Telemetry nurse monitoring a patient

Medical technology saves lives daily, and telemetry nurses rely on it to treat patients suffering from severe cardiac conditions and other health problems requiring round-the-clock observation.

If you want to work with patients requiring specialized care, you might enjoy working in the telemetry unit. Telemetry skills are also widely applicable throughout nursing, so it’s a great profession for new nurses who want to develop skills they can transfer to other areas of nursing in the future.

What are the steps to becoming a telemetry nurse?

Nurses who want to work in telemetry units must earn telemetry certification and possibly cardiac nursing credentials. If you are just starting out in the medical field, you’ll begin your career by earning a degree from an accredited nursing school. 

1. Earn a nursing degree

Telemetry nurses can have associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in nursing after graduating from an accredited program. Check the CCNE website to find programs that are recognized in your state. 

Accreditation ensures that a nursing school meets the federal standards for nurse education. It is also a requirement to take the NCLEX and earn your nursing license. 

Some new students prefer to earn an associate’s, then transfer to an RN to BSN program. Others opt for a 4-year undergraduate degree, which gives them plenty of time in clinicals and the opportunity to work as a student nurse before they graduate. 

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN nursing exam

All registered nurses must pass the NCLEX exam. This exam is recognized in all 50 states and is the only certifying exam for nursing professionals in the United States. You will have to answer questions based on four main topics: 

  1. Providing a safe and effective care environment 

  2. Health promotion and maintenance 

  3. Psychosocial integrity 

  4. Physiological integrity 

After you pass the NCLEX, you can complete the application for a nurse’s license with your state’s nursing board. After a short waiting period, you’ll receive a license number and be ready to apply for your first nursing job!

3. Gain work experience

New grad nurses can apply for telemetry jobs but will likely need at least a year of experience before employers place them with critical patients.

You may consider working with cardiac patients or on a med-surg floor for your first job. Patients vary throughout the telemetry unit, including those with heart disease, cardiac problems, people recovering from a heart attack, neurosurgery patients, and patients with cancer. 

Getting experience with patients who have these problems could make you more adept when you enter the telemetry unit.

4. Consider specialty qualifications 

A telemetry nurse can earn qualifications that make them more eligible candidates. It also helps them provide higher-quality care to their patients. 

The National Telemetry Association has certified over 10,000 medical professionals in the U.S., including 

You can earn two certifications: the CCT (Certified Cardiographic Technician) and the CRAT (Certified Rhythm Analysis Technician). You could also become a critical care cardiac nurse (CMC) or specialize in post-operative care for heart surgery patients (CSC)

Becoming a CCT or CRAT will enable you to perform various diagnostic tests on your patients, such as EKGs and stress tests. 

5. Apply for telemetry nurse jobs

Most telemetry nurse jobs look for nurses with one to two years of experience. Additional certifications can potentially earn you a greater salary, but they are not required for most entry-level telemetry nurse jobs.

ShiftMed can help you find nursing jobs around the country that are perfect for your passions, interests, and experience level.

Can you become a telemetry nurse online?

You can complete your nursing school coursework and certification courses online. That being said, nursing students still have to attend in-person clinicals and possibly some simulation labs. Working with real nurses and patients helps you develop the clinical skills and thinking abilities necessary to succeed once you have your RN. 

What is the difference between a telemetry and a registered nurse?

Telemetry nurses work in telemetry units. Registered nurses can work on a general floor, in outpatient clinics, in physician’s offices, and in many other locations with various specialties. 

Telemetry nurses have chosen to specialize in telemetric care, so a large part of their job involves closely monitoring patients’ medical equipment and tending to people with serious health concerns.

Telemetric technology has made it easier for patients to move and be comfortable during their stay. Instead of being hooked up to invasive monitors all day, they can wear portable telemetry packs that allow them to move around independently.

Properly placing and managing telemetry equipment is essential to getting accurate readings. Nurses in the telemetry unit have to understand proper skin preparation, electrode placement, and maintenance. Not all registered nurses have this knowledge and are usually not as skilled at reading and interpreting telemetric data as nurses in the unit.

What positions can you progress to from being a telemetry nurse?

You could transfer out of telemetry to another department, like emergency care or ICU. Or you could return to school and earn a master’s degree to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRNs can be nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists; these professionals can assess, evaluate, diagnose, and prescribe treatments for their patients, similar to physicians.

What does a telemetry nurse do?

Telemetry nurses work with seriously ill patients who are suffering from chronic diseases or cardiac complications. Any patient whose physician orders telemetric monitoring will also be sent to the unit. 

Many patients from the ER are admitted to the telemetry unit, and some hospitals combine their telemetry unit with the ICU. 

On average, you’ll start your shift by receiving reports from the previous nurse. Then, you’ll introduce yourself to your patients, perform any active orders, and take their vitals. Vital assessments in the telemetry unit are more in-depth than they are on general floors.

A head-to-toe evaluation includes a physical and neurological evaluation; you’ll have to administer any medications and update charts. Nurses in the telemetry unit have to call into telly boxes, which are monitors connected to each patient. 

Nurses call the people who run the monitors and let them know who you are, which patients are connected to each box and their normal heart rhythm. In this case, any changes can be directly sent to the nurse. 

You will routinely check on patients to monitor their health and safety, assisting them in any way they need during their stay. Physicians can come in and out of the floor, and they may ask for updates or have new orders for you to follow. 

Telemetry nurses must always be ready to respond if a patient experiences signs of distress or codes. In these cases, rapid response is critical and often life-saving. 

Do your telemetry nurse exam qualifications expire?

Yes, certifications and nursing licenses all expire, so you must stay ahead of deadlines. Make sure you always recertify before your deadline. Your state nursing board will have information on when to apply and how to renew your RN license.

If you have additional certifications, you can check with the credentialing organization for details on the renewal process.

How much do telemetry nurses make? 

The average telemetry nurse's salary is $97,884, based on the latest information from Zippia. Telemetry nurses in America make between $70,321 (the average in Iowa) to $138,054 (the average in Rhode Island).

How long does it take to become a telemetry nurse?

Telemetry nurses spend two to four years in school and possibly another two years earning specialty certifications. You can advance your career with additional training, but the minimum amount of time it takes to become a telemetry nurse is two years (through an associate’s degree program).

Frequently asked questions about becoming a telemetry nurse

Are telemetry nurses bedside?

Yes, telemetry nurses work at their patients’ bedsides and monitor advanced medical equipment to track their heart rates, respiration, blood pressure, and other vitals. You perform all the regular duties of a registered nurse, but your patients tend to have more critical needs. Most telemetry patients present with cardiac symptoms or recovering from a heart attack or stroke. 

What are telemetry skills?

Telemetry nurses' special skills include basic cardiac rhythm monitoring, arrhythmia analysis, basic and advanced life support, central line insertion, medication administration, and cardiopulmonary assessment and care.

What is the difference between ICU and telemetry? 

ICU nurses work in intensive care units, and they sometimes have telemetry patients as well. Telemetry focuses specifically on the intensive electronic monitoring of patients’ conditions; ICU focuses on providing acute critical care to patients in severe conditions.

Telemetry itself refers to the technology used, not the level of care a patient requires. Many patients that go to a telemetry unit are stable but presenting symptoms a physician wants to closely monitor. 

How do I study for a telemetry test? 

Before getting your telemetry certification, brush up on topics like normal and abnormal heart rhythm, P waves, PR intervals, QRS segments, and S waves. Strong telemetry skills help nurses from all professions better understand their patients’ conditions and provide proactive care that can save lives.