Shaun Foust was only 12 years old when she learned about open heart surgery and became "fascinated by the heart."
Now 44, the cardiovascular technologist at Atrium Navicent Health in Macon, Georgia, is just as mesmerized as she was then.
"I truly love what I do, and I am passionate about the quality of work I give," she says.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it?
As a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist for 15 years, I set up, monitor and scrub left heart catheterizations, right heart catheterizations, percutaneous coronary interventions, intra-aortic balloon pumps, Impella ventricular assist devices, temporary and permanent pacemaker implantations and loop recorder device implantations.
I also share responsibility with a handful of colleagues for the flow coordinator position, which includes communication between the cath lab, physicians and the pre- and post-procedural care area to coordinate case start times as well as lab assignments for staff and physicians and making sure staff get to lunch in a timely fashion. I also precept (teach and mentor) students and new hire technologists to make sure they learn how to do the job.
Did you always want to be a cardiovascular technologist?
I always knew I wanted to work in the medical field — I just wasn’t sure which part. When I was 12 years old, I read my grandfather's material for his open heart surgery, and I was fascinated by the heart. When I decided to start school, I looked at the programs offered and read the descriptions and knew immediately that the cardiovascular technology program was where I was meant to be. (Read more about how to become a cardiovascular technician.)
What does a typical day look like?
Our day starts at 6:30 a.m. We usually have at least two physicians starting by 7:30. We have five labs, but usually only run four. This allows us to move through many cases in a day. We usually have anywhere from four to six cases completed in each lab before we go to lunch. We then come back and do another four to six cases before we are done for the day. We go home at 7 p.m. We work 12-hour shifts, three days per week. We are on call as well. If we are on call and a case does not finish by 7 p.m., then we must stay until it’s finished. If we are on call and we are at home, then we have 30 minutes to get to the hospital to open up the patient’s blocked artery within the 90-minute AHA (American Heart Association) recommended time frame.
What do you like most about your job?
My favorite part of the job is when we save a patient who is having a heart attack. A patient comes to us sick and dying from a blocked artery in their heart, and when they leave us they feel fine. You can see the immediate difference you made in someone's life. You helped give a wife back her husband or a child back to her mother.
Also, I have four grown sons. One of them is in the cardiovascular field, and I get to work with him, which is pretty great.
The toll on the body of wearing the protective lead apron can be hard at times.
What’s the most common misconception about this job?
Because we are cardiovascular technologists and people shorten that to “techs,” people think we are like the patient care “techs” who are under a nurse’s direction to bathe patients, empty bedpans and such. They don’t realize we have an associate degree, are highly trained and have skills that are invaluable to the physician during the procedures.
What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?
I feel I had pretty good preparation from the instructor of the program at my school. She said I would work long hours. She said the work would be physically hard on the body and stressful mentally but extremely rewarding. She was right in all respects. I knew I was up for the challenge.
How did you train to become a cardiovascular technologist?
I graduated from the Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS) program at Central Georgia Technical College in Macon with an associate degree in cardiovascular technology. I learned the academic stuff I needed in the classroom and the clinical aspects of what is required at the hospital during hands-on training while being supervised by staff and physicians.
What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Integrity, compassion, plus mental and physical strength.
Is there a time when you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?
Yes. There have been numerous times through the years that I've held the hand of someone who was scared they were going to die. I have also comforted the families of those who have died. The compassion we show during these times can make all the difference for someone during the hardest time of their life.
Why would you recommend that someone go into this line of work?
If you are a caring individual and have a desire to help others and make a difference in someone’s life, this is a great profession to consider. We are constantly reminded that we make a difference during a very difficult time.
Can you describe one particular moment or day on the job that gave you real satisfaction?
Before I met my husband, his best friend had died in a car accident. Last year, that man's mother was admitted to the hospital having an acute heart attack. Her other son called me and asked me if I was working and if I would watch out for her. She came into the lab and we did a left heart catheterization and saw that she had a blockage in her left anterior descending artery. (This is the artery that feeds the front and apex of the heart.) She was in a lot of pain, sweating and vomiting — all signs of a heart attack. We went in and extracted the clot and placed a stent to make sure the artery remained opened, and she felt so much better. Being able to be there for her and to ease some of the worry during a scary time for her and her family was very rewarding.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
If I couldn’t be a cardiovascular technologist, I would probably be a “first assist” or scrub tech so I could assist the surgeons in the operating room, which is where our patients go when we can’t fix them.
What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you about your work?
Several years ago, I worked every day with two other people on the same team. We performed a procedure on an elderly lady, and we made a great impression on her. She was so thankful that she came back two weeks later and treated the team to lunch — she sat with us and talked while we ate. She was the sweetest lady I think I've ever met.
Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
I have been doing this job for 15 years now. In five to 10 years, I still see myself doing this job. I truly love what I do, and I am passionate about the quality of work I give. I hope I am able to continue doing this job until my body will no longer allow me to.