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Clinical Cardiac Perfusion - Overview of Clinical Cardiac Perfusionist Careers

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Heart-lung machine
ANTONIA REEVE / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Overview of Cardiac Perfusion Careers:

Cardiac Perfusionists are not doctors, or nurses. Cardiac perfusion is an allied health career. A cardiac perfusionist, also known as a Certified Clinical Perfusionist (CCP), is a specialized medical professional who operates what you may know as the “heart-lung” machine.
The heart lung machine keeps a patient’s blood pumping, and basically takes the place of the patient’s heart, while open-heart surgery is taking place. The heart-lung machine circulates, oxygenates, and purifies the patient’s blood while the patient is in surgery. Cardiac perfusion is needed for a variety of surgeries including organ transplant, heart bypass, and other cardiac surgeries.

Education and Training Requirements for Cardiac Perfusionists:

According to the American Academy of Cardiovascular Perfusion, (AACP), an effective training program for cardiac perfusion requires a bachelor’s degree (four years of college). There does not appear to be any specific type of undergraduate degree required, but probably a biology or science degree of some sort would be most conducive to this field.
A prospective perfusionist must also complete a training program that is affiliated with an academic medical center, requiring completion of a minimum of 150 procedures as a trainee. After completing the course, one must successfully pass a certification exam to become a Certified Clinical Perfusionist. This exam is offered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP).

Job Responsibilites of a CCP:

According to the AACP, the cardiac perfusionist assists the surgeon in the operating room of a hospital during cardiac surgeries. Although the surgeon is primarily responsible for the patient, the perfusionist is responsible for operating the heart-lung machine, keeping records of the perfusion, and for consulting with the surgeon regarding the patient’s cardiac history and general medical history.
The CCP is solely responsible for the condition of the heart lung equipment, and as such the CCP will perform tests of the equipment to ensure that it is operating properly. Any errors on the part of the CCP, or defects in the machinery, could cause severe damage to the patient including organ damage, brain damage, or, in some cases, death. Therefore, for more complex surgeries, two perfusionists may attend, to ensure the safety of the patient and successful outcome of the patient.

Salary Information for Certified Clinical Perfusionists (CCP):

According to the American Medical Association, starting salaries for perfusionists is about $60,000-75,000. The average salary across the board for perfusionists is about $70,000-90,000, and 2012 data from Monster.com's Salary Wizard calculates the average salary for perfusionists at $110,000. Those who work in a management role, such as the Director of Clinical Perfusion of a hospital, could earn well over $100,000.

What's to Like:

Besides the fact that the medical field is one of the best industries in which to work, and health careers offer a great deal of job security, and financial stability, cardiac perfusion is one of the more lucrative non-nursing and non-physician clinical medical careers.

What's Not to Like:

Cardiac perfusionists may have to be on-call as a physician would, which can affect quality of life. The impact of the call schedule on your personal schedule depends on the size of the program and the number of perfusionists available at the hospital, so be sure to investigate this when applying for positions.

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