There are many careers you can choose from and one of the most desired is in the medical field.

Although the reasons for this may vary, most people love the thought of saving lives and treating the sick.

Not everyone though.

Some people dread the sight of blood—including their own—thus cannot take certain career paths.

All in all, every career choice is important since there are different needs in the society.

One very important, though not widely-known career is that of the perfusionist. It is one of the many careers in the medical field.

Like other careers, it has its own unique characteristics.

Perfusionists work as part of the teams which perform surgeries. Especially heart surgeries.

If you thought that surgeries are only carried out by surgeons with the help of nurses, we have some news for you.

Surgeries which involve the heart cannot be carried out without these individuals.

Moreover, they handle patients who are in the ICU in need of assistance with their hearts and lungs.


A perfusionist is a trained professional whose role in the operating room and ICU entail operating the machines which keep the patients alive.

In the operating room, their expertise is required, more so during operations like open-heart surgeries. This is a surgery which involves stopping the heart from beating.

Some of the reasons for an open-heart surgery are a weakened heart, a blocked or partially-blocked artery or other problems affecting the functioning of the heart.

For an open-heart surgery to be successful, the heart should not be pumping blood.

However, the patient has to stay alive and important organs like the brain and kidneys need oxygenated blood.

In order for this to happen, the patient’s life is sustained through a process called Cardiopulmonary Bypass (CPB).

Cardiopulmonary Bypass is the process by which blood is directed to flow out of the human body and into a machine.

The machine is commonly known as the cardiopulmonary bypass pump or heart-lung machine.

Perfusionists also work in the ICUs.

This happens when a patient with a heart or lung problem is either brought in or awaits a surgery. To keep them alive, the heart lung machine is used until the necessary corrective action has been taken.

This is where the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines are used. This is more popularly known as life support.

It can either be a case of awaiting a heart or lung transplant or the implanting of a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD).

This is a mechanical pump used in situations where the patient has a heart failure or a very weakened heart.

Perfusionists use their knowledge and medical expertise to set up and operate the machines.

They will also be involved in monitoring the patient to ensure everything is working well.


As with other careers, there are certain character traits which are common among perfusionists.

These are what enable them stand by the surgeons and work with the patients before and after the operation.

Below are some of them.

Detail – Oriented

To be a perfusionist, you must have an eye for details. The machines you will be handling provide you with a lot of information to enable you make the right decisions.

More than that, as you set up and run the equipment for a specific patient, you need to be careful to do the right thing.

Some of the things you may need to check or set include the levels of oxygen in the blood as well as the blood pressure.

If you were to increase the blood pressure or reduce it too much, you could endanger the life of the patient.

In this field, a difference of 0.1 could be too big to ignore.

Considering the number of negligence cases in the medical field, you certainly cannot afford to be part of those statistics. In the case of a perfusionist, it is literally a matter of life and death.

This is the reason you are in that operation room in the first place.

If you are not very keen with small details, then this career path may not be for you.


Ever seen accident victims being wheeled into the emergency room?

The nurses clear the way, orders are shouted about what to be prepared, there are broken limbs and severe bleeding needs to be stopped.

Such are the day-to-day cases experienced by the JPS Health Network’s Trauma Department.

As a perfusionist, you will be called in and this is the picture of what you will see upon entering the operating room.

What would you do?

Would you cringe and start pitying the victim?

That’s not for perfusionists.

They maintain their calm in such situations. They understand the severity of the situation and may need to be briefed about it.

But they will not be moved by emotions.

You will have to learn to contain yourself and maintain a calm demeanor in this career.

This is important because to operate the machinery which will support someone’s life requires a sober mind.

For you to accurately determine what needs to be done, you have to stay calm.

Ability to Concentrate for Long Periods

Operations can be lengthy and complicated. Some run up to 6 hours.

During such times, you can become tired and stressed.

Yet you still have a duty to keep going till the procedure is finished.

Remember that you are responsible for a very important part of the whole procedure.

You are the one controlling the machine which is acting like the heart and lungs of the patient.

A slight mistake could cause extensive damage.

It is critical that you have the ability to stay focused throughout the operation.

Something else, you should not just be present and looking alert but should be participating in the procedure.

This is to enable you give the surgeon relevant information he may need to know.

Physically and Mentally Fit

Physical and mental fitness are a must in this career. To maintain high levels of concentration in emergencies and throughout the procedures being performed, fitness is necessary.

You will need to stay alert for long hours without getting tired.

Staying focused during long procedures requires your mind to be in tip-top condition.

Although there are many brain exercises you can do to increase memory or increase concentration, physical fitness helps keep your mind healthy enough.

Good Communicator

One of the most important skills needed for this job is communication.

As a perfusionist, you will never work alone. Whether in the operating room, ICU or working with other professionals to develop medical machines, it is always a team effort.

Where teams are concerned, there has to be good communication.

When you are working alongside surgeons and nurses during an operation, you will keep them informed about many aspects of the patient’s health.

You are the one to advise on any issues concerning the patient’s blood and any medications needed.

You will also be responsible for updating the whole team on the patient’s overall status, particularly his circulation and respiration.

Watch the below video showing good communication between the various medical professionals in an operating room.

Ability to Work Under Pressure

Doctors, and in particular surgeons, are known to work under extreme pressure.

Always being available for emergencies and sacrificing much convenience for the sake of saving other people’s lives.

Theirs is true service to others.

The same applies to their team members, including perfusionist.

With the ever-increasing cases of heart disease and the operations required to correct them, there will not be an end to the pressure involved.

Are you willing to work long hours without a break? Are you willing to be called to work on the weekend? What about when having dinner at home?

Have a Strong Sense of Responsibility

Perfusionists literally hold the lives of patients in their hands. When an open-heart surgery is taking place, the heart has to be stopped from pumping blood so as to be operated on.

This is where the heart-lung machine operated by the perfusionist comes in.

It takes over the role of the heart and lungs.

The person running the machine has to be careful enough to ensure the safety of the patient.

Any amount of negligence can easily lead to death.

It is this realization that helps keep the perfusionist alert.

But this alertness does not come simply from being taught in school. It has to come from within.

As a perfusionist, you need to understand from within yourself, that you are largely responsible for the life of the person on the operating table.

This will keep you on your toes while the procedure is underway.


With all that perfusion entails, there are qualifications required in order to practice in this field.

Like most careers, the education is a basic requirement.

Add to that some hands-on training and you will be good to go.

Here is what you need to do to be in this career.

1. Enroll in an accredited perfusion education program.

Everything starts in class and not all schools can teach you about perfusion.

There are schools which are accredited for this training and it is from these you are supposed to get your training.

Here is a list of the accredited schools.

Some of the subjects you can expect to cover include cardiac anatomy and perfusion devices. Some of the perfusion devices include artificial hearts (blood pump), artificial lungs (oxygenator) and artificial kidneys (hemodialysis).

2. Undergo Clinical Training

The nature of the job of a perfusionist demands that you have practical experience as part of the training.

This is why some practical course work is necessary.

You will need to perform at least 75 perfusions while under supervision in order to qualify for certification.

The institution you are training in can help you by arranging for these.

3. Get Certified

Being certified as a perfusionist will require you to pass some exams administered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP).

These exams come in two parts and they are multiple choice exams.

The first part is referred to as Perfusion Basic Science Examination (PBSE).

The second part is called Clinical Applications in Perfusion Examination (CAPE).

These exams should be taken after graduation from an accredited cardiovascular perfusion education program.

You must pass both these exams in order to be certified.

4. Obtain a License

Once you have passed the certification exam, you are ready for practice.

The only thing which can keep you from working is a state license.

Check with your state whether a perfusionist license is required before practice.

5. Renew Your Certification

You will have to renew your certification every year in order to keep practicing. Certificate renewal ensures that your knowledge and skills are up to date.

Apart from documenting up to 40 annual clinical activities, you have to do 45 Continuing Education Unit (CEU) every three years.


  • Many people are not aware of this career because it doesn’t get the spotlight. Everyone knows of surgeons and nurses but not perfusionists. As you have learned by reading this far, this is an important career. And a rewarding one too, if you are interested in saving lives—literally.
  • The reason it has not been known much is probably because there haven’t been many cases of open-heart surgeries. It is only until recently that the baby boomer generation has made heart diseases become a nationally-recognized problem.
  • Many are suffering from heart diseases thus increasing the number of surgeries being requested and done.
  • Below we feature some aspects of this career to help you decide whether it is for you.

It pays well.

For the critical role which perfusionists play, they are certainly paid well. This would be expected since it is only fair to show appreciation for the services offered.

The average salary in this career is $129,348 as of January 31, 2019. This is according to The range is usually between $116,091 and $141,229.

This is an impressive figure which can easily attract anyone to the career.

To be paid among the highest, you will need to have more education, certifications and obviously, more experience.

The longer you have stayed in the career, the more of an authority you are.

Meaning more money.

It is technology-driven.

Technology has transformed the world and it will keep doing so.

Apart from the revolutions in life coming through smartphones and social media, the medical field has also benefited from technology.

With health conditions becoming more difficult to accurately diagnose and treat, many scientists have dedicated their lives to research.

Among these advancements are the equipment used by medical professionals when handling various conditions.

These are always going through improvements as science discovers new and better ways of handling the diagnosed conditions.

For example, the heart-lung machine has experienced some improvements over the years. has a history of this machine from where you can see the improvements brought about by technology and scientific research.

The first heart-lung machine was the results of much dedicated research and work from an American surgeon by the name John H. Gibbon, Jr (1903-1974).

The decision to undertake this project was a response to the death of a young patient who died of blocked lung circulation.

After much work, the first successful operation with a heart-lung machine with the new machine was done in 1953.

An 18-year-old patient’s heart was stopped for 26 minutes and a surgery done to close a hole in it.

The original machine was huge, complex and required many pints of blood to be primed.

Compared to the machines in use today, there has been a big improvement.

Modern machines are relatively small and can be wheeled around with ease.

Who knows what the future holds?

If you wold love to work in the midst of technology while in the medical field, this could be a career worth considering.

Offers great potential for growth.

The perfusion career is not limited to the operating room or the ICU in public hospitals and universities.

Whereas it is a good idea to start there and have some experience, you can also be employed by privately-practicing surgeons.

There will however be some pros and cons to consider.

For example, you may be able to get more personalized training as opposed to when working at the hospital.

Nevertheless, the pay may actually be less than what a graduate gets from some of the public hospitals.

Apart from the option of where to work, there are other alternatives you can go with in your practice of perfusion.

For example, after gaining some experience, you could work with equipment manufacturers.

The knowledge and experience you have will help them develop better machines for the market.

You will be involved in the research, testing and any other stage of the process.

If you feel adventurous, you can venture into sales. You can be employed as a technical sales manager, director or any similar position.

You will essentially be responsible for giving technical details of the equipment and helping decision makers understand the uniqueness of the machine you’re selling.

That can be a good opportunity to champion a solution.

Another option to consider is being a perfusion educator.

You can choose to be one of the teachers in perfusion schools and share your knowledge and experience.

If you love mentoring people to do great things, then teaching is a good choice.


Do you have the traits needed to be a perfusionist?

In case you don’t but desire to be one, you can learn them.

Be willing to make changes to your habits and get the education.

New and Useful Information on How to Become a Perfusionist

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