For those with a strong background or interest in healthcare and science, a career working as a perfusionist can be highly rewarding. Perfusionists work as key members of cardiovascular surgical teams by using specialized equipment and patient monitoring techniques.
Let’s find out more about this exciting career path essential to the practice of modern medicine.
What is a perfusionist?
A perfusionist is a highly skilled, formally trained and accredited healthcare professional that works as a member of an open-heart, surgical team. The perfusionist is responsible for the operation of a cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) device commonly known as the heart-lung machine.
During open heart surgery, the patient’s heart is stopped to facilitate delicate surgical techniques. By taking over heart function, the CPB device diverts blood away from the heart and lungs, oxygenates the blood, and then returns the blood to the patient. In addition to operating the heart-lung machine, perfusionists monitor blood circulation parameters and administer blood products or medications to help ensure optimal surgical outcomes.
In addition to CPB, the perfusionist may apply their skills and expertise to other clinical scenarios, such as:
- Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – Similar to CPB used in surgery, this methodology can be used in other scenarios such as acute respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, or as a bridge to heart / lung transplant.
- Other types of extracorporeal circulation (ECC), such as the delivery of chemotherapeutic drugs to cancer patients’ organs and/or limbs (limb perfusion).
Key perfusionist skills
- Scientific thought: Perfusion is a demanding medical science that requires skill in understanding and applying scientific data and techniques.
- Communication: Perfusionists must keep surgeons updated during life saving procedures and critical situations.
- Stamina: Since surgeries can last several hours, perfusionists require high levels of physical and mental stamina.
- Time management: Multiple surgeries, administrative tasks, and patient monitoring all require excellent time management skills.
- Attention to detail: Perfusionists must pay attention to changes in a patient’s status and make detailed adjustments to care when needed.
What does it take to become a perfusionist?
Most people studying to be a perfusionist already have a solid health and/or science background, such as a Bachelor’s degree in biology or experience as a registered nurse or respiratory therapist. It typically takes two years at an accredited school to complete the requirements for a masters degree in perfusion.
To begin perfusionist practice, candidates must pass the Perfusion Basic Science Examination (PBSE) and the Clinical Applications in Perfusion Examination (CAPE) to earn their Certified Clinical Perfusionist (CCP) credential. Candidates must complete at least 75 cases, with a minimum of 40 independent cases, before sitting for the exams.
Perfusionists must also satisfy continuing education requirements and maintain up to date knowledge in their field. To maintain credentials, perfusionists complete ongoing training/education and submit proof of education credits to the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP).
How much does a perfusionist make?
A perfusionist’s work is highly demanding, and one can expect high levels of compensation depending on where you practice, a perfusionist may surpass $95 per hour and starting around $50 per hour.
For those interested in a fast-paced, demanding career in healthcare, perfusion is an attractive option. The standards are rigorous, and the on the job experience can be highly rewarding as you make a difference in life saving patient care.
What You Need To Know About Being a Perfusionist