When doing open-heart surgery, the surgeon needs a still heart and lungs to work. The patient still needs oxygen circulated through the bloodstream to survive. Thus, cardiovascular perfusionists (also known as cardiac perfusionist, cardiopulmonary perfusionist, or simply, perfusionist) play the vital role in the operating room, responsible for operating extracorporeal circulation equipment, such as the heart-lung machine, to keep the patient alive. They take part in many other medical procedures in which it is necessary to artificially support or temporarily replace a patient's circulatory or respiratory function.
Cardiovascular perfusionists also monitor a patient’s vitals and then select appropriate equipment and techniques to manage normal blood flow, body temperature, and other respiratory functions. Perfusionists work closely in the operating room within a hospital and surgery center with cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and other members of the health care team. They generally work a regular 40-hour week, but may be on call on some nights, weekends and holidays.
Employment for cardiovascular perfusionists is expected to grow by 14 percent, according to payscale.com, which notes the growth is much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is attributed to a growing and aging population.
How To Apply
Cardiovascular Perfusion programs are highly competitive and there are only 17 programs in the country. Most require
applicants to have a bachelor's of science degree to apply. In addition, many programs
either recommend or require students to have shadowing hours with a Cardiovascular
Students must then Graduate from an Accredited Perfusion Technology Program or approved program of Extracorporeal Technology. In most Perfusion programs, students will earn a Master’s degree; this usually takes two to three years to complete. After completion of the programs, students must then pass a national exam to earn their certification through the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion.
Here's a guide of recommended courses that students can take at Michigan Tech in preparation for Perfusion school. This is not an exhaustive list. You are responsible to check with the schools you wish to apply for specific requirements. Students must check with the individual schools if they intend to use AP or community college credits to ensure those credits are accepted.
Most Perfusion programs do not require an entrance exam. The few that do require the
Graduate Record Examination(GRE) as the entrance exam for their programs.
The GRE is offered as a computer-based test year-round. On average, students should spend anywhere from 50 to 200 hours preparing for the GRE. This largely depends on how efficiently you study. The more time you spend the more confident you will be!
Most Perfusion programs have a minimum cumulative GPA requirement of at least as well
as a minimum GPA requirement for each pre-requisite course that they require. Most
programs require at least a 3.0 GPA or above to apply to their program. In addition
to your GPA and GRE score, most Perfusion schools require a minimum of three letters
of recommendation, a written personal statement or essay, and if you are selected,
an in-person interview.
Most Perfusion programs also highly recommend or even require observation hours with a perfusionist. The amount and criteria for hours vary, based on the school. In addition, any health-related experience in the OR can be beneficial for your application.
The accrediting body for Perfusion programs is the Accreditation Committee- Perfusion Education (AC-PE) which is part of the Committee on Accreditation of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education
To apply, most programs will have you apply directly to an application on their graduate school website. However, some programs use the Universal Allied Health Centralized Application (AHCAS). Be sure to check with your individual program to know where to apply.
"I found I really enjoyed the operating room (OR) environment. This career seemed like a great fit for me, as it combined my research focus (cardiovascular physiology and autonomic regulation) and my love of the OR. I then connected with several perfusionists to gain a further understanding of their roles and responsibilities."