The nemesis of many medical students is the ECG or electrocardiogram. This single piece of paper can strike fear into the hearts of many otherwise knowledgeable and confident health care professionals. Because heart rhythms can take on so many variables, it requires plenty of knowledge, memorization and practice with actual telemetry strips and ECG readouts before you will be able to feel confident in reading these on your own and treating your patients based on these readings. Here are a few tips to help you gain confidence in ECG interpretation.
Buy a Calipers
A small metal calipers will help you measure distances between waves as well as the waves themselves. This is a small investment that can save you plenty of time and consternation.
Learn How to Calculate Heart Rate
Next, you should know how to calculate heart rate by counting the squares on the ECG paper. Not only should you know how to count heart rate, but also you should be able to determine several key heart rhythms from the general rate alone. This step should narrow down your interpretation options dramatically.
Understand Normal Findings
Understanding how a perfect ECG should appear will greatly help you recognize abnormal findings on future ECGs. Memorizing normal values and wave measurements is incredibly important.
Memorize Abnormal Interpretation Findings
Once you have normal measurements memorized, you can start memorizing abnormal measurements for basic readings, such as bundle blocks, atrial rhythms and ventricular rhythms.
Learn Textbook Examples
Textbook examples may not appear in real life, but they can help you get used to recognizing these new readings. Practice measuring these ECG strips with your calipers.
Practice with Real-Life Examples
Next, work repeatedly with real-life ECG strips. Use ECG readings from your own patients as well as from coworkers’ patients to get used to recognizing abnormal values quickly.
Never Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Initially, you may find that half of the ECG readings you look at are impossible for you to interpret. However, by asking an experienced coworker for help, you can gain confidence in your own skills.
Of course, the depth at which you study ECG interpretation will directly reflect on your area of expertise and your level of education in the medical field. For example, an LPN should have a basic understanding of ECGs overall, but will not be called on to perform numerous measurements or to recognize as many atypical rhythms as RNs or medical doctors will. However, having a basic understanding is vital for anyone caring for patients who are being monitored with telemetry, including EMTs and paramedics.
One great solution for getting more information about reading ECGs is to attend a Basic ECG Interpretation and Pharmacology Certification class from Project Heartbeat. This class will teach you the basics of reading rhythms and responding to abnormal rhythms while also giving you plenty of hands-on experience with actual patient ECG readings. If you already have the basics down and you work in a cardiac care unit or similar medical area, our Advanced 12-Lead EKG Interpretation Certification Class may be a better fit for you as it will give you a more comprehensive look at abnormal rhythms as well as changes you would see with myocardial infarctions and other cardiac injuries.