Cardiac Perfusionist: What They Do And What Makes Them Important

Cardiac perfusionists, also called perfusionists in short, are people who play a critical role in the cardiovascular operating room. They are responsible for managing the output of a cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) machine, also known as a heart-lung machine, during the open heart surgery.

Cardiac Perfusionist
Cardiac Perfusionist

What are cardiac perfusionist

Perfusionists are allied health professionals who are in charge of the operation, maintenance and record of the CPB machine in not only heart surgeries, but also any other medical intervention that might require a temporary artificial support for the patient’s circulatory or respiratory function.

What are cardiac perfusionist
What are cardiac perfusionist

Perfusion is the passage of blood, or other fluid circulating through the blood vessels or other natural channels in the human’s organ. So sometimes, when the surgeons are operating on the heart, they would need a substitute to do the heart’s normal function. Together, they work in collaboration with a surgical team, including cardiothoracic surgeons, anesthesiologists, cardiac care nurses and other operating room technicians.

A perfusionist duties

Perfusionists are not physicians nor nurses, but they perform a vital role during heart surgery. Their role before and during a surgery might include:

  • Reread and study the patient’s medical history and notes
  • Operating the extracorporeal circulation equipment, such as the artificial heart, intra-aortic balloon pump and many more ventricular-assist devices
  • Regulating patient’s blood flows and temperature
  • Monitor vital signs to ensure safe physiologic functions and making adjustments as needed
  • Administering chemicals and blood products for patients to remain stable during surgery
  • Maintain and constantly conduct quality check on the equipments, including routine pre-surgical evaluations

Perfusionists’ main focus are open heart surgeries, however, if needed they are able to assist in other forms of heart surgeries like congenital heart defect, heart disease treatment and sometimes even emergency cases.

A perfusionist duties
A perfusionist duties

Perfusionist work environment

A cardiac perfusionist usually works in a hospital or a surgical center’s operating room. Throughout the day, they will mostly be standing and maneuvering large yet very intricate equipment. Perfusionists have a pretty balanced work life since the work shirt could be flexible to their choice. Though they typically work 40-hours a week, they could work during the days, nights, sometimes even at the weekends and have to be on call. They often take part in:

  • Coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Cardiac valve repair or total replacement
  • Repairing septal or congenital heart defects
  • Organ transplant
  • Repair and remove tracheal injury
  • Removal of cancerous tumor
  • Many emergencies: Hypothermia, finding and removing blood clots

Perfusionist career prospect

Perfusionist is not a withering career, in fact it is one of the best jobs in the medical field. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the role of a perfusionist has a projected job growth rate of 14% between 2018- 2028, twice as many as the average growth. This means that cardiac perfusionists have extremely strong job stability and blooming opportunities available. Also, on average, perfusionists earn about $125,000 per year. More importantly, for perfusionists who are just starting off, the salary can begin at $90,000, a substantial amount for non-physicians position.

Perfusionist career prospect
Perfusionist career prospect

How to be a perfusionist

To start off, becoming a perfusionist will require a strong background in biology, mathematics and other sciences during highschool period. After that, they will go on to a higher study and earn a bachelor degree in the related fields then attend cardiovascular perfusionist school and obtain certification. When certified, they are considered board-eligible, meaning that while they are earning licensing, they are employable in the meantime. Types of certification they might be required to have include a degree from an Accredited Perfusion Technology Program or approved program of Extracorporeal Technology and depending on the location they will need to sit an exam to become a certified clinical perfusionist (CCP).

Conclusion

Cardiac perfusionist is an extremely beneficial career if you want to work in the medical field yet don’t really want to be a physician. This position will place you in the front of one of the most exciting fields or surgical practices and you are able to interact directly with a cardiologist, collaborating as a team.