Perfusion is a specialized health care field involving the use of a heart-lung machine during cardiac surgery as a means of maintaining the patient in an operable condition. Some procedures in which perfusion may be involved include bypasses, valve replacements, atrial and ventricular septal replacements, and heart and lung transplants.
The perfusionist is part of a highly trained surgical team that includes the surgeon, anesthesiologist, certified physician and nursing assistants, and other technical specialists. The perfusionist is solely responsible for managing circulation, respiration, temperature, blood gas levels and other functions so the surgeon may operate on a still, non-beating heart. Some hospitals may also use perfusionists in non-cardiac post-operative care to ease the recovery process. The tools involved in perfusion include the lung machine, intra-aorta balloon pump, oxygenators, tubing and various monitors.
Perfusion certification in the United States requires a four-year undergraduate degree in a science such as chemistry, biology or anatomy, and completion of a two-year master’s program involving 75 hours of clinical experience before the student may sit for the first of two exams. After performing 50 independent procedures, the perfusionist may sit for the second exam to become certified.