How Do I Become a Perfusionist?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2014
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Perfusionists are a critical part of the cardiothoracic surgery team, providing extracorporeal circulation for the patient so that the surgeon can operate on a still heart. To become a perfusionist, it is necessary to complete a training program and to pass a certification exam which is designed to demonstrate competency in the field. People who are interested in working as perfusionists should possess the traits of being calm under pressure, being capable of maintaining focus on complex tasks over prolonged periods, being able to pay close attention to detail, and being able to communicate rapidly and effectively.

The first step on the path to become a perfusionist is completion of a bachelor of science degree in a field like nursing, biological sciences, medical technology, or respiratory therapy. With this degree, candidates can attend a cardiac perfusion program which will provide the student with a master's in perfusion, in a two year training program which includes classroom experience, clinical training, and actual experience in operating rooms under the supervision of fully qualified perfusionists.

Before selecting a program to become a perfusionist, the student should find out which organization certifies cardiac perfusionists in his or her country, such as the American Academy of Cardiovascular Perfusion, and ask this organization for a list of the programs it recognizes. It is important to attend a recognized program, as a candidate may be ineligible for certification if he or she has not graduated from an accredited cardiac perfusion program.

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After graduation, the candidate can sit for an exam to become a certified clinical perfusionist (CCP). Many people can work as a perfusionist if they have board-eligible status, which means that they have graduated, but not yet been certified, as long as they indicate that certification is in their near future. This can allow people to gain valuable clinical experience before taking the certification exam to become a perfusionist.

Once someone has become a perfusionist and been fully certified, he or she can operate the heart-lung machine used for pulmonary bypass for a variety of cardiothoracic procedures, including organ donation and valve repairs. In the course of surgery, the perfusionist is responsible for maintaining a stable condition for the patient, and he or she can administer blood products, provide medications, and use other measures to ensure that the patient stays in good shape for the surgery so that when he or she goes off bypass, the heart will be able to take over the work from the heart-lung machine.

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Discuss this Article

anon321530
Post 7

I'm currently a very experienced perfusionist and I would advise anyone wanting to become one not to do it. Become a PA or NP. When I started perfusion, there were 10 jobs for every perfusionist. People would call me weekly with higher salary offers. Now there's about 50 perfusionists for every available job, and you'll get fired if a neurotic surgeon doesn't like your sideburns. I'm serious: perfusion is easy, and it's not about your job, it's now become a shmoozing crap get five guys to work for you for 60k, and make 1 million for yourself. Perfusionists have done this to themselves, exploiting each other and stabbing each other until we are just a commodity, .19 a pound.

Seriously, don't even consider it. The numbers are way down on heart surgery. It's not growing (who keeps spreading this ridiculous info?) and the few places that are hiring are looking for part timers or entry level. After NP or PA school, you'll have your pick of location, type of job, and hours. Perfusion, take whatever you can get, wherever.

I love perfusion, but unfortunately, my job had almost nothing to do with it. It was about tiptoeing around nurse and doctor personalities. People never leave good jobs, so the only jobs available in general have some bad psychology going on. So sad to see it go downhill like this. I was on top of the world in my 20's making >100k back in the 80's! I'm going back to school to do something else. Does that tell you enough?

Monika
Post 5

@sunnySkys - Good tip. Sorry the medical assistant program didn't work out for you though. Another important thing to keep in mind is your grades when you're an undergrad. If you want to apply to a perfusionist program, you need to have competitive grades.

Anyway, this job does sound quite high stress. I'm not a person who works well under pressure, so I don't think I would do too well at this job. Imagine being responsible for another persons circulation!

sunnySkys
Post 4

This article is right on the money about looking into perfusionist schools before attending. Accreditation and certification is very important in the medical field. If you don't attend an accredited program, you will not be able to get the certification.

I actually learned this the hard way when I went to training to be a medical assistant. It looks like there's only one certification for perfusionists, but for medical assistants there are several. The program I went to was accredited for the certification most in demand in my area.

I ended up dropping out of the program halfway through, because it was going to be too difficult to get a job. I would hate to see something like that happen to anyone else!

SarahSon
Post 3

@EdRick - my daughter became a perfusionist after being a nurse in the cardiac unit of a major hospital for a few years.

She really liked this area of medicine, and was looking for a something in this area beyond being a nurse.

One thing she enjoys about having a perfusionist career is the hours she works and the challenge of being in the operating room.

Even though she doesn't have the patient contact like she did when she was a nurse, she realizes the huge responsibility she has and takes it very seriously.

It also pays more than she was making before without having to put in overtime hours for extra money.

She completed a certified program, passed the exam, and was able to begin her work in the same hospital she had been working in.

jennythelib
Post 2

@EdRick - I was actually recently helping a patron at my library research this career field. It pays pretty well, mid-five figures, and it's growing quite rapidly because there are so many more old people needing heart surgery. A perfusionist career offers job security, benefits, all that good stuff.

It could be a good choice if your nephew likes excitement and a high-pressure environment. After all, he'd be spending a lot of time helping out with open-heart surgery! If that's not for him, he might like something more low-key, like in a pharmacy.

EdRick
Post 1

I have a nephew who was interested in being a doctor, but then he realized he didn't want to be hampered by the debt and the paperwork. (Smart kid!) I'm helping him research alternate medical careers that might not pay as well, but will offer better quality of life.

What are some advantages of a perfusionist job as opposed to other health care specialties?

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