What is a perfusionist?

A perfusionist is the medical professional who operates the heart-lung bypass machine during bypass surgery. The machine takes over the responsibilities of the heart (to pump blood to the body) and lungs (to exchange carbon dioxide in the blood for oxygen) during the heart surgery. Having a machine take over for the heart allows the surgical team to stop the patient’s heart. The surgeon then grafts a vessel to the clogged artery to create a bypass around a blockage.

The perfusionist may be a specially trained nurse or technician who has been certified by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion. Those who are not certified should have at least two years of supervised experience working in an operating room during open-heart surgeries.
A perfusionist is a specially trained individual who operates the heart lung machine during cardiac surgery.  The heart lung machine is connected by tubing to the patient's heart during most heart surgeries, and it both circulates the blood and gives it oxygen.  This allows the heart to be completely still for the surgeon to construct coronary bypasses.  It allows the surgeon to open the heart to perform valve surgery or repair heart defects.  The perfusionist sets up the heart lung machine prior to the case, controls the flow of the blood through the machine during the surgery, monitors the patient during the time on the machine, and assists with lab tests during the surgery.  The perfusionist also is in charge of the cell saver.  The cell saver is a machine into which the shed blood of a surgery is suctioned.  When enough blood is shed, the blood cells are separated out by the machine and then given back to the patient.  This makes it less likely that the patient will need a blood transfusion.  To be a perfusionist, one must complete a program at an accredited perfusion school.  The perfusionist is then eligible to work and apply for certification by the perfusion specialty board. 

Continue Learning about Heart Disease Treatment

Is High-Intensity, Interval Exercise Safe for Heart Patients?
Is High-Intensity, Interval Exercise Safe for Heart Patients?
For the last several decades, cardiologists and exercise physiologists have recommended regular aerobic exercise to improve cardiac function and lower...
Read More
Who treats heart disease?
If your primary care physician or general cardiologist identifies you as having heart disease risk f...
More Answers
What is the best question I can ask about a referred cardiologist?
Dede BonnerDede Bonner
Ask, “Do you trust this doctor enough to send your own family to her?” This question works well whet...
More Answers
What Are Natural Treatments for Heart Disease?
What Are Natural Treatments for Heart Disease?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.