How to Become a Cardiopulmonary Perfusionist

What do you need to become a cardiopulmonary perfusionist? Learn more about the degree requirements, certifications, and other skills needed for this career. Schools offering Cardiovascular Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Cardiopulmonary perfusionists are responsible for the heart-lung machines and other equipment that artificially supports a patient's respiration and circulation during operations. They work in the operating room alongside surgeons and other medical professionals. More info about this career can be found in the table below.

Training Required Completion of accredited cardiopulmonary perfusion program resulting in a post-baccalaureate certificate, bachelor's degree, or master's degree
Key Skills Attention to detail, ability to handle stressful situations, technical skills, communication and interpersonal skills
Certification/Licensure Certification available from the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion; state license may be required
Job Growth (2016-2026) 10% (cardiovascular technologists and technicians)*
Median Salary (2019) $117,053**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com

What Does a Cardiopulmonary Perfusionist Do?

A cardiopulmonary perfusionist monitors a patient's heart and lung equipment during an operation. They choose the appropriate equipment, monitor a patient's vitals, regulate blood flow and body temperature, and control a patient's respiratory function. Cardiopulmonary perfusionists also administer blood and medication needed during an operation. Additionally, these professionals are in charge of preparing and maintaining the machines to ensure that they are in working condition and ordering supplies.

Cardiopulmonary perfusionists work closely with surgeons and other operating room professionals. Most work full-time in a hospital setting, either state, private, or academic. They may be required to work evenings, weekends, or holidays and may be on-call.

Do You Need a Degree?

A minimum of a bachelor's degree and completion of an accredited cardiopulmonary perfusion program are required to become a cardiopulmonary perfusionist. The bachelor's degree should include coursework in biology and mathematics. These requirements can be completed through a science major or by taking the appropriate courses.

A cardiopulmonary perfusion program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). As of 2019, there are less than 20 cardiopulmonary perfusion programs available in the United States.

The length of time needed to finish the program can be from one to four years, depending whether the program awards a bachelor's degree, post-baccalaureate certificate, or master's degree. A program could include coursework in areas such as anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, perfusion, physiological monitoring, and surgical techniques. Programs also have a clinical component that requires students to complete fieldwork in an operating room.

Do You Need a Certification or License?

Cardiopulmonary perfusionists typically become certified. Certification is obtained by graduating from a cardiopulmonary perfusion program and successfully passing the Perfusion Basic Science Examination (PBSE) and the Clinical Applications in Perfusion Examination (CAPE) administered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP).

Prior to taking the PBSE, a student must have documentation showing they completed at least 75 clinical perfusions before graduation. Students must also complete at least 40 independent clinical perfusions after graduation to sit for the CAPE. Applicants who pass both exams can use the Certified Clinical Perfusionist designation. To maintain certification, 40 clinical activities need to be completed every year, and 45 continuing education credits must be completed every third year.

Some states, such as Massachusetts, also require a state license. Prospective cardiopulmonary perfusionists should check with their individual state.

What Other Skills Do You Need?

A cardiopulmonary perfusionist is required to be detail-oriented and have the technical knowledge to use and maintain cardiac and respiratory equipment. They must be able to remain calm in stressful situations and handle the demands of a busy operating room. Since they work closely with the other members of a patient's surgical team, communication skills and teamwork are also important.

What Is the Job Outlook for Cardiopulmonary Perfusionists?

Employment for all cardiovascular technologists and technicians is expected to grow by 10% from 2016 to 2016, notes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is faster than the average for all jobs. As the baby boomer population ages, the number of cardiac conditions is expected to increase. In addition, as medical technology advances, those with specialized skills will be needed to work with the equipment.

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