What makes a good cathetization (Cath) lab nurse?

If you’re just getting started in the wild and wonderful world of cath lab nursing, then there’s a good chance you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. 

Cath lab nursing is fairly technical work, with many techniques and procedures that are unlike those of any other nursing specialty. Even experienced nurses transitioning into the cath lab can experience some level of whiplash, depending on where they’re coming from.

While feeling a little stressed or confused as a result of the new work is completely normal, there are certain qualities and skills you can develop that will help you acclimate to the cath lab. Today, we’ll be covering a few of those qualities and skills, explaining how they’ll be used in the lab.

Let’s begin!

Develop a “Team-Player” Mindset

While every nurse—regardless of their specialty—must be versed in working on an efficient and effective team, cath lab nursing can take this to a new level.

Cath lab teams are typically fairly lean; there will be you (and possibly one or two other cath lab nurses), a couple of technologists, a cardiologist, and an anesthesiologist. 

As with any other nursing specialty, there is a great deal of variation in the team structure, and this setup is not set in stone. However, you’ll generally be working with only a few other team members in the lab at any time.

See also: Nursing Leadership Draws upon All Generations

With that in mind, you’ll be taking a comparatively larger role in the cath lab than you might be in other, more expansive team structures. As a result, understanding your role in the room—and being able to execute that role effectively—is the most important part of your job.

Fortunately, many of the skills needed to be a team player in the cath lab will be developed by… working in the cath lab. By coming into work ready to learn and opening yourself to guidance from your team, you can quickly understand both the technical skills of being a cath lab nurse and where those skills slot into a given procedure.

With all that said, try to practice opening yourself to perceived criticism. Taking the feedback you receive—in whatever form it is delivered—and integrating it into your work can help you become an excellent cath lab nurse in no time!

Work on Your Organizational Skills

One of the most important qualities of a good cath lab nurse is being detail-oriented. 

In the cath lab, even small mistakes can result in serious ramifications for the patient you’re working on. A misplaced instrument, a machine that’s not calibrated properly, missing patient instructions… each of these factors can be a matter of life and death when you’re working on someone’s heart!

The cath lab is defined by work that is highly technical but limited in scope. You’ll be performing a fairly small range of procedures, many of which can have a profound impact on the patient’s health. 

In the ideal setup, you will have plenty of time to prepare for a patient before you begin working on them. Given this lead time, your team should be completely equipped and prepared for that patient’s unique needs. As a cath lab nurse, much of your job is making sure everything is organized and prepared for the patient ahead of their arrival.

And when things don't go according to plan, your organizational skills can be just as valuable. Knowing everything from the week’s procedure schedule to emergency resuscitation protocols can save lives, all while keeping the lab running smoothly.

Practice Empathy

Empathetic care is the cornerstone of modern nursing. It is impossible to deliver effective care without having some baseline understanding of your patient's unique wants and needs. And while different nursing professionals display their empathy in different ways, all of them must have it. 

The cath lab is not an exception.

Patients coming into the cath lab are doing so for a variety of reasons. Some are coming for routine heart tests. Others are having pacemakers installed. Still others may be coming in to have interventional procedures to remove plaque or have a stent inserted. 

As a cath lab nurse, you may be helping to prepare this patient for their procedure. Empathy can help you understand the patient’s fears and apprehensions while providing reassurance. After all, who isn’t scared by the prospect of going under before a heart procedure? 

And once the procedure begins and the patient has been sedated, empathy remains an important factor in the lab. Knowing the patient’s unique medical needs can help you advise the team and advocate for the patient during that procedure. 

Communicating with the patient’s loved ones and caretakers also requires a high degree of empathy and understanding. These folks are waiting to hear how the patient is doing, and understanding their stress, fear, and frustration can go a long way in effectively communicating.

Don’t Forget Self Care!

As a final note, working in the cath lab can be physically and emotionally demanding. At times, the stress of the job can begin to wear on you. If this is the case, you must take care of yourself so that you can provide the best possible care to your patients. 

Practicing self-care can involve getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking breaks when needed. It’s important to recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed and take steps to reduce stress.

Working Every Day to Become a Better Cath Lab Nurse

As with any skill worth learning, the path to becoming a better cath lab nurse is a long and challenging one. When you’re first getting started, the amount of information, feedback, and technical knowledge you’ll be asked to process can feel pretty overwhelming. 

Luckily, there are some practical skills you can practice to help yourself succeed in this unique and rewarding career. Everything from keeping the cath lab organized to remembering your own mental health at the end of a long shift can help you become an excellent cath lab nurse!

If you’d like to learn more about this unique branch of nursing, check out our Ultimate Guide to Cath Lab Nursing! In it, we cover everything you need to know about the field and some helpful tips and tricks to become the best cath lab nurse you can be.

In addition, don’t hesitate to check out some of our other per-diem nursing articles. In them, we cover a huge range of topics in and around the nursing space. Thanks for reading!

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