How to Become a Perfusionist?

How to Become a Perfusionist?

How to Become a Perfusionist?
Suman Adhikari

Becoming a perfusionist might be the perfect path if you want to pursue a healthcare career involving crucial life-saving procedures during cardiac surgeries. Perfusionists are highly skilled professionals responsible for operating the heart-lung machine, which takes over the heart's and lungs' functions during surgery. 

This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of becoming a perfusionist, breaking down the process into manageable steps. Whether you're a non-native speaker or a native English speaker, the information presented here will help you understand the journey to becoming a perfusionist.

What is a Perfusionist?

During heart surgeries, when the heart must remain still, the critical role of a perfusionist comes into play. These highly specialized healthcare professionals temporarily control the patient's respiratory function during surgery.

A perfusionist operates an artificial heart-lung system that pumps oxygenated blood to the patient's tissues while the surgeon works on the heart. The heart is intentionally stopped with medication administered by the perfusionist. The perfusionist manages the patient's physiological and metabolic demands throughout the medical procedure.

Their roles include:

  1. Managing dissections, aneurysms, and trauma of the aorta (ascending, arch, and descending).
  2. Performing tricuspid valve repair.
  3. Facilitating veno-venous bypass procedures, such as during liver transplants.
  4. Assisting in coronary artery bypass surgeries.
  5. Participating in aortic valve replacements.
  6. Conducting mitral valve repair and mitral valve replacement surgeries.
  7. Contributing to aortic root replacements.
  8. Addressing cases involving renal cell carcinoma and obstructive vena cava.
  9. Supporting cardiac and lung transplant surgeries.
  10. Assisting in implanting ventricular assist devices and ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation).
  11. Managing cases involving atrial myxomas.

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Process to Become a Perfusionist

Aspiring perfusionists must meet specific educational requirements and undergo specialized training to excel in this healthcare profession. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to become a perfusionist:

Step 1: Educational Foundation

To lay the groundwork for a career in perfusion, students should focus on science subjects during their 10+2 level education, typically in high school. These subjects include Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Anatomy, and Physiology. Clear concepts in these subjects are essential for success.

Step 2: Undergraduate (UG) Preparation

After completing their 10+2 education, students must strive to gain admission to a college or university offering a 4-year undergraduate program in perfusionist studies. This program typically covers subjects like Chemistry, Biology, Anatomy, and Physiology. Meeting the minimum academic requirements of these colleges is crucial for admission. Additionally, candidates may benefit from obtaining specialized training certificates. Students can pursue this career path without a science background.

Step 3: Postgraduate (PG) Preparation

Upon completing their Bachelor's degree in fields such as Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy, or Physiology, candidates interested in pursuing a Master's program in Perfusionist Studies should undergo training from the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP). This training program typically lasts two to three years and involves practical experience as a trainee in an accredited hospital. Successful completion of the ABCP examination is necessary to obtain the course certificate.

Subsequently, candidates must engage in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and consistently meet the ethical and professional standards required by the perfusionist profession. The ABCP awards certificates based on performance in their examination, which covers various topics, including Anatomy and Physiology, Pharmacology, Laboratory Analysis, Quality Assurance, Device and Equipment, Clinical Management, Special Patient Groups, ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation), catastrophic agent and device failure, and monitoring.

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Advantages of a Career as a Perfusionist

  • Lucrative Salary: Perfusionists enjoy a substantial income, with annual earnings ranging from INR 60,00,000 to INR 99,40,000. This financial stability allows for a luxurious lifestyle, often dependent on their skills, experience, and certifications.
  • Job Security: Perfusionists benefit from a high level of job security. They typically hold permanent positions and can only be dismissed for valid reasons, ensuring employment stability.
  • Positive Impact: Despite being a niche field, perfusionists are in high demand due to their critical role in heart surgeries. The increasing number of heart surgeries further amplifies the demand for their expertise, offering a chance to impact patients' lives significantly.
  • Highest Studies: Pursuing a doctoral degree in Perfusion represents the highest level of education in this discipline. This advanced training allows perfusionists to conduct in-depth research on the human cardiovascular system, including veins and arteries. Currently, there are eight ongoing Ph.D. projects in Perfusion.
  • Unique Experience: Perfusionists embark on a unique professional journey as they work with diverse human bodies, encountering different situations with each surgical procedure. They play vital roles in operating theaters and laboratories, gaining invaluable experience in procedures such as aortic dissections, tricuspid valve repairs, coronary artery bypasses, and more.

Skills Required to Be a Perfusionist

  1. Patience: Perfusionists must exhibit exceptional patience, particularly in critical situations where their decisions directly impact a patient's future. Remaining calm and level-headed while assisting heart surgeons in keeping critically ill patients alive is paramount.
  2. Physical Strength: The profession demands strong mental focus and stamina. Perfusionists often spend extended hours in the operating room, necessitating excellent mental endurance and unwavering focus.
  3. Communication Skills: Effective communication is essential for perfusionists. They work within a tightly-knit surgical team, and success hinges on clear communication, especially in high-stress environments.
  4. Science Skills: A deep interest in science and technology is fundamental. Proficiency in these fields and a robust academic background are prerequisites for excelling in the perfusionist career.
  5. Attention to Detail: Meticulous attention to even the minutest details is vital in perfusionists. This attention ensures precision in their work, mainly when dealing with the intricacies of the human body during high-tension procedures.
  6. Critical Thinking: Sharp critical thinking abilities, encompassing logic and reasoning, are essential for assessing alternative solutions, solving problems, and making informed decisions in challenging situations.
  7. Learning Aptitude: Perfusionists must possess a strong willingness to learn. This involves conducting tests inspections, and continuously improving their knowledge base. Openness to new concepts and a proactive attitude toward learning are indispensable qualities.

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FAQs on Perfusionist Career

What is the role of a perfusionist?

A perfusionist plays a vital role in heart surgery by managing the patient's physiological and metabolic needs. They temporarily halt heart function using medication while the surgery is underway and pump artificial oxygenated blood into the tissues.

How long does completing a perfusionist course take?

Perfusionist programs in typically span 19 to 24 months, encompassing theoretical coursework and clinical practice.

What are the essential skills required to become a perfusionist?

The key skills required to excel as a perfusionist include:

  • Patience
  • Learning aptitude
  • Critical thinking ability
  • Calm and composed demeanor

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