What Is A Perfusionist? (With Duties And Key Skills)
Updated 13 June 2023
Cardiothoracic surgeries involve surgical procedures on chest organs, such as the heart, lungs and oesophagus. Perfusionists operate the heart-lung machine and other equipment critical to open-heart surgery and other medical procedures. If you want to explore a career as a perfusionist, you can benefit from knowing their duties, key skills, educational qualifications and other requirements. In this article, we define what is a perfusionist, outline their duties, provide the steps to become one and list the skills required for the position.
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What Is A Perfusionist?
Finding the answer to "What is a perfusionist?" can help you understand their role and responsibilities and learn if they align with your career goals. A perfusionist operates the cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) machine and other equipment during cardiothoracic surgeries. They work with the cardiovascular surgical team to monitor the patient's vital signs and maintain blood flow to tissues and organs. They work in hospitals, nursing homes, medical colleges and rehabilitation centres.
Duties Of A Perfusionist
Some of their responsibilities include:
Operate and monitor medical equipment
Perfusionists operate medical equipment that temporarily replaces or assists the heart and lungs during surgical procedures. This includes cardiopulmonary bypass machines and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) to maintain the patient's physiological state. This helps maintain safe and stable patient blood circulation during surgical procedures. They operate hemofiltration equipment to remove excess fluid and waste from the patient's blood. They also visually inspect the equipment before, during and after medical procedures, along with monitoring computer systems for real-time data on the equipment's function and the patient's physiological status.
Monitor health parameters
Perfusionists measure various blood parameters and other indicators to identify mechanical intervention techniques. They study the patient's medical history to administer and monitor medications and blood products used during surgery, such as anticoagulants, blood thinners and vasodilators. They help manage the physiological parameters, such as oxygenation, carbon dioxide removal, blood flow and blood pressure of patients. Perfusionists also monitor the carbon dioxide levels of patients using a blood gas analyser and adjust the ventilation of their lungs to maintain the levels within safe limits.
They monitor the patient's haemodynamics using various methods, such as ultrasound equipment and invasive pressure monitoring. Perfusionists also document and maintain accurate records of the patient's medical information and any interventions performed during medical procedures.
Work with different health care teams
Perfusionists work closely with the cardiovascular team, including cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and other specialists. They assist with the setup and operation of advanced cardiovascular equipment and provide critical support during procedures such as heart and lung transplants. Perfusionists work with anaesthesiology teams to direct the use of blood transfusions or pharmacological interventions. They also work with surgical teams to coordinate patient care and provide support throughout the surgery.
How To Become A Perfusionist?
Here are the steps to becoming a perfusionist:
1. Complete your education
The primary qualification to pursue a career as a perfusionist is to complete your 10+2 senior secondary education in science, preferably with physics, chemistry and biology as your primary subjects. You can then pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Perfusion Technology. Some examples include a Bachelor of Science in Cardio Pulmonary Perfusion Care Technology, a PG Diploma in Cardiac Pulmonary Perfusion Technology and a Diploma in Perfusion Cardiac Surgery Technician.
2. Gain clinical experience
You can get clinical experience by practising cardiovascular perfusion through in-house clinical training. This requires obtaining a certificate from the Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion India (BCP- I). Receiving clinical training involves studying techniques of perfusion, perfusion equipment and clinical applications. Clinical training can also help you learn about ethical values, integrity and judgement in patient care.
3. Obtain certification
Many hospitals and health care systems require perfusionists to have a certification from a recognised organisation. The BCP-I offers certification exams for aspiring perfusionists to help increase their job opportunities. Successful candidates receive the title of Certified Cardiovascular Perfusionist (CCP) for a minimum level of competency and skill set. The certification is valid for five years, so this requires perfusionists to re-certify annually to ensure that they continue to meet specific minimum standards. Continuing education courses can help aspiring perfusionists stay updated with the latest CPB techniques and technologies.
4. Search for job openings
Search for job openings using job search websites and health care career resources. You can use keywords like perfusionist, cardiovascular perfusion or extracorporeal circulation to find relevant job opportunities. You can also check hospital and health care system websites for shadowing, internships or job openings.
5. Network with people
You can network with people in the medical field by connecting with medical experts, reaching out to professors or internship supervisors and connecting with perfusionists online. You can also volunteer and participate in community events to build connections with other health care experts and community members. Engaging in medical fairs, educational events and other community outreach programmes can help you connect and learn from others' experiences.
Skills Required To Be A Perfusionist
Here are some skills required to be a perfusionist:
Knowledge of respiratory and circulation systems
A strong understanding of respiratory and circulation systems helps perfusionists in their everyday tasks. It enables them to manage blood flow during CPB procedures and ensures that vital organs receive adequate blood supply. It also helps them recognise and respond to complications that may arise during CPB procedures, such as inadequate oxygenation, changes in blood pressure or heart rate and fluid shifts. This allows them to respond to these issues promptly and prevent further complications. You can undertake coursework in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and other related subjects to develop a strong understanding of respiration and circulation.
Knowledge of operation monitoring
Cardiopulmonary bypass is a procedure used in heart surgeries that diverts blood circulation away from the heart and lungs. Perfusionists set up and calibrate the CPB machines and other equipment to monitor the vital signs of patients during surgical and other procedures. They take baseline measurements of the vital signs and monitor the operation of the equipment. They also troubleshoot any issues that may arise during the procedure, such as adjusting ventilation settings and the flow rates of various components of the CPB machine.
Accountability is an important skill for perfusionists in providing patient care. It ensures they take the necessary steps for the safety and well-being of their patients while adhering to the scope of practice and guidelines. Being accountable helps them identify areas for improvement and implement changes to enhance health care. It also helps them build trust with patients and colleagues and enhances their professional reputation. Perfusionists can solicit feedback from patients and their families to develop accountability and identify areas for improvement. It is also important for them to engage in self-evaluation and self-reflection to enhance accountability.
Attention to detail
Attention to detail helps perfusionists monitor the patient's condition, examine machines and observe the vitals of the patient during surgery or other medical procedure. It also helps in ensuring quality assurance in patient care. Attention to detail also helps perfusionists to monitor and interpret large amounts of patient data, including blood flow rates, oxygen saturation levels and other vital signs, to provide support and care to the patient.
Effective communication helps perfusionists coordinate with the surgeons, anaesthesiologists and other medical staff in the operating room. It helps to ensure patient safety during cardiac surgeries or other medical procedures. Strong communication skills also help in finding and implementing solutions to unexpected issues during the procedures, along with mentioning any potential risks or complications to patients and their families.
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