How Long Does It Take To Become A Perfusionist?

A perfusionist is a medical professional who is tasked with operating the cardiopulmonary bypass machine during open heart surgery. Their knowledge and expertise about handling this highly-sophisticated heart-lung equipment allows the surgeon to operate on a still or unbeating heart. Aside from ensuring that the machine is functioning as it should, perfusionists see to it that the metabolic and physiologic functions of the patient remain stable throughout the operation. They are also called upon by the surgeon to administer medication through the machine and to monitor the patient’s vital signs like his heart rate, blood pressure and blood gases.

Operating the extracorporeal circulation and autotransfusion equipment is no easy task. Perfusionists need to undergo extensive training for the job. A bachelor’s degree in cardiovascular perfusion or perfusion technology takes four years at the least to complete. There are also perfusion certificate programs that last for one year which are offered by schools and universities.

Before getting accepted to a perfusion certificate program, candidates must already hold a four-year bachelor’s degree, preferably in a science-focused course. Schools offering perfusion education programs usually accept applicants who have majored in chemistry, biology, medical technology, nursing anatomy and respiratory therapy.

Those who want to further deepen their studies can also take a master’s degree in health science major in cardiovascular perfusion, master’s in science in perfusion or a master’s in perfusion science. A master’s degree can take an additional two years of study. Students of perfusion training programs learn neonatal, pediatric and adult heart-lung bypass, use of cardiopulmonary bypass machines for the long-term, monitoring of patients hooked to heart-lung machine and autotransfusion.

Perfusion programs do not only teach students in the classroom. They also ask students to comply with clinical training requirements which require them to perform a specified number of perfusion procedures. This hands-on exposure is important since perfusionists need to be alert and ready to respond to various situations that could occur in the operating room. Real-world experience is also necessary for them to get their certification.

Before perfusionists can practice their profession, they must pass an exam administered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion. Passing this two-part test will give the designation of Certified Clinical Perfusionist to candidates. The Perfusion Basic Science Exam is the first test and the Clinical Applications in Perfusion Exam is the second exam.

Before perfusionists can take the first test, they must be enrolled in or have already graduated from an accredited perfusion training program and have finished a minimum of 75 clinical procedures. After taking this test, they can seek employment in hospitals. They are regarded as provisional employees until such time that they have taken the second test. To qualify to sit for the Clinical Applications in Perfusion Exam, perfusionists must have finished 50 more perfusion procedures in the healthcare setting where they work.

Perfusionists need to constantly update their knowledge in the field by attending continuing education classes which is a requirement for renewal of their certification every three years. They can comply with this requirement by taking classes online or by participating in professional conferences. They must also prove that they have finished a set number of clinical perfusion procedures before they can renew their certification.

Career Spotlight: Perfusionist

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