Perfusionists are not doctors or nurses. A Perfusionist is an allied health professional. A perfusionist, also known as a Clinical Perfusionist, is a specialised medical professional (Paramedic) who operates what you may know as the “heart-lung” machine.
Perfusionists are not heart doctors, but they need many of the same skills and traits as surgeons. For starters, they have to know how to focus on one task for hours at a time. The typical heart surgery can take more than 4-5 hours. Perfusionists need to be detail-oriented and be able to detect the smallest change in patient’s condition or circulation. And given the stress levels, an even temper and emotional stability are indispensable.
Perfusionists are primarily involved with the intervention of the circulation. Any medical procedure that involves any changes to the circulation of blood is likely to be found by a perfusionist. Majority of our work entails operating the heart-lung machine which supports the patient's circulation whilst the heart has been arrested.
Perfusionists may hold a degree in perfusion or a master’s degree in the field if they have already done a bachelor's degree in science. Students who major in perfusion as undergraduates spend the first two to three years studying Anatomy, chemical principles, physiology, computing etc. After wrapping up the basics, students take one to two years to learn about pharmacology, cardiovascular physiology and perfusion technology, and get supervised clinical experience that includes classroom studies, hospital observations and rotations. The operation of high-tech mechanical pumps and cardiopulmonary support devices is part of the training.
Many medical professionals are often caught saying that perfusion is the best-kept secret in the medical field, as very few know about it.
Perfusion as a discipline attracts creative yet methodical minds that are not afraid to experiment and collaborate in order to get the best results possible. Whether this manifests as setting up a pump for a routine CABG or configuring the first ECMO circuit, every situation is given the scrutiny which a life-dependent service deserves.
Perfusionists are less concerned with proving how smart they are and more focussed on the outcome. There is no doubt that a strong work ethic is appreciated, but it is more important that the Perfusionist is there when needed, healthy, rested and prepared to provide the needed support.
Besides the fact that the medical field is one of the best industries to work in, and health careers offer a great deal of job security, and financial stability, cardiac perfusion is one of the most lucrative non-nursing and non-physician clinical medical careers.
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