A perfusionist, also known as a clinical perfusionist ot a cardiovascular perfusionist, is a specialized healthcare professional who uses the heart-lung machine during cardiac surgery and other surgeries that require cardiopulmonary bypass to manage the patient’s physiological status. They are a highly trained member of the cardiothoracic surgical team which consists of cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists, physician assistants, surgical technologists, and nurses. The perfusionist is solely responsible for the management of the physiological and metabolic needs of the cardiac surgical patient so that the surgeons may operate on a still, unbeating heart.
The perfusionist is responsible for the management of circulatory and respiratory functions of the patient which has a great effect on the patient systemic condition and allows the cardiac surgeon to focus on the actual surgical procedure and less on the immediate needs of the patient.
There are four-year programs offered, such as the one at Barry University College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Miami Shores, Florida. The first and second year curriculum entails courses, such as:
- Theology and Philosophy
- Social and Behavioral Sciences
- Human Anatomy w/Lab
- Organic and Biological Chemistry
- General Chemistry and Qualitative Analysis I & II w/Lab
Third and forth year curriculum consists of (partially):
- Basic Surgery and Monitoring
- Perfusion Technology
- Cardiac Anatomy and Physiology
- Biomedical Ethics
- Cardiovascular Pathology and Pharmacology
Naturally, there are Masters programs in this field, such as the one available at Long Island University (LIU). The Master of Science program in Cardiovascular Perfusion combines the resources of two centers of exceptional health care education: the Department of Biomedical Sciences at LIU Post in Brookville, N.Y. and the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at North Shore University Hospital (North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Care System) Great Neck, N.Y. Students will complete 27 credits at LIU Post and 27 credits taught at North Shore University Hospital. Upon completion of the 24-month program, graduates will receive a certificate of completion from the North Shore University Hospital School of Cardiovascular Perfusion. This grants the students eligibility to sit for the national board certifying examination.
Another school, Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, offers a Masters in Health Science (MHS) in Cardiovascular Perfusion. This institution claims to be one of only eight perfusion graduate-level programs in the United States. In addition to the rigorous academic demands of the profession, this school emphasizes that the perfusionist should have intelligence, dexterity and mechanical aptitude and be able to concentrate intensely for long periods of time. Other important personal qualities include a strong sense of responsibility, the ability to work well with people as well as the ability to work effectively in emergency situations. Perfusionists often work under very stressful conditions. The hours are long, and the situations are life and death.
The American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion was established in 1975. The primary purpose of the Board, and therefore its most essential function, is protection of the public through the establishment and maintenance of standards in the field of cardiovascular perfusion. To achieve this objective, the Board has established qualifications for examination and procedures for recertification. Once certified, the perfusionist will be granted the designation of Certification in Clinical Perfusion (CCP).
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track this profession. In a report published by Occupational Outlook Quarterly in 2003, it stated that the starting salary is about $58,000 and earnings for those with 10 years experience ranges from $85,000 to $100,000.
The CareerProfiles website states that the projected job growth rate is 20-35%, spurred by an aging population requiring more cardiovascular surgery.