Learn to Become a Telemetry Nurse in 13 Steps

doctor and nurse discuss patient vital signs
doctor and nurse discuss patient vital signs

Telemetry Nurse Career Snapshot

What you’ll do: Monitor heart activity and other vital signs for cardiovascular patients in stable condition.

Where you’ll work: Hospitals or outpatient centers

Degree you’ll need: Associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing

Median annual salary: $77,600


What Is a Telemetry Nurse?

Telemetry nurses use the latest technology to monitor patients for dangerous heart rhythms. These patients may have heart disease or have undergone surgery and need close monitoring.

Steps to Become a Telemetry Nurse

Find the school for you.

Your education should set you up for a successful career in telemetry nursing. Look for the following when researching nursing schools and programs:

Accreditation: Many non-accredited schools aren’t approved by state nursing boards, which means graduates won’t qualify to take the national nursing license exam. All 50 states require nurse candidates to pass the exam to receive a license, so it’s smart to look for an accredited school.

Job placement and career counseling: Look at a program’s job placement numbers, contact alumni networks, and talk to career counselors to get a sense of the support graduates receive when they begin looking for nursing jobs.

Online programs: Whether you’re a parent or have other responsibilities, you might benefit from the flexibility of an online program. Note that while coursework may be online, you’ll still need to complete hands-on training in person.

Choose between two degrees.

You’ll need to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to become a telemetry nurse. It’s important to note that telemetry nurses mainly work in hospitals, which are increasingly requiring job applicants to have a BSN.

Get into a program.

When applying to nursing programs, you’ll need to meet some or all of these prerequisites: 

A GED or High School Diploma: Many nursing programs require a diploma and a GPA of at least 3.0.

Prior Coursework: Successful completion of high school biology and chemistry classes is strongly encouraged and sometimes required. 

SAT Scores: Nursing programs may have minimum score requirements of 1060 or higher.

Complete your coursework and clinicals.

You’ll need to complete coursework and clinical training to earn your nursing degree. A BSN typically takes four years of full-time study.

Curriculum: Depending on the program, core coursework may include biology, chemistry, anatomy, ethics, physiology, nursing practice, and healthcare policy.

Clinical Requirements: Nursing programs require students to shadow and train with other nurses. This training is called “clinical hours” or “clinicals.” Most programs require between 700 and 800 hours. If you’re interested in telemetry, try to complete as many clinical hours as possible in a telemetry unit. 

Shai Crear, BSN, RN, says another way to get experience “is to obtain a job as a patient care tech, patient care associate, or centralized monitor technician before becoming an RN.” If your program offers any courses in telemetry, be sure to take them, says Crear, who got her start in telemetry nursing and now works in an associated specialty—heart and vascular nursing.

Take the nursing license exam.

After graduating from a nursing program, students must obtain a license in the state where they plan to practice. To be licensed, all prospective nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination-RN (NCLEX-RN), which is overseen by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

Meet state nursing requirements.

After you receive official notice that you passed the exam, you’re ready to apply for an RN license through your state nursing board. 

In addition to test results, most boards also require proof of a nursing degree. Some boards also may ask for fingerprints or perform a background check. 

Land your first nursing position.

Aspiring telemetry nurses may need some general nursing experience and special training before they can take on a role in the field. “When graduating from nursing school, one of the best ways to market yourself for a telemetry nurse job is to become ACLS certified,” Crear says.

Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification is similar to training in CPR and basic life support, but it provides in-depth knowledge about cardiovascular support. “Although most nurse jobs will pay for this course for you, being pre-certified shows your dedication and skill set in heart rhythms and interventions,” Crear says.

Once you’ve gained relevant experience and knowledge, you’re ready to apply for telemetry positions. 

Become eligible for certification.

Advanced certifications for telemetry nurses are optional, but earning one can pay off. 

“Advanced certification will make you more valuable in your job and more marketable as you think about role transitions,” Crear says. “Most certifications, such as PCCN, CMC, and CMSRN, require one to two years of experience and clinical hours. Many hospitals will reward you for obtaining these certifications because you are showing that you have a profound knowledge base in the specialty.”

Crear says those rewards can include higher salaries and employer-paid continuing education.

Choose a certification.

Here are three popular certification options for telemetry nurses. 

Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN): Granted by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), this certification demonstrates excellence in providing care for acutely ill adult patients. 

Tele-ICU Adult Acute/Critical Care Nursing Certification (CCRN-E): The AACN also grants this certification, which is for nurses who monitor patients remotely in tele-ICUs.

Cardiovascular Nursing Level I (CVRN-BC Level I): The American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine (ABCM) grants this certification in cardiovascular nursing for nurses who work in telemetry, progressive care, pediatric intensive care, and interventional cardiology.

Prep for your certification exam.

Online groups, including the AACN, offer free and fee-based test prep resources for the CCRN and CVRN-BC Level I certifications. Because the CCRN-E is a specialized offshoot of the CCRN, there are only paid prep resources for this particular exam. 

Pass the test.

The PCCN and CCRN-E exams are online. Test takers for both are given three hours to answer 125 questions. Topics vary on these exams, but they are designed to test your aptitude in clinical judgment and ethical caring. 
The CVRN-BC Level I exam is also online. Test takers have three hours to answer 150 multiple-choice questions on topics such as bedside assessment, EKG concepts, heart failure, and pacemaker management. 

Maintain Your certification.

The PCCN and CCRN-E certifications last for three years. Both can be renewed by either earning 100 continuing education credits or by retaking the exam before your certification expires.

The CVRN-BC certification also lasts for three years but requires you to earn 30 continuing education credits before its expiration. 

Advance your training and career.

There are several nursing specialties that are a natural next step for telemetry nurses. These specialties can be even more intense than telemetry, but they are good options for nurses who want to work in a fast-paced environment.

ER Nurse: Specializes in treating patients with trauma or injuries that need immediate medical attention. After two years of emergency experience, you can earn a certification from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). 

Intensive Care Unit Nurse: Specializes in providing 24/7 care to patients with life-threatening illnesses or conditions. ICU nurses can earn certifications from the AACN in adult, pediatric, and neonatal nursing.

Flight Nurse: Provides care while a patient is airlifted to a medical facility. Flight nurses can earn an advanced certification from the BCEN.

Telemetry nurses monitor patients with heart-related conditions and other serious health issues for dangerous heart rhythms. These patients might have suffered a stroke or heart attack or they may be recovering from major surgery. Telemetry nurses specifically work with patients who are stable enough to be transferred out of cardiac intensive care but still require close monitoring. 

Technology is at the core of telemetry nursing. For example, nurses use an electrocardiogram (ECG), which monitors electrical activity in the heart. Telemetry nurses need to be able to prepare patients for their ECG reading, administer the reading, and interpret the results. They also use technology to measure other vital signs like blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and respiration. 

In addition to standard nursing duties like consulting with doctors and a patient’s family, telemetry nurses are responsible for: 

  • Looking for arrhythmias and other heart abnormalities
  • Responding to and stabilizing heart irregularities, including false alarms
  • Intervening with defibrillation
  • Performing stress tests to elevate patients’ blood pressure and heart rhythm
  • Assisting in cardioversions to restore normal heart rhythm

What It Takes to Be a Telemetry Nurse

Telemetry nurses use a lot of specialized technology and care for patients who are not yet well enough to be discharged. These traits and skills can help telemetry nurses thrive in the role.

  • Critical thinker: Telemetry is a data-heavy field, so being able to assess and interpret data is crucial.
  • Multitasker: Telemetry nurses juggle many patients and responsibilities. Being able to stay organized is a must. 
  • Highly adaptable person: Working in healthcare can be a roller-coaster. Telemetry nurses should be ready to pivot quickly when there’s a change in processes or treatments. 
  • Technophile: Since technology is at the heart of telemetry nursing, a passion or interest in working with specialized tech is important. 
  • Avid learner: Telemetry is constantly evolving, so a willingness to keep up with medical and technological advancements in the field is necessary. 

How Long Is the Journey to Become a Telemetry Nurse?

In general, it can take five years to become a telemetry nurse if you complete a bachelor’s degree and gain experience before your first position. “An institution will usually require a nurse to pass a cardiac rhythms and interventions test to be considered a telemetry nurse and treat telemetry patients,” Crear says.

Pros and Cons to a Career as a Telemetry Nurse

Like any job, there are pros and cons to this nursing specialty.

Pros:

  • Continued learning in cardiac treatments and rhythms 
  • Job security
  • Rewards of helping people at a vulnerable time in their life

Cons:

  • High workload and nurse-to-patient ratio
  • High-stress job
  • Night and overnight shifts

“One of the pieces of advice I can lend a nurse seeking telemetry nursing is to prioritize and delegate effectively,” Crear says. “Using these techniques can really turn a hard day into a manageable day. Teamwork is big as well. When interviewing for a role, always ask an institution about their nurse-to-patient ratios and the size of their unit (beds per unit).” 

Where You’ll Work

Most nurses can be found working in all sorts of environments: hospitals, clinics, schools, and private practices. However, since telemetry nurses work with a specific subset of patients at a critical stage in their recovery or treatment, they mainly work in hospitals or outpatient facilities. 

Telemetry nurses may monitor their patients at the bedside, through a remote monitoring system, or a combination of both. With a remote monitoring system, all alarms and readings take place away from the patient, rather than at their bedside. 

Salary and Job Outlook

RNs earn a median salary of $77,600, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 10% earn $120,250 annually and the bottom 10% earn $59,450. 

The BLS doesn’t break this data down for nursing specialties, but nurses with a BSN who specialize can have an advantage over other nurses and can earn more.

In addition to specialty and education, salaries can also vary based on:

  • Experience
  • Certification
  • Where you live
  • Where you work

Jobs for RNs will grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030, according to the BLS. This translates into an average of about 194,500 jobs each year.

Part of the reason for this increase is the nation’s large and growing number of baby boomers, who typically need more care for health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Professional Resources

Telemetry is a technology-driven field, so it’s critical to continue your education throughout your nursing career. Networking to build valuable relationships can help you advance your career.

Here are some resources for telemetry nurses as they grow in their field. 

The American Nursing Association: One of the largest professional associations for nurses, the ANA produces webinars, journals, and other resources that are invaluable to telemetry nurses. 

Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association: A national networking and professional organization for cardiovascular nurses that can also benefit telemetry nurses.


mimi polner

Written and reported by:

Mimi Polner

Contributing Writer

shai creer

With professional insight from:

Shai Crear, BSN, RN

Heart and Vascular Nurse