What is a Perfusionist?

Cardiovascular surgeons sometimes operate on the heart when it is beating; however, the heart often must be stopped during open-heart surgery. To replicate the job of the heart and lungs in maintaining oxygenated blood flow throughout the body during open-heart surgery, a “heart-lung” or cardiopulmonary bypass machine and a perfusion technologist or “perfusionist” are needed to maintain life. The cardiopulmonary bypass machine diverts blood away from the heart and lungs, adds oxygen to the blood, and returns blood to the body.

Perfusionists are responsible for:
• setting up and maintaining complex perfusion equipment
• monitoring circulation
• regulating the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
• measuring laboratory values (e.g., blood cell count)
• administering medicines through the bypass circuit (under the supervision and direction of the anesthesiologist and surgeon)

A Team Approach
Perfusionists are vital members of the cardiovascular surgical team and stay with their patients until they have been successfully turned over to the intensive care unit staff.

Training
Several different educational options are available for perfusion technology training. Programs vary in length from 12 to 24 months and vary in their prerequisite requirements. Some programs require a bachelor’s degree (with or without additional experience), and others award a bachelor’s degree upon completion of their curriculum. Master’s degree programs also exist, and others offer a certificate upon completion of the program. Regardless of the path, those who have completed an educational program are eligible to become a Certified Clinical Perfusionist. Candidates must successfully apply for and complete a national certification examination given by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion.


Resources

Texas Heart Institute www.texasheartinstitute.com/HIC/Topics/FAQ/wiperfusion.cfm
Cardiovascular Perfusion Forum www.perfusion.com