Medical cardiovascular scientists who specialize in the operation of heart-lung equipment and related devices during surgical procedures are known as perfusionists. As a skilled member of the surgical team, you are trained to select, set up, and operate the mechanical/electronic devices that circulate and oxygenate blood outside the body, temporarily replacing the function of the heart and lungs while the surgeon performs a medical procedure. You learn to combine sterile tubing and artificial organs, in consultation with the physician, to create an extracorporeal circulation system that assists in open-heart surgery, artificial hearts, cardiac pacemakers, and other heart-related conditions; circulatory support; organ transplants; blood salvaging; and chemotherapy.
To prepare for a career in cardiovascular science as a perfusionist, your education includes the study of anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, and electronics. You'll combine your knowledge in these areas to assemble the equipment that supports a patient's bodily functions during various surgical procedures and life-support situations. Also important is your ability to be a contributing team member and to communicate clearly.
Your graduate education in cardiovascular science/perfusion usually begins with classroom and laboratory instruction involving professional perfusionists, anesthesiologists, cardiac surgeons, and medical educators, followed by clinical observations and hospital rotations. At completion, you are prepared to sit for the professional examination, offered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion, that begins the process of becoming a certified clinical perfusionist. Recertification at regular intervals is mandatory to maintain your designation.
As a practicing perfusionist, you may be self-employed or employed by private groups or hospitals where you are involved in patient treatment, quality assurance, research, and design.
If you want to combine your interests in healthcare and technology; provide critical support for major medical procedures; offer life supporting services to seriously ill patients; be a contributing member of a medical team; and be part of a select group of healthcare professionals, a career in cardiovascular science/perfusion may be just right for you.
Sources: American Academy of Cardiovascular Perfusion; perfusion.com; wikipedia.com; US Bureau of Labor Occupational Outlook Quarterly