Perfusionist Job Description


A healthy heart and pair of lungs are crucial to good cardiovascular health. However, during times of emergency where heart or lung failure occurs, perfusionists step in to lend their medical and quick-thinking expertise to save patients' lives. These professionals also utilize sophisticated machines and medical devices to regulate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels during surgical procedures.


  • Perfusionists work with surgeons and anesthesiologists to maintain heart and lung function during open-heart operations, orthopedic and vascular surgery, and other medical procedures. Prior to surgery, perfusionists sterilize their equipment and make sure that all medical instruments are working correctly. During the procedure, they administer medication and monitor the heart-lung machines to ensure that patient blood flow levels and vital signs are normal. Perfusionists also make adjustments to monitoring devices during operations and utilize other equipment to help increase blood circulation and strengthen heart function during a patient’s recovery.


  • Perfusionists are required to earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or certificate in perfusion science depending on their position’s requirements. During a perfusionist program, students learn how to operate heart-lung machines and other perfusionist devices on live animals. Students also learn the latest perfusionist technologies, trends and research methods that help save patients’ lives. Certification as a perfusionist can be obtained by passing a written exam given by the America Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion.


  • In addition to having excellent decision-making and oral-communication skills, perfusionists must be knowledgeable about heart devices such as electrical pacemakers and defibrillators. Precision, accuracy and a high attention to detail are important, since these professionals must constantly monitor patients’ health during long and complicated surgeries. Perfusionists must work well in teams and communicate important information to surgeons, anesthesiologists and other medical staff regarding the patient's health status.

Work Environment

  • Perfusionists must be emotionally stable, as they work in a highly stressful and volatile environment. Since their patients tend to be critically ill and require immediate medical attention, they must be ready for unexpected changes in vital signs, breathing patterns and heart rates. Perfusionists typically work 40 hours per week; however, weekend and evening hours are common. Because perfusionists primarily work in hospitals and medical centers, they may be on call in case of an emergency or immediate open-heart surgery.


  • A June 2010 salary report states that the average salary for a perfusionist in the United States is $77,000 per year. Salaries for this role vary based on factors such as bonuses and geographic location. For example, reports that perfusionists in New York City earn $91,000 per year.

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  • Photo Credit thorax x-ray of the lungs image by JoLin from
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