CARDIAC physiologists carry out a range of investigations for people with potential, or known, heart problems.

Their work includes performing electrocardiograms (ECGs), putting people on treadmills to evaluate their heart’s response to exercise, performing cardiac ultrasound scans, checking and programming implanted pacemakers and implantable defibrillators, and monitoring the blood pressure and heart rhythm while stents are fitted in the cardiac catheter lab.

Claire Murray, a cardiac physiologist at Salisbury District Hospital, said: “We are involved with any investigation relating to your heart. We see everybody from babies to the elderly – if patients have a problem with their heart, we are involved in their care.”

Cardiac physiology is one of more than 20 healthcare sciences. “They involve the life sciences such as microbiology, histology and genetics, the physical sciences like medical engineering, medical physics and nuclear medicine and then the physiological sciences with people going into audiology and neurophysiology,” Claire says.

“Cardiac physiology is very patient-focused, which is what appealed to me.

“Some of the other healthcare sciences are much more in the lab or using physics.

“Cardiology is always changing – there’s a lot of investment into cardiac health care and there’s always research going on and new developments.

“We use a lot of technology and equipment and there is always something to learn which I really enjoy.

“You get that feeling of really making a difference – if someone comes in with a heart rate of 20 and has a pacemaker fitted, they’re instantly better. That’s so satisfying.”

Procedures generally take between 10 minutes and half an hour with a cardiac physiologist writing up a report after analysing results. “We are quite autonomous in our working,” Claire says. “For example, after doing an ultrasound, we would create a technical report on what we have found which goes back to the clinician who’s asked us to do it and they will then prescribe medication or further procedures.”

The most common route into cardiac physiology is a BSc in clinical physiology. Once complete, you are a healthcare science practitioner, becoming a scientist after completing the three-year Scientist Training Programme (STP).

“People are educated to different levels within the scientific banner – people have come in with degrees in medical engineering or microbiology, a lot of people have masters or PhDs,” Claire says.

“As healthcare scientists our careers have come across quite convoluted paths to get to where we are currently in the healthcare science programme.

“Today, everyone will be doing science and maths as A-levels but after that point it can be very split. A lot of our scientist programmes are done as part of a national recruitment process to train people.”

“Previously, as a trainee cardiac physiologist, you would be employed by a hospital and do your training over four years which involved being hospital-based and going to university on block release but now you come out of university with qualifications and then look for a job.”

Claire’s own route into the profession involved going straight from GCSEs into a two-year regional training programme.

“I started in 1990,” she said. “The first eight months was spent in audiology, neurophysiology, respiratory physiology and cardiology. After that I chose which one and as I just loved cardiology, I spent the rest of the two years on that, doing a BTEC in medical physics and physiological measurements.”

Claire has been at SDH for 15 years and is one of 12 cardiac physiologists. “For any students considering a career in cardiac physiology, you have to be of scientific mind and enjoy the sciences,” she says.

“It’s important to like working with people, you need to be prepared to talk to anybody, have excellent communication skills as we often have to explain complicated information to our patients or their carers, and have an interest in technology because everything we do is with medical equipment.

“It’s also about being able to keep calm in stressful situations and work as a team.

“From a practical aspect, we don’t tend to work shifts, although some of our role includes being on call from home, so it is very appealing from that point of view.”