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01/Apr/2022

We are so proud that our perfusionists and ECMO specialists support the lung transplant team at one of the best transplant hospitals in the country! See how the team at UF Shands made a difference in Bryan’s life.

As a child, Bryan Klemm was diagnosed with a progressive, end-stage lung disease that would someday require him to get a transplant. After nearly 25 years of disease progression and a declining quality of life, he was referred to UF Health to be matched for a double-lung transplant. To celebrate Doctors’ Day on March 30, Bryan and his mother, Julie, want to share their immense appreciation with Dr. Machuca and the entire transplant team. If you could tell your doctor one thing, what would it be? Celebrate your UF Health physicians this Doctors’ Day. Visit giving.UFHealth.org/doctorsday.


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Cardiac perfusionists are allied health professionals who are trained to operate, maintain, and record the output of a cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) machine, also known as a heart-lung machine. They are an important part of a cardiac surgical team, which include a cardiothoracic surgeonanesthesiologist, cardiac care nurses, and operating room technicians.

Appointment Tips

Generally speaking, you wouldn’t deal directly with a perfusionist prior to surgery but rather with your cardiologist, cardiac surgeon, anesthesiologist, or cardiac care nurse. In most cases, you probably won’t meet your perfusionist unless you are introduced in the operating room.

The only exception may be during an autologous blood collection or when an ECMO machine is used in intensive care. Even in such instances, the perfusionist will be working under the direction of a cardiologist or a similarly senior medical specialist.

Cardiac perfusionists, also referred to as perfusion technologists or certified clinical perfusionists (CCP), are not physicians or nurses but perform as vital a role during heart surgery. Training typically involves two years of focused studies following the completion of a bachelor’s degree program.

According to the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusionists (ABCP), there are over 3,200 certified perfusionists actively practicing in the United States.

Concentrations

The core function of a cardiac perfusionist is the operation and management of the heart-lung machine. Perfusionists participate in heart surgeries as well as organ transplants, certain vascular surgeries, and specialized chemotherapy procedures.

The heart-lung machine is designed to maintain the circulation of blood and oxygen through the body when the natural blood flow is interrupted during surgery. The machine works by pumping the patient’s blood into a membrane oxygenator (which simultaneously oxygenates the blood and removes carbon dioxide) before pumping it back into the body. This replicates the action of the heart and lungs.1

There are numerous surgeries for which a heart-lung machine is necessary:

 

Procedural Expertise

The cardiac perfusionist shares responsibility with the cardiac surgeon and anesthesiologist for the maintenance of vital functions during surgery. By taking over the normal function of the heart and lungs. the perfusionist provides the surgeon the means to operate on a still, unbeating heart.

During cardiac surgery, several thin tubes called cannulas will be inserted to redirect the blood flow. One will drain blood from the vena cava (a large vein that carries deoxygenated blood to the heart) and the other will return blood to the aorta (the artery that pumps oxygenated blood through the body). Depending on the surgery, the cannulas may be placed in other blood vessels or chambers of the heart.

The cannulas are then hooked up to the heart-lung machine, which is overseen and managed by the perfusionist. Among the key responsibilities assigned to the perfusionist:

  • Maintaining and regularly testing CPB equipment, including routine pre-surgical evaluations
  • Selecting patient-specific equipment that will support the cardiopulmonary needs of the patient
  • Regulating the blood flow and blood temperature during surgery
  • Analyzing the blood chemistry throughout surgery (including blood gases, electrolytes, and acid/base balance), making adjustments as needed
  • Administering anesthetics and medications through the heart-lung circuit under the direction of the anesthesiologist or surgeon
  • Employing an intra-aortic balloon pump, when needed, to enhance cardiac perfusion and heart function

The perfusionist may also be responsible for collecting blood from the patient prior to the surgery (known as autologous blood collection) if a transfusion is anticipated. Other perfusionists are tasked with managing ventricular assist devices (VADs) during the recovery phase of heart transplant surgery.

In some hospitals, perfusionists are involved in the procurement of cardiothoracic donor organs, including the heart and heart valves, for transplant.

 

Subspecialties

As an ever-evolving medical profession, cardiac perfusion offers practitioners the means to specialize in specific procedures or populations. Some perfusionists may opt to work in pediatric cardiothoracic surgical units or in medical centers specializing in heart, lung, or liver transplants.

There is even a need for perfusionists who can operate a modified heart-lung machine, called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) unit, for people with severe heart or lung failure or those awaiting a lung transplant.

Additional training is typically required. Although fellowships have been rare, there now several available to board-certified perfusionists who want to expand their education and knowledge base.

In some facilities, a perfusionist may be promoted to a senior position and tasked with managing junior perfusionists and perfusionist assistants.

 

Training and Certification

In the United States, a four-year bachelor’s degree is required to enroll in an accredited perfusion program. Although no specific undergraduate degree is required, a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology, o allied sciences is most conducive to this field.

According to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), there are 17 such programs in the United States. The programs typically involve two years of classroom-based studies with hands-on clinical training.

Upon the successful completion of the perfusion program, the graduate is considered board-eligible, meaning that he or she intends to obtain certification but can be employed in the meantime. Some states require licensing to practice. Contact your state’s medical licensing board for specific requirements.

The perfusionist student must complete a training program with an accredited academic medical center. After the completion of a minimum of 75 assisted CPB procedures, the trainee can take the first of two board exams (covering basic sciences) from the ABCP.

After completing an additional 40 independent CPB procedures, the perfusionist can sit for the second exam on the clinical applications of perfusion.

After passing the second board exam, the perfusionist will be designated a certified clinical perfusionist and can include the letters “CCP” at the end of their name.


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What does a cardiovascular perfusionist do?

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A cardiovascular perfusionist, also known as cardiac perfusionist, cardiopulmonary perfusionist, or simply, perfusionist, plays an important role in the operating room. Cardiovascular perfusionists are responsible for operating extracorporeal circulation equipment, such as the heart-lung machine, during an open-heart surgery or any other medical procedure in which it is necessary to artificially support or temporarily replace a patient’s circulatory or respiratory function.

Perfusion is the passage of bodily fluids, such as blood, through the circulatory or lymphatic system to an organ or tissue. Because the heart is mainly responsible for pumping fluid through the body, when a patient has a procedure that interrupts the heart’s normal function, a cardiovascular perfusionist steps in to temporarily do the heart’s job. They monitor a patient’s vitals and then select appropriate equipment and technique to manage normal blood flow, body temperature, and other respiratory functions.

Scope of practice

Cardiovascular perfusionists work in the operating room with cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists, physician assistantssurgical technologistsnurses, and other members of the health care team. They are highly trained to work with patients of all ages who have a number of conditions.

The roles and responsibilities of a cardiovascular perfusionist include:

  • Studying the patient’s medical history and notes to be prepared for the surgery
  • Operating and selecting of a variety of extracorporeal circulation equipment, such as the heart-lung machine, the artificial heart, blood transfusion devices, the intra-aortic balloon pump, and various ventricular-assist devices
  • Monitoring and care management of the patient during surgery to ensure safe physiologic functions
  • Routine administration of various types of blood products and medications to patients during surgery
  • A variety of administrative duties, such as equipment management, supply purchasing, department management, and quality improvement

While they traditionally work with open heart surgeries, their role continues to expand to other surgical areas such as congenital heart defects, treatment of heart disease, and emergency cases.

Work environment

The work environment of a cardiovascular perfusionist is within a typical operating room within a hospital or large surgical center. They may find themselves standing for a majority of their day as well needing to operate heavy and intricate equipment.

Cardiovascular perfusionists generally report the ability to maintain an appropriate work-life balance, but their work shifts vary. While most typically work a 40-hour work week, they are required to work a variety of shifts such as days, nights, weekends, rotating holidays, and to be on call.

Becoming a cardiovascular perfusionist

Many employers look for candidates who are able to work well under stressful situations, show a high degree of skill and judgment, are detail orientated, have strong interpersonal skills, and have adequate knowledge of surgical practices and equipment. Strong candidates also have a passion for helping patients and a love for technology and anatomy.

Higher education requirements

To work as a cardiovascular perfusionist, a strong background in biology, anatomy, mathematics, and other sciences is recommended. After a high school education, most go on to acquire an advanced degree, attend cardiovascular perfusionist school, and obtain certification. The typical path to becoming a cardiovascular perfusionist includes:

  • Obtaining a bachelor’s degree
  • Graduating from an Accredited Perfusion Technology Program or approved program of Extracorporeal Technology
  • Certification through the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion to become a certified clinical perfusionist (CCP)

Once certified, like most health care careers, certified clinical perfusionists are responsible for ongoing training to maintain certification.

Career opportunities and outlook

Cardiovascular perfusionist jobs are available nationwide and have a median salary of $124,000, according to payscale.com. This is widely dependent on experience and qualifications. Because of the small size of this field, most positions are competitive.

Job openings for cardiovascular perfusionists in the U.S. are predicted to climb. One reason is due to the growing number of people aged 65 and older who are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and require open-heart surgery. Secondly, new procedures for many types of heart disease, defects, and disorders are also increasing, impacting the need for cardiovascular perfusionists.

With additional training and experience, some perfusionists become administrators, educators, researchers, and developers for product manufacturers or move into marketing and sales.

How Much Does a Cardiovascular Perfusionist Earn?


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Cardio-Pulmonary Perfusionist Salary in the United States

How much does a Cardio-Pulmonary Perfusionist make in the United States? The average Cardio-Pulmonary Perfusionist salary in the United States is $144,212 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $130,090 and $157,239. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession. With more online, real-time compensation data than any other website, Salary.com helps you determine your exact pay target. 

JOB DESCRIPTION FOR CARDIO-PULMONARY PERFUSIONIST

Cardio-Pulmonary Perfusionist sets up and operates heart/lung machines that support organ function during cardiac surgery or other procedures where circulatory or respiratory function is disrupted. Operates equipment to produce bypass, coronary perfusion, recirculation or partial bypass, or to alter blood temperature, balance, or content. Being a Cardio-Pulmonary Perfusionist requires an advanced degree. Requires a Certified Clinical Perfusionist (CCP) credential. Additionally, Cardio-Pulmonary Perfusionists typically report to a manager or head of a unit/department. Cardio-Pulmonary Perfusionist’s years of experience requirement may be unspecified. Certification and/or licensing in the position’s specialty is the main requirement. 


We provide quality staffing, straightforward pricing and coverage you can count on when you need it most. Our expert perfusionists and ECMO specialists are highly trained, certified and flow seamlessly with your team to ensure the best outcomes for your patients. Founded by a licensed perfusionist who imagined a better way of doing business, Vivacity aims to build relationships, cut through red tape, and guarantee that you will never find yourself without quality coverage again.

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