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What Is A Perfusionist

Perfusionists are highly trained professionals who operate heart-lung machine during cardiac surgeries. These professionals are typically found working alongside cardiac surgeons, physician assistants, and surgical technologists. As cardiac surgery technology has advanced and new methods for treating heart defects have been discovered, the role of a cardiac perfusionist has become more important than ever. 
If you are interested in becoming a perfusionist, you must complete the minimum level of perfusionist education and the necessary training requirements. Certification may also be necessary depending upon the state you work in. The American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion is a leading organization that offers certification to professionals and works towards promoting the field through research.

Perfusionist Programs

A number of perfusionist schools are offering bachelor and master degree programs.  Both programs are designed to prepare students for careers as perfusionist. When selecting a college, make sure it is accredited. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education  Programs (CAAHEP) is a leading accrediting board that accredits perfusionist colleges. You can also opt for short training programs, diplomas, and certificate programs in this field.
Mentioned below are details of perfusion technology degree programs:

Bachelor of Science in Perfusion Technology

This is an undergraduate degree program that aims at equipping students with knowledge of cardiovascular surgery practices and skills needed to operate heart and lung machines. The program typically takes four years to complete and is required for entry-level jobs. Students enrolled in the program will undergo a thorough study of theory-based and practical courses relevant to the scope of practice. Students will learn how perfusion is used in the treatment of tumors, heart transplants, and lung transplants, and how to operate artificial cardiac arrest devices in the operation theater. Here are a few of the courses generally covered in the degree:

  • Pathophysiology
  • Clinical biochemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Perfusion technology
  • Clinical management

Alongside classroom learning, a part of the curriculum is covered in training labs. Here students will acquire hands-on experience in learning how to use heart and lung machines. Gaining practical experience is necessary to prepare for the career ahead. Students may also be required to complete a clinical research project or thesis.

Master of Science in Perfusion Technology

This is a two-year program offered at graduate level. The program is typically intended for individuals who are already working as perfusionists and wish to advance in their career. The curriculum will entail a number of advanced-level subjects relevant to perfusion technology. Students will be required to complete all course components and training sessions. In most graduate programs, completing a thesis is necessary. The thesis project should reflect a student’s career goals, interest area, and previous work/academic experience in the field. Here are some common courses to expect in the program:

  • Organic chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • US healthcare system
  • Perfusion technology
  • Perfusion medical ethics
  • Management in healthcare


A degree in perfusion will help students develop the following skills:

  • Communication skills
  • Medical terminology
  • Diagnosis and assessment skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Team-work skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Problem-solving skills

How to Enroll in a Perfusionist Degree?

The admission requirements will vary from college to college. Students planning to enroll in a bachelor degree may have to first complete a few prerequisite courses, meet a minimum GPA requirement, and demonstrate a satisfactory academic record.
To enroll in a master degree, an undergraduate degree in the same or similar discipline must be attained. Other requirements may include submission of letters of recommendation and work experience. Please note that some colleges may require applicants to pass an entry test.

Students can also opt for online learning programs. Distance education is a suitable mode of learning for working individuals. The coursework is completed via videos and lectures.


After acquiring a degree in perfusion technology, you can apply for certification from the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion. To qualify for the professional certification, you must pass the certification examination offered by the board. The exam is divided into two parts:

  • Perfusion basic science examination
  • Clinical applications in perfusion

Both exams will gauge certain skill sets and knowledge of the student. Students must demonstrate a strong understanding of clinical perfusion science. Please remember the eligibility criteria will vary for each examination.

Job Description

Perfusionists are typically employed in hospitals and surgical units, and work as a part of cardiac surgery team. Much of their work takes place in the OR. Their job responsibilities have been listed below:

  • Operate extracorporeal circulation equipment and auto transfusion equipment
  • Operate heart-lung machines during medical procedures
  • Measure blood and oxygen parameters before employing appropriate mechanical and pharmacological techniques
  • Monitor the respiratory and circulatory system during the use of equipment
  • Assist surgeons and cardiovascular specialists during surgery

Apart from clinical duties, perfusionists must also perform certain administrative tasks such as documenting official medical records, managing the human resources and technical aspects of clinical perfusion operations, along with educating and training new clinical perfusionists. You can also excel in the career by continuing education and broadening your skill set.

How Much Does a Perfusionist Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, quoting the American Society of Extra-Corporeal Technology, placed perfusionists’ salary between $58,000 and $61,000. Experienced perfusionists with work experience exceeding ten years made an annual income ranging between $85,000 and $100,000. This data was extracted for the year 2002-2003.

How long does it take to become a Cardiac Perfusionist?

The entry-level requirement to become a perfusionist is a bachelor's degree - which takes four years to complete. Students also have the option of pursuing a master’s degree in a relevant area. You will also have to pursue a perfusion certificate, which will have a bachelor’s degree as a pre-requisite. Before you can begin practice, you will be required to complete the requirements of this certification program, which include hands-on, supervised clinical training. This training is a requirement set forth by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP).

What are the requirements to become a Cardiac Perfusionist?

To enter the field of Cardiac Perfusionists, candidates must meet the minimum requirement of having a bachelor's degree along with a certificate. To get a bachelor's degree, students are usually required to complete certain courses which cover topics such as heart-lung bypass for adults, heart surgery, monitoring patients on heart-lung machines etc. To get a master's degree, candidates are required to obtain a bachelor's degree first. Some general requirements all aspiring perfusionists must meet include having strong anatomical knowledge and an ability to remain calm in high-stress situations.

How much can I make after I become a Cardiac Perfusionist?

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians was 56,560 as of May 2018. In addition to that, the median hourly wage in the bottom ten percentile was $14.11 whereas the median hourly wage in the top ten percentile was $44.76. The median wage was $56,850 annually.

Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What is generally covered in perfusionist education programs?

A:In a Perfusionist training program or certificate program, students will cover a wide range of subject areas such as the following: heart and lung machines, autotranfusions, heart-lung bypass, anatomy and physiology, medical technology, and more. The program will not only emphasize theoretical understanding, but will also focus upon hands on experience and training.

Q:What are some of the courses taken in perfusionist programs?

A:The main aim of any perfusionist degree program is to teach students about the cardiovascular system, surgical practices related to this system, and the skills they will need to operate heart and lung machines. As such, some of the courses you can expect to take in a perfusionist program include perfusion technology, pharmacology, clinical biochemistry, perfusion medical ethics, microbiology, etc. It is important to note that the precise set of courses you take will depend upon the degree level at which you are studying.

Q:What is the prospective perfusionist salary figures I can expect to earn?

A:According to statistics compiled by the American Society of Extra-Corporeal Technology, perfusionists' salary figures can be anywhere between $58,000 and $61,000. Experienced perfusionists who have worked for a period exceeding ten years made an annual income of anywhere between $85,000 and $100,000. These figures were for the year 2002-2003. (Source: American Society of Extra-Corporeal Technology)

Q:What are some of the skills I can expect to learn from going to perfusionist schools?

A:A perfusionist is a professional trained to operate heart-lung machines during cardiac surgery. Therefore, enrolling in a perfusionist school will teach prospective candidates a variety of skills to help them in the carrying out of such a job. These include analytical, problem-solving, communication, decision-making, and team-work skills because these professionals work alongside a team of physicians. You can also expect to become familiar with medical terminology and how to operate complex machinery.

Q:What is a perfusionist?

A:A Perfusionist is a professional who operate heart and lung machines during surgeries and medical procedures. They are skilled in adjusting monitoring devices and other equipment that are used to maintain a patients lung and heart function in the event of a respiratory or heart failure. Perfusionists work alongside other surgeons and physicians in surgical units.

Q:What do cardiovascular perfusionist schools teach?

A:This is an allied profession where a perfusionist uses a lung-heart machine and other relevant technologies to maintain the health of patients during heart surgeries and other medical procedures. At a cardiovascular perfusionist school, students are taught how to perform these technical clinical procedures in keeping with the highest moral standards in medical practice. They are given the opportunity to master these skills in both clinical and laboratory settings.

Q:How to become a medical Perfusionist?

A:If you are interested in becoming a Perfusionist, you must acquire formal training and education. It can take 2-3 years to complete a degree program in this field. You can also opt for a certificate program that can be completed in 8-12 months. It is important that you gain hands-on experience through clinical training.

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