The Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS) credential has increasingly become the standard in cardiac catheterization laboratories, especially for medical professionals wanting to stand out. Some facilities require RCIS certification, but you should consider pursuing it even if it’s not required. Professional certification can be a vital career-boosting tool. While everyone has different methods of learning and what works for one person doesn’t work for all, these tips on getting your RCIS certification might provide the insight you need to earn this coveted credential.
Why Become an RCIS?
Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialists assist cardiologists with cardiac catheterization procedures. Catheters are small tubes guided through a patient’s blood vessels and into their heart, or other areas of the cardiovascular system, to help diagnose abnormalities and/or determine if there’s any blockage. These procedures may eliminate the need for more invasive procedures, such as heart surgery.
An RCIS is a specialized cardiovascular technologist, a rapidly growing field per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS indicates that the demand for cardiovascular technologists/technicians should grow 8% between 2020 and 2030. It projects a combined average of 12,000 job openings for medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists/technicians each year over the decade.
What Is RCIS Certification?
Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) administers the RCIS exam. CCI RCIS certification is designed for medical professionals working in cardiac catheterization like cardiac cath lab techs, one of the highest-paid allied health specialists. RCIS certification validates an allied health professional’s specialized knowledge, experience, and skills and demonstrates their commitment to professional growth and continued learning. To qualify for the credential, you must meet set requirements and pass the RCIS exam.
What Cardiac Cath Lab Nurses Should Know About RCIS
Although the RCIS is more commonly pursued by allied health professionals, some hospitals require registered nurses who work in the cardiac cath lab to obtain RCIS certification. However, it’s usually a voluntary undertaking.
For RNs interested in getting their RCIS, their nursing degree fulfills one part of the requirements to sit for the exam. They still need the appropriate work experience and must complete the minimum number of procedures. The RCIS exam is the same whether you’re a nurse or an allied health professional, so nurses can utilize the same study guides and methods to prepare for the exam.
Like any professional certification, earning the RCIS adds a valuable credential to your resume that many employers find attractive. Nurses working in the cardiac cath lab may also consider earning their Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (CV-BC) in addition to or instead of the RCIS.
Preparing for the RCIS Exam
1. How To Meet the Requirements
The first step to getting your RCIS certification is determining whether you meet the current eligibility requirements. Applicants must have their high school diploma or equivalent and fulfill one of three prerequisites, with documentation confirming their qualifications. Prerequisite options include:
- Be a graduate of a certificate or degree program or post-secondary education program in nursing, cardiovascular technology, radiologic technology, ultrasound, respiratory therapy, emergency medical technology, or a similar health science program. You also must have one year of full-time invasive cardiovascular technology work experience and performed 600 cardiac diagnostic and/or interventional procedures during your work and/or clinical experience.
- Required documentation includes a completion certificate and/or transcript, employment verification letter, and clinical experience letter if procedures were completed during a formal education program.
- Be a graduate of a non-programmatically accredited program in invasive cardiovascular technology with at least one year of specialty training and 800 clinical hours in the cardiac catheterization specialty.
- Required documentation includes a completion certificate and/or transcript, student verification letter, and clinical verification letter.
- Be a graduate of an invasive cardiovascular technology program accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Department of Education, Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or Canadian Medical Association that specifically accredits programs in cardiovascular technology, vascular technology, or diagnostic cardiac sonography.
- Required documentation includes a completion certificate and/or transcript and student verification letter.
2. How Is the RCIS Exam Setup Different?
Unlike many professional certification exams that only include traditional multiple-choice questions, the CCI RCIS exam consists of a mix of traditional and innovative questions. Traditional multiple-choice questions offer four possible answers and only one correct response. Some test-takers bungle innovative questions, especially those with multiple parts that require you to get all parts of the answer right to count as a correct response. The RCIS exam has three types of innovative questions, including:
- Innovative drag and place questions that require test-takers to drag a list of labels into the correct boxes or areas of an image, but they may not use all labels.
- Innovative hot spot questions that require test-takers to click on a specific area of an image to answer the question, with one click necessary in the correct location.
- Innovative multiple response questions that are like multiple-choice questions, but test-takers may need to supply two or three correct answers from four to six possible answers.
The RCIS test contains 170 questions, including 20 unidentified, unscored, and randomly distributed questions to gather performance data. You have three hours to complete the exam, minus 10 minutes for the pre-exam tutorial and post-exam survey. To pass, you must earn a scaled score of 650 or higher.
3. What’s on the RCIS Test?
CCI bases the RCIS examination content on a Job Task Analysis. The JTA includes tasks a Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist typically performs at work and the knowledge required to perform these tasks. CCI completes a JTA every five years to ensure the exam remains relevant. All exam questions link directly to identified tasks. The CCI RCIS exam overview provides a full Examination Matrix and Task List. The percentage of emphasis placed on specific areas include:
- 10% Pre-Procedural Activities
- 42% Diagnostic Procedures
- 33% Interventional Procedures
- 6% Emergency Procedures and Protocols
- 9% Post-Procedural Activities
The detailed task list provided by CCI has a complete breakdown of duties within each area. Armed with this information, create a study guide and identify the areas you feel are your weakest, so you can be prepared.
Top 5 Tips for Passing the RCIS
1. Gather and Review Relevant Materials
Gather as much information as possible to ensure you have all the relevant information you need based on the task list provided. You’ll find numerous study guides, reference books, practice tests, sample questions, flashcards, and other exam materials online to help you prepare for the RCIS test. Some materials are free, but many have a charge. Save your receipts in case you can write off your test prep materials.
2. Question Previous Test-Takers
Former RCIS test-takers can be valuable sources of insight. Talk to allied health professionals who’ve already passed the RCIS exam to see if they can provide any pointers. Ask about their overall perception of the exam and if any study tips worked particularly well for them. Some RCIS credential holders offer advice online through free blogs and sample questions or have study guides and other materials for purchase. Materials based on the knowledge and experience of professionals who’ve actually taken the exam may be more authoritative than others.
3. Take a Review Course
It’s especially easy to miss questions dealing with procedures not used daily. This is where an in-person or online review course might come in handy. Review courses typically cover most of the content on the RCIS exam and may help direct you to areas you need to concentrate your studies.
In-person review courses generally take place over one or two days. If you prefer studying over a longer time period, consider an online RCIS review program that may run for several weeks or be self-paced. In-person and online review programs may count towards continuing education credits if provided by an accredited institution or organization. Thus, the cost might offer a twofold benefit.
Although CCI doesn’t endorse or recommend any review courses or materials, it does provide a list of review programs on its site as a service to its applicants.
4. Find a Study Buddy/Group
Some test-takers study better with others. Find a study buddy among your peers who are also attempting the exam if you prefer one-on-one collaborations. If you favor multiple study partners, contact professional invasive cardiovascular organizations to see if they conduct any study groups in your location. If so, determine whether they have a study group operating during the time you’ll be studying and learn what’s required to sign up. These organizations may only offer study groups to their members and may or may not charge a fee.
5. Complete a Self-Assessment Exam
CCI offers a self-assessment exam that’s potentially useful in helping you determine your weak areas. Learning your weaknesses enables you to focus your efforts on the content areas you’re more likely to miss questions on the exam. However, CCI doesn’t recommend using self-assessment exams as your sole reference or study guide. They’re simply a means to assess your performance before taking the credentialing exam and help you become more familiar with the exam format.
Online CCI RCIS self-assessment exams cost $55 and can be accessed 24/7. You can only take the exam once per purchase and can’t access it again after completion. Once you initiate the exam, you have 72 hours to complete it. Your results include the percentage of questions you answered correctly within each exam content area but don’t include the questions and answers or go over the questions you missed.
You can also find several free or fee-based practice tests online. Some of these tests provide information on the questions you missed. These details may help prevent you from missing similar questions dealing with the same content on the actual exam.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Even veteran cath lab professionals with years of experience may not be as prepared to pass the RCIS certification exam as they think. It’s even relatively common for experienced personnel to fail the first time around, simply because they didn’t properly prepare and study for the test. Be sure you’re fully prepared to pass with flying colors by exploring all the different ways you can train for a successful test day.