are mainly responsible for patient safety so we constantly have to watch the ECG recording to make sure the patient is still in the safe zone for the work being put on the heart. We also prep the patient for the test, take patient history and monitor blood pressure throughout the test. There are a lot of things to remember!
When I did the theory of the course, it actually came pretty easy to me as we had learned a lot about ECG interpretation already, which is a big portion of stress testing. Also having seen a stress test while I was observing at the hospital helped to reinforce what I was reading. The other big part of stress testing is patient interaction. You have to be able to explain the test in a way that the patient understands. The important theory portion to remember is the protocol for exercise tolerance testing and when it is time to stop a patient’s test. It is a pretty quick course, but I find the hands on lab days are where you really learn. We practice every day the protocol for the test, the contraindications, and termination criteria. The instructors are really great at breaking down the process step by step, because it is a little overwhelming. The challenges I have faced in the course are mainly trying to do everything quickly but correctly. This is different from the ECGs because there is a lot more that needs to be done. Memorizing everything has been quite the challenge and at first it is a little overwhelming realizing how much there is to learn. That is why we practice administering the test so much, to get used to going through the steps.
Now that I am nearing the end of labs, I can honestly say I know all the information like the back of my hand. This course is also great to fine tune your ECG interpretation skills, as you have to interpret them a lot faster than you would doing an ECG. The instructors gave us the advice to go over ECGs everyday between lab block one, and lab block two. I may have slacked off a little on this but it is truly great advice if you want to be good at stress testing. The course itself is very short and condensed but all the courses leading up to exercise tolerance testing have their place in this procedure. Overall, it is a challenge. Like all the challenges in taking a new course, the instructors are great at breaking everything down and pinpointing the areas where you need practice. Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to stress tests!