A perfusionist assists cardiothoracic surgical teams during cardiac and pulmonary surgeries. Their primary responsibility is to operate a heart/lung machine that artificially replaces a person's heart or lung functions during the surgery. If a patient's heart or lung functions need to be manually stopped at any time during the surgery, the perfusionist is responsible for this task. The machine that the perfusionist uses pumps oxygenated blood throughout the body and ensures that proper circulation continues throughout the surgery. The same piece of equipment can be used in cases of respiratory failure.
Other responsibilities of a perfusionist may include administering various blood products to the patient, regulating different medications, and observing and controlling the patient's temperature during surgery. Their job description may include various administrative duties such as purchasing supplies and equipment, managing the department they work in, and hiring support technicians when needed. A perfusionist should be a people-oriented person as they will not only be working with patients, but they will also be working directly with the nursing staff, anesthesiologists, cardiac and pulmonary surgeons, and surgical technicians.
A perfusionist is required to concentrate for long periods of time while keeping a record of the patient's vital signs throughout surgery. They must notify the surgeon immediately of any changes, and be prepared to respond quickly to the surgeon's requests. They must be detail-oriented, follow instructions thoroughly, and respond well to emergency situations. Perfusionists are required to work well under pressure, be able to work well independently, and may be needed for post-operative support concerning the patient.
Studies show with the increase of cardiac surgeries, the demand for this occupation is growing rapidly. New procedures being performed with heart disease creates the need for more perfusion services worldwide. Most perfusionists work in hospitals, or large surgical centers; however, job openings may be found in research facilities along with sales and marketing positions.
There may be prerequisites when hiring a person in this field that requires them to have a Bachelor's degree in nursing, biological sciences or respiratory therapy. Programs providing education for this line of work range from one to four years in length. Once the student completes college, oral and written examinations must be passed through the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP). Students in high school that are interested in this job field can get a head start on their education by taking classes associated with biology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, computer skills, algebra and geometry.