by Sarah Sangosti
A nurse working in cardiology has many career options. Julie Benz, cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist at St. Anthony Hospitals in Denver, said nursing in this area is exciting because of all the avenues available.
"Nursing in cardiology has endless possibilities," she said. "Nurses can practice in the emergency room, on the step-down floor, in the heart catheterization lab, in the cardiology OR, the cardiology ICU, be an exercise physiologist in the gym or work in home care."
Benz said this nursing niche is spectacular not only because its possibilities are endless, but also because it’s well supported.
The cardiology field is taking advantage of technological advances and growing along with them, she said. Its research and development are "taking cardiology over the edge" in an exciting way that’s expanding the profession.
She is involved in cardiology through her designation as a clinical nurse specialist, where she does advanced practice nursing in cardiology. A CNS is different from a nurse practitioner, she said, because CNSs work with whole groups of patients, whereas NPs work individually with patients.
In her role, Benz prepares programs – ranging from pre-hospital services through initial treatment – for all patients at St. Anthony who have heart attacks.
Benz said CNSs have four main roles they have to maintain, no matter what unit of nursing they occupy. Since she’s in cardiology, Benz focuses on heart patients. A CNS’s roles include practice, education, research and consultation.
In the practice role, Benz said CNSs develop practice patterns – they do investigations for best practice and then monitor and maintain high-quality care. Her practice includes shortening the time it takes to care for an acute heart attack.
In this role, she does not provide care, but rather a care program for patients. For example, Benz’s practice looks at aborting a heart attack while it’s happening in the ER so the staff there can monitor all patients with symptoms of a heart attack with more accuracy.
A CNS’s education role includes teaching hospital-based classes for all levels of employees working with a specific patient population, as well as reviewing information that’s given to patients and their families. For example, Benz might teach nurse preparation courses or how to accurately read heart monitors.
The research role means CNSs work to expand the niche in which they work. Benz said research could include everything from investigating new products to the best way to perform procedures. Her research is science-based and relevant specifically to St. Anthony Hospitals.
The last role of a CNS is consultation. This facet includes being a resource for other hospital workers if they have questions regarding patient care.
For example, a nurse might need consultation to better understand a clinical situation, or a physician might ask a CNS to help nurses to adjust to new technology. Benz recently consulted on the nursing end for a program aimed at improving care for cardiology patients on ventilators.
Benz said the biggest challenges for her include creating change through evidence-based nursing – taking a scientific body of knowledge and using it to give care – and keeping nurses fluent in their practice. For example, Benz has to take new technology and determine how nurses can use it for the best possible outcome.
"It’s creation of change through an evidence-based model," she said.
But Benz has been a nurse for 32 years, and she knows what it takes to be a good nurse and provide the best possible nursing practices.
"Nursing is about predicting and preventing complications," she said. "It’s smoothing out a path for patients, and doing it faster with fewer complications."
As the cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist, Benz’s four roles culminate into giving the best possible care for all cardiology patients. Her work strives to create the best situations for all patients hospitalized for cardiovascular care. She works closely with doctors and nurses to accomplish her goals.
Benz has had a lot of experience in nursing. She earned her graduate nurse degree in 1974 from Michael Reese Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago, her BSN in 1976 from the University of Illinois Medical Center and an MS in Critical Care Nursing in 1978 from Rush University in Chicago. That is also when she earned her CNS licensure.
She said nursing in the cardiology field is very exciting, and nurses planning a career in cardiology should start at a location that offers strong new graduate training.
Benz said new nurses should appreciate the experiences they gain as they learn to work toward their goals.
Benz credits her great career to the fact that she never took the hard times for granted.
"I am who I am for the experiences I passed through," she said.