Become a Cardiopulmonary Perfusionist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a cardiopulmonary perfusionist. Research the education requirements, training, and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in cardiopulmonary perfusion.

Do I Want to Be a Cardiopulmonary Perfusionist?

Cardiopulmonary perfusionists operate equipment to monitor and support circulation in patients during surgical procedures. During surgery, they administer drugs to stop the heart so surgeons can perform procedures. They need to pay attention to small changes and work well in a team while handling stressful situations.

Most perfusionists do not have a regular or set work schedule, but rather are called to their work hours, many times in an emergency; some surgeries requiring cardiopulmonary perfusionists may be scheduled. The end result is working long or short hours throughout a week, but being effectively on-call at all times of the day and night. The career is high in responsibility and can be high stress. Much of a perfusionist's job keeps them in a hospitals, often in surgery, where they play an important role in keeping people alive through cardio procedures.

Job Requirements

A degree or certificate in perfusion science and certification is typically necessary for this career. The following table shows typical requirements for becoming a cardiopulmonary perfusionist:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree, certificate or master's degree program*
Degree Field(s) Cardiopulmonary or cardiovascular perfusion**
Licensure and/or Certification Certification in clinical perfusion is available through the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion, state licensure may be required**
Experience Some programs require medical experience**
Key Skills Attention to detail**, calm under pressure**, ability to quickly make sound decisions**
Computer Skills Medical database software***, communication software**, medical monitoring software***
Technical Skills Medical monitoring equipment**, specialty cardiopulmonary equipment**

Sources: *Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***O*Net Online

Step 1: Complete an Accredited Cardiovascular Perfusion Education Program

There are only a select number of schools offering programs specifically in cardiovascular perfusion; according to the CAAHEP, there were only 17 accredited perfusion programs available in 2012. Admission to a bachelor's degree program may require the completion of about 60-80 credit hours of college coursework, whereas admission to a master's degree program would require the completion of a bachelor's degree program. Courses at the undergraduate level may cover subjects like cardiac anatomy, monitoring techniques, perfusion devices and pharmacology. Clinical practicum experiences are also typically included. A master's degree program may also include clinical experiences, as well as seminars and a master's project. Coursework could include research methods, management and pathophysiology.

Step 2: Complete Clinical Training

In order to take the test for certification, the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP) requires a clinical record of at least 75 perfusions performed, under supervision, after graduation. Many times, this experience can be arranged through the training institutions from which students graduated.

Step 3: Get Certification

The ABCP offers a certification examination twice a year. This is a written, 2-part, multiple-choice exam that covers 11 subjects. Sections can be taken on the same day or scheduled for different dates. Part one covers pharmacology, anatomy and physiology. Part two focuses on devices and equipment, laboratory analysis, pathology, pharmacology and quality assurance.

Step 4: Obtain a License to Practice

State licensure may be required for perfusionsts in some states. Requirements for licensure vary by state, but often depend on certification through the ABCP. Contact the local licensing board or department of health for more information.

Step 5: Go Into Practice

Most perfusionists spend all of their working hours in a hospital, though some teach or work for medical transport companies. In hospitals, working hours vary from week to week, due to the fluctuations in surgery schedules, since cardiopulmonary perfusionists are responsible for monitoring patients both before and after a procedure. Before surgery, they monitor patients and assemble the perfusion equipment; after surgery, perfusionists often get called in for emergencies.

Step 6: Seek Annual Recertification

The ABC requires perfusionists to be recertified annually. This involves performing a minimum of forty documented cases of clinical activity of particular types. Additionally, cardiopulmonary perfusionists must acquire at least 15 continuing education credits (CEUs) every three years.

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