For immediate release — July 25, 2018
Contact: Debra Dennisddennis@dcccd.edu; 214-378-1851
(DALLAS) — Abigail Aguillon was born with a heart defect. And, although it’s not a requirement, the empathy that she imparts to patients who have similar heart ailments gives her an inside track on their care.
“I enjoy explaining to patients what’s going on with their hearts,” said Aguillon, 28, who is studying at El Centro College to become an invasive cardiovascular technologist. “I try to talk to them — just being next to them to bring some calm. And I get to explain what’s going on with their heart.”
Aguillon is grateful for the childhood stories she was told about the care she received for her underdeveloped heart.
“I know that the nurses and doctors were cheering for me,” said Aguillon, who chose her career with a nod toward honoring those who helped save her. “I think I’ve always wanted to help others.”
“Cardiovascular technology is a growing field, and not many people know what we do,” said LaToya Payton, program coordinator and faculty member at El Centro College.
Technicians in this field assist cardiologists and surgeons with procedures for cardiac catheters, pacemakers and stents. They also monitor patients during heart surgery.
“This is a great program. We are people who help fix broken hearts. If there is an artery or vein that has issues, our job is to go in and fix the problem as minimally invasively as possible,” said Payton, a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist (RCIS) and staff technologist at Baylor Jack and Jane Heart and Vascular Hospital.
This minimally invasive treatment is used for heart patients who require catheters that give cardiologists a good peek inside their arteries. Many of the patients they treat experience irregular heartbeats, chest pain and shortness of breath, and they may require procedures such as an implanted pacemaker or stent to relieve heart blockages, Payton said.
In the spring, Payton had seven students enrolled in the program. She often cautions them that they are part of a life-saving medical team and that they are required to have a good grasp of the critical role they play.
“Patients are always amazed about how we can get to the heart area and that there’s little bleeding and little pain involved,” she added.
One group graduated this May, and new students started in June. The 60-hour credit program includes prerequisites: Students must complete their basic courses, complete the health professional readiness class and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.
While they are in training, students are qualifying to take the national examination that makes it possible for some to have their licenses when they graduate, Payton said.
Roberto Ruiz, 26, started at the Dallas County Community College District studying radiology but switched when he learned about invasive cardiovascular technology.
“It’s a good career choice. Once you set your mind to it, you can do it. I just decided that nothing is impossible, and I really like it once I started,” he said.
Kelsey Collins, who currently works as a certified nursing aide, wanted a career change but also wanted to remain in the nursing field. Invasive cardiovascular technology fit the bill.
“This is the only program like this in the North Texas area,” said Collins, who commutes to El Centro from Keller in Tarrant County. “I realized almost immediately that this was something I could do. I get to scrub in and assist with cases. I like that it is patient care and that there’s an emergency aspect to it. It has everything I ever wanted in a career. It was intimidating at first. But now I feel confident in what I do.”
This program, Payton said, differs from some other allied health careers.
“We’re diagnostic and interventional. We can find the problem and we can fix it. It provides our students with instant gratification. Patients feel better once they leave our lab. They love it when we say it’s ‘less invasive.’ That’s what patients want to hear,” she said.
Students from a variety of fields enroll in the program; some have medical backgrounds, while others are moving from the corporate world into new careers, Payton said.
This field is the optimal career choice for Natasha Johnson, who wants to make a difference in the lives she touches. Currently a patient care technician, Johnson found that the program suited her interests.
“You’re fixing a patient’s heart and trying to make it better. You’re playing a vital role in their care, and I like that,” Johnson said.
She said she has to do little to entice students to enter this field.
“I’m sure some come in the door not knowing what they’re getting into,” said Payton, who earned her associate degree from El Centro and her bachelor’s degree in public health from Kaplan University. “But they are quickly sold on this type of care because it is steady and because a degree can be completed in two years."
The job outlook is positive, and health facilities are always in need of technicians. “Everybody wants a cat (catheter) lab. With heart disease and coronary heart disease on the rise, this keeps us busy and employed,” Payton said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, technicians in this field are paid an annual wage of $57,100 — placing invasive cardiovascular technology among the top-paying medical careers. And employment is projected to grow much faster than most occupations with technological advancements in imaging and radiology fueling interest in this medical field.
Students train in El Centro’s nursing laboratory and do clinical rotations at local hospitals, which have formed partnerships with DCCCD to help students become job-ready when they graduate and pass the required certification.
The goal is to make students both competent and secure about their abilities, Payton said. “You have someone’s life in your hands. You have to trust your knowledge and your skills,” she added.
For more information about the invasive cardiovascular technology program at El Centro College, email LaToya Payton at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 972-860-5046.
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