How to become a Perfusionist

Written by: Jon Pacheco


A Perfusionist is a skilled person, qualified by academic and clinical education, who operates extracorporeal equipment during any medical situation where it is necessary to support or temporarily replace the patient's circulatory or respiratory function. The perfusionist is knowledgeable concerning the variety of equipment available to perform extracorporeal circulation functions and is responsible, in consultation with the physician, for selecting the right equipment and techniques used.

Fields and Daily Routine:

Perfusionists primarily work in the operating room during cardiac surgery procedures and may be employed by hospitals, surgeons, or as employees of a contract independent to group practice. The majority of procedures are performed during regular weekly work hours. As critical members of the clinical teams, perfusionists are required to take call and be available for emergency procedures, which can occur at any time.

A perfusionist is a skilled allied health professional, trained as a member of open-heart, surgical team responsible for the selection, setup, and operation of a mechanical device commonly referred to as the heart-lung machine.

During the open-heart surgery, when the patient's heart is immobilized and cannot function in a normal fashion while the operation is being performed, the patient's blood is diverted and circulated outside the body through the heart-lung machine and returned again to the patient. The machine assumes the function of both the heart and the lungs.

The perfusionist is responsible for operating the machine during surgery, monitoring the altered circulatory process closely, taking appropriate corrective action when abnormal situations arise, and keeping both the surgeon and anesthesiologist fully informed.

In addition to the operation of the heart-lung machine during surgery, perfusionists often function in supportive roles for other medical specialties in operating mechanical devices to assist in the conservation of blood and blood products during surgery, and provide extended, long-term support of patients' circulation outside of the operating room environment.

Educational Pathway:


Programs are generally 1 to 4 years, depending on the programs design, objectives, prerequisites, and student qualifications. Certificate programs require that applicants have a bachelor's degree.


Prerequisites vary depending on the length and design of the program. Most programs require college-level science and mathematics. A background in medical technology, respiratory therapy, or nursing is suggested for some programs.


Curricula of accredited programs include courses covering heart-lung bypass for adult, pediatric and infant patients undergoing heart surgery; long-term supportive extracorporeal circulation; monitoring of the patient undergoing extracorporeal circulation; autotransfusion; and special applications of the technology. Curricula include clinical experience that incorporates and requires performance of an adequate number and variety of circulation procedures.

Schools include: University of Iowa , Michener Institute

Base Salary:


$86,156 $96,531 $118,569 $128,259

Average Salary is around 107,000.

The heart-lung machine is rumored to stop being used over OP-CABGs (off-pump bypass surgery aided by myocardial stabilization devices), but hopefully they will realize that it's possible the data will not always be correct and refer back to cardiopulmonary perfusion. Becoming a Perfusionist is worthwhile because, you, along with the others in the operating room, are in charge of someone's life.