By Luc Puis
The Road to Becoming a Perfusionist
You never hear a kid say: When I grow up, I want to become a perfusionist.
And even when you’re older and do become a perfusionist and tell someone, they usually have a blank look on their face; or they say: Oh, a percussionist? I thought you worked at the hospital.
All this to say, perfusionists are a rare breed, and so it’s even more difficult to know how to become one. This article talks about how to become a perfusionist in the USA, but it can be different in many countries.
Get a Degree
First, you need to finish high school and then earn a bachelor’s degree. Basically, any BS is good, but before you get into perfusion school, there are some prerequisite courses that you need to comply with – it depends on the school how many prereqs are required. Most prerequisites are almost pre-medical school requirements, especially the master’s degree programs, so it helps if you’re into Biomedical Sciences, Respiratory Therapy or Nursing.
Apply to Perfusion School
Then, with your degree, you can apply for perfusion school. There are 19 schools in the USA at the moment, all of which receive many applicants each year, so you really need to deliver something extra to the school. Consider applying to several schools at the same time to augment your chances of getting in. Visit Perfusion.com’s list of perfusion training programs to narrow your search.
Applying to perfusion school typically involves:
- Paying a fee.
- Submitting all your course work.
- Including references.
- Writing an essay or motivation letter.
- Engaging in job shadowing. That means that you go follow actual cardiac surgery operationsJ together with an experienced perfusionist, and basically, you’ll find out soon if you’re fit for the job or not.
Perfusion school is approximately a two-year program, with a more theoretically-oriented first year, including simulation courses in some programs. The second year is focused on clinical rotations and ‘pumping’ cases to meet the requirements for graduation: a minimum of 75 adult/pediatric clinical perfusions performed during the education program.
Bachelor or Master in Perfusion?
Of the 19 schools, 11 offer a master in perfusion. Should you follow a bachelor or master program? Well, that depends a bit on what you want to do with your job as a perfusionist. Some people really only want to do the clinical job and become really good at that. A bachelor’s degree would be fine in that case.
Some people feel like they want to pursue a somewhat more academic career or are interested in doing research and writing papers. Then, a master’s degree would definitely be a plus. The overall tendency is now that most programs want to transfer to offer a master’s degree, but there will probably always be schools that offer a bachelor’s.
Earn the Certificate
After you graduate from perfusion school, you can start working, but it is required to earn a Certification in Clinical Perfusion. You can obtain this by passing the certification examination organized by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion.
This examination process consists of two parts:
- Part I is the Perfusion Basic Science Examination (PBSE) and is a 220-item, multiple choice examination designed to cover perfusion basic sciences and cardiopulmonary bypass.
- Part II, the Clinical Applications in Perfusion Examination (CAPE), also follows a multiple-choice format and covers a series of clinical scenarios, each with a series of questions. The number of items on the Part II examination may vary from 200 to 230, depending on the scenarios used.
That’s it! You’re a perfusionist! Now, get a job if you haven’t found one already.
At this moment, September 2022, there are a lot of perfusionist jobs out there, and the starting wage is quite high with many benefits. This situation has been ongoing for a while, and it will most likely stay this way a bit longer. Yet the schools are graduating many students every year, so the market will get saturated at some point. But you probably won’t be able to find one perfusionist who would make an accurate guess on when that would be.
A Lifetime of Learning
Final note: Perfusion means lifelong learning. CEU’s are to be earned to keep your certification, so you might as well do a good job with that and continue to educate yourself on new technologies and techniques. Perfusion.com is a great resource to do that!
- Indeed Editorial Team (2022) Guide to Becoming a Perfusionist. Indeed Career Guides
- The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) (2022) Find an Accredited Program. CAAHEP (click on ‘Profession’ and choose ‘Perfusion’)
- The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) (2022) Standards and Guidelines for the Accreditation of Educational Programs in Perfusion. CAAHEP
- The Accreditation Committee – Perfusion Education (AC-PE) (2022) AC-PE Approved
- Cardiovascular Perfusion Curriculum AC-PE
- The American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP) (2022) Certification Information ABCP
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