Perfusionists operate the heart-lung bypass machine (also known as cardiopulmonary bypass) during heart surgery to maintain a safe and stable condition while the heart is stopped for repair. Perfusionists may operate such equipment during any medical situation where it is necessary to support or temporarily replace the patient’s cardio-pulmonary or circulatory function.

Where do perfusionists practise?

Perfusionists work in operating theatres in public and private hospitals. Their main work is performed within a cardiac operating theatre, but they also work in intensive care units; general, orthopaedic, vascular and neurosurgical operating theatres; cardiac catheter laboratories and research laboratories.

When should I see a perfusionist?

A perfusionist is allocated to work with a cardiac surgeon when patients undergo cardiac surgery. Tertiary hospitals employ a team of perfusionists.

What services do perfusionists provide?

Perfusion is the technology of organ preservation by the circulation of oxygenated blood outside the body, using a heart-lung bypass machine. Virtually all heart operations require the services of a perfusionist to operate the heart-lung bypass machine. Some perfusionists specifically train to work in paediatrics.

Procedures utilising or requiring perfusionists include:

  • Cardiopulmonary bypass during cardiac surgery (perfusion)
  • Intra-aortic balloon counter-pulsation to assist circulation
  • Mechanical circulatory support (using ventricular assist devices)
  • Blood salvaging and auto transfusion in a variety of surgical procedures
  • Extracorporeal life support (ECLS also known as ECMO)
  • Isolated limb perfusion
  • Bypass for liver surgery
  • Organ procurement for heart or heart/lung transplantation
  • Research and development associated with all of the above procedures.

How are perfusionists qualified?

In order to practise, perfusionists must meet the following requirements:

  • Must hold a Bachelor of Science or equivalent degree
  • Successfully complete a recognised two or three year training course in perfusion theory and practice
  • Successfully complete an examination to receive the Certificate of Clinical Perfusion awarded by the Australasian Board of Cardiovascular perfusion
  • Complete continuing professional development and continuously meet the profession’s ethics and standards.

Further Information

For more detailed information about perfusion, visit the Australian and New Zealand College of Perfusionists (ANZCP) website.