Vascular Technician Programs in Iowa

It’s the same story across the nation: a growing senior population is placing an increased burden on state healthcare systems. And Iowa is no exception. Here in Iowa, people 65 and older account for more than 17% of the state’s population as of 2020. So as you would expect, age-related diseases and illnesses are also on the rise. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number-one killer in Iowa, accounting for 23.5% of all deaths in 2017, while strokes accounted for nearly 5% of all deaths, making it the sixth most common cause of death.

Fortunately, tools for visualizing and diagnosing vascular conditions and diseases are better than ever and professionals like vascular technicians—experts in creating ultrasound images of the peripheral arteries and blood vessels—are more important than ever.

Iowa’s vascular technicians can be found lending their skills and expertise in settings ranging from small vascular imaging centers to large ultrasound departments in leading regional hospital systems like UnityPoint Health’s Methodist Vascular Center in Des Moines, which is home to a state-of-the-art non-invasive vascular ultrasound department that specializes in the treatment of carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, vascular access for end stage renal disease, and more.

How to Become a Vascular Technician in Iowa

If you’re looking for the right training to becoming a vascular technician, you’ll find a number of associate and bachelor’s degree programs, as well as post-degree certificate programs right here in Iowa. Here’s how to decide which one’s for you:

First things first: regardless of the program you choose, make sure it’s accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Graduating from a CAAHEP-accredited program (whether it’s specific to vascular sonography or is designed as a diagnostic medical sonography, radiation sciences, medical or medical imaging degree with a concentration/specialization in vascular sonography) automatically qualifies you to sit for any of the vascular technology certification examinations offered by the industry’s three certifying bodies.

In addition to CAAHEP accreditation, it’s important to compare each program’s student/graduate stats to ensure you’re choosing a program with a solid history of success. The following information is readily available on each program’s website:

  • Attrition rate (how many students failed to graduate from the program)
  • Job placement rate (how many graduates were employed in vascular sonography following graduation)
  • National certification pass rate (how many graduates passed a national certification exam)
  • National certification exam preparation: Many schools offer exam prep courses to prepare you for one or more national certification examinations; in many cases, you can take these exams up to 60 days before you graduate.

Just getting started in medical sonography…

If you don’t have a background or previous post-secondary education in sonography or an allied health field, the standard path into the career is through an associate’s degree (AAS) in either vascular sonography or diagnostic medical sonography with a specialization in vascular sonography. These programs take about two years to complete and are offered through junior colleges, allied health schools, and four-year colleges and universities.

Regardless of which vascular program you complete, you can expect to complete courses in:

  • Abdominal vascular disease
  • Vascular laboratory management
  • Special circulatory problems
  • Ultrasound physics
  • Abdominal vascular ultrasound procedures
  • Vascular fundamentals

You’ll also complete about 1,000-1,250 hours of clinical rotations. Just some of the vascular centers in Iowa where you can complete your clinical rotations include:

  • Iowa Heart Center, Vascular Institute
  • University of Iowa Health Care, Heart and Vascular Center
  • University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, Pediatric Vascular Anomalies Clinic

Already have a background in sonography or another allied health field…

If you already have an education and clinical experience in an allied health field, there are a number of bachelor degree programs in diagnostic medical sonography, medical imaging, and radiation sciences with a concentration in vascular sonography designed for career changers like you. These accelerated programs can take as little as 24 months to complete, depending on how many credits you’re able to transfer from your previous degree program. These programs tend to have strict admission requirements, including prior allied health training, clinical work experience, and college credits in areas like anatomy and physiology, math, the life sciences, and the physical sciences.

If you’re already a nationally certified medical sonographer, a certificate program in vascular technology allows you to easily refocus your career on vascular sonography. These programs take just 6-12 months to complete, usually feature a partially or entirely online curriculum, and often enable students to complete the didactic requirements of the program at their place of employment. Admission requirements usually include current employment as a medical sonographer and a current national credential in diagnostic medical sonography.

Earn National Certification in Vascular Sonography

While national certification is not a requirement to practice vascular sonography, in a profession that’s largely unlicensed, national certification has become a standard requirement for employment. And in nearly all states, Medicare requires all non-invasive vascular studies to be performed by a technician who is certified in vascular technology.

There are three, main professional certifications for vascular technicians, all of which recognize the completion of a CAAHEP-accredited program in vascular sonography as meeting the requirements to sit for the appropriate certification examination.

American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)

The Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT) designation through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) tests your knowledge in the areas of anatomy and hemodynamics (blood flow) of cerebrovascular, venous, peripheral, and abdominal blood vessels.

To earn the RVT credential, you must take and pass the Sonography Principles & Instrumentation (SPI) exam and the Vascular Technology (VT) exam (you must complete both exams within five years, or you’ll have to retake both exams).

Before you can sit for any ARDMS exam, you must choose a prerequisite that qualifies you to take the exam. Currently, there are five ways to qualify to take both the VT and SPI exams:

  • Prerequisite 1:
    • Graduate from a two-year allied health education program in a patient-care role such as diagnostic medical sonographer, radiologic technologist, respiratory therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and registered nurse; AND
    • Have at least 12 months of full-time clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
  • Prerequisite 2:
    • Graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program that specifically conducts programmatic accreditation for diagnostic medical sonography/diagnostic cardiac sonography/vascular technology
  • Prerequisite 3A:
    • Graduate from a bachelor’s degree program in any field; AND
    • Have at least 12 months of full-time clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
  • Prerequisite 3B:
    • Graduate from a bachelor’s degree in sonography or vascular technology
  • Prerequisite 4 (has been removed)
  • Prerequisite 5: Must hold one of the following active credentials:
    • RCS, RCCS, or RVS through Cardiovascular Credentialing International
    • Sonography, Vascular Sonography, or Breast Sonography through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)

Learn more about preparing for and taking an ARRT exam here.

American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARTT)

The American Registry of Radiologic Technicians (ARTT) offers two credentials for vascular technologists: The Vascular Sonography credential and the Vascular Interventional Radiography credential.

The Vascular Sonography (VS) credential serves as the primary designation for radiologic technologists.

To take the VS exam and earn the VS credential, you must first qualify through either the primary eligibility pathway or the post-primary eligible pathway:

  • Primary Eligibility Pathway: Complete an associate’s degree or higher and an ARRT-approved educational program in vascular sonography (may or may not be part of your degree program)
  • Post-Primary Eligibility Pathway:

The ARRT also offers the Vascular Interventional Radiography (VIT) credential, which is designed specifically for vascular interventional radiographers who assist physicians with minimally invasive, image-guided vascular procedures, such as angioplasty, stenting, and more. You must meet the Post-Primary Eligibility pathway to achieve eligibility to take the VIT exam.

Learn more about registering for, preparing for, and taking an ARRT exam here.

Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)

Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) offers the Registered Vascular Ultrasound (RVU) designation for technicians working in the area of vascular ultrasound. To qualify to take the RVU examination, you must meet ONE of the following eligibility requirements:

  • Have at least two years of full-time work experience in vascular ultrasound, which includes at least 600 vascular ultrasound studies at the time of application. It is recommended, but not required, for applicants to have experience in:
    • Carotid duplex ultrasound
    • Transcranial doppler
    • Peripheral arterial physiologic
    • Peripheral arterial duplex
    • Venous duplex ultrasound
    • Visceral vascular duplex ultrasound
  • Graduate from a diploma, associate, or bachelor’s program in a health science field, such as cardiovascular technology, ultrasound, radiologic technology, respiratory therapy, or nursing; AND have at least one year of full-time work experience in vascular ultrasound, which includes at least 600 vascular ultrasound studies. It is recommended, but not required, for applicants to have experience in:
    • Carotid duplex ultrasound
    • Transcranial doppler
    • Peripheral arterial physiologic
    • Peripheral arterial duplex
    • Venous duplex ultrasound
    • Visceral vascular duplex ultrasound
  • Graduate from a programmatically accredited program in vascular ultrasound
  • Graduate from a non-programmatically accredited program in vascular ultrasound that includes at least one year of specialty training and at least 800 clinical hours in vascular ultrasound
  • Active ultrasound credential holders with at least six months of full-time work experience in vascular ultrasound, which must include at least 100 vascular ultrasound studies

Pearson VUE Testing Centers

All of the three national certifying bodies in vascular sonography utilize Pearson VUE to administer their exams. Once you’re approved to take the chosen exam, you’ll register to take the exam with Pearson VUE and choose a local testing center at which to take it. In Iowa, there are Pearson VUE testing centers located throughout the state in cities such as:

  • Des Moines
  • Coralville
  • Davenport
  • Sioux City

Take the VT or SPI exam through a Pearson VUE testing center near you.

Take the VS or VIT exam through a Pearson VUE testing center near you.

Take the RVU exam through a Pearson VUE testing center near you.

Salaries and Career Outlook for Vascular Technicians in Iowa

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Iowa’s diagnostic medical sonographers, which also include vascular technicians, earned an average salary of $72,110. The top 10% in this field earned more than $94,560 during this time.

About 50 annual job openings in medical sonography in Iowa between 2019 and 2021 due to a mixture of retirements, natural job turnover, and new job creation means ample professional opportunities for both new and practicing vascular technicians.

Opportunities for Iowa’s Vascular Technicians

Going back to school for a bachelor’s degree is not uncommon among vascular technicians who want to move into leadership, management, and HR positions or who are working toward a master’s degree and top-level careers in health administration, research, or education.

A number of schools have begun offering bachelor’s completion programs for vascular technicians who are already nationally certified and currently employed in the field. Because these specialized bachelor’s degrees are aimed at currently practicing vascular sonographers, they include convenient curriculum features like online courses and the ability to complete the required clinical hours at your current place of employment.

You can also network and find opportunities to advance your career through membership in a professional association. These associations are often home to excellent networking resources and events and continuing education opportunities for keeping your national certification current:

 

Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which diagnostic medical sonographers work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

All salary and employment data accessed October 2020.