The past 60 years have witnessed a major evolution in clinical cardiopulmonary perfusion education. Much of this progress can be attributed to the continued advancement of medical and surgical technologies. Additionally, a change in how the profession sees itself has impacted perfusion education. 

Let’s take a look at how perfusion school has changed and what we can anticipate for the future. 

Rapid Growth in Perfusionist Demand 

In the early days of perfusion practice, new clinicians were trained on the job or in a laboratory. However, with the rapid expansion in cardiac surgical procedures, formal perfusion educational programs became a necessity. 

As cardiac surgery became safer and more available, the number of procedures continued to grow. Upon adding in the development of heart and lung transplant surgery, the demand for qualified perfusionists increased even more. 

As an illustration, the chart below shows the explosion in the number of adult lung transplants worldwide:

Source: European Lung white book

Perfusionist Education & Certification

Initially, the American Society of Extracorporeal Technology was responsible for perfusionist credentialing and developing certification guidelines. Currently, the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP) assumes these responsibilities. 

In 2015-2016, the ABCP surveyed 3,875 eligible Certified Clinical Perfusionists (CCPs) and 3,056 (78.9%) responded. The survey reported that 94 percent of perfusionists are graduates from accredited schools of perfusion. Even more encouraging is that 91 percent of the survey respondents consider their educational experience as being positive.

Perfusionist licensure has also been adopted by many states, and nearly 50% of all perfusionists are covered by some legislative act. 

How perfusion school has changed student evaluation methods  

One major challenge has been developing minimum standards for perfusionist clinical evaluations. Initially, standards included the use of checklists. This has since evolved to more complex monitoring and recording of significant events and parameters during procedures. Likewise, educational standards have been required to evolve to match new clinical realities.   

With the institution of formal schooling and curriculums, classroom testing and clinical rotation evaluation have become the norm. Also, many programs encourage clinical research as part of their core curriculum.

Modern Perfusion Simulation 

As a bridge between the classroom and the operation room, high-fidelity perfusion simulation is another component of modern perfusion education. 

Simulation labs may include:

  • Patient simulator
  • State-of-the-art perfusion equipment
  • Fully instrumented operating rooms
  • Digital patient data capture 
  • Audio-visual recording 

With simulation equipment, programs can develop a variety of patient scenarios to teach critical perfusion decision pathways and evaluate clinical skills without incurring any risk to actual patients.

The Future of Perfusion Education

As medical science advances, so will perfusion education. Some areas already seeing significant progress are real-time perfusion monitoring and electronic health records. As in nearly every industry, the capture and analysis of data open the door to new innovations and improved levels of performance. 

The ability to collect and analyze vast amounts of physiologic data promises to transform the practice of perfusion. Not only will monitoring become more diverse and accurate, but with machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), the quality of care could improve significantly. 

AI/ML algorithms enable the creation of predictive models based on historical data sets. Therefore, we can foresee a future where the perfusionist could anticipate changes in patient status and make adjustments in a more proactive and preventative manner. 

In the future, perfusion education programs will more than likely incorporate these new technologies into their curriculums. 

Article references:

A 2015-2016 Survey of American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion Certified Clinical Perfusionists: Perfusion Profile and Clinical Trends

The evolution of perfusion education in America

Working as a perfusionist is a highly challenging and rewarding career path. The educational standards are high, and the profession appeals to those interested in working on surgical teams and in critical care scenarios.

Across the country, there has been an increased demand for perfusion services driven by several factors, such as:

  • Rising number of chronic disease cases such as cardiac disease, liver, and pulmonary diseases.
  • The emergence of new illnesses such as COVID-19.
  • An aging population is more susceptible to heart and lung failure and more likely to need heart surgery.
  • Improving medical treatment increases the number of lung transplants, heart/lung transplants, and heart assist devices.

Given these trends, the demand for qualified clinicians has grown and is expected to grow over the next several years. Here are some common questions about the educational requirements to become a clinical perfusionist. 

What are the qualifications for perfusionist program applicants? 

A Master of Science in Cardiovascular Perfusion (MSCVP) can be acquired at institutions of higher learning such as Lawrence Technological University

A preferred applicant will have a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from an accredited college or university. Qualified candidates may also have experience as a Respiratory Therapist (RRT), Registered Nurse (RN), or in critical care. 

Persons with a B.S. who have completed courses in anatomy, algebra, calculus, physiology, physics, and chemistry are also eligible to apply for MSCVP programs.

How long does it take to get a perfusionist degree?

Most students studying to be a perfusionist already have solid health and/or science background. Many also have hands-on clinical experience working in surgical suites, ICUs, and on hospital floors. Building upon that valuable knowledge and experience, it usually takes two years to complete the requirements for an MSCVP degree. 

What courses are required to become a perfusionist?

The best perfusionist programs provide a comprehensive curriculum that encompasses the essential sciences as well as clinically relevant topics of study, such as:

  • Hematology
  • Patient Care & Professionalism
  • Physiological Science 
  • Perfusion Theory (Basic & Advanced)
  • Professional Practice
  • Applied Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Research Methods
  • Critical Care

The demanding class subject matter reflects the exciting challenges included in the educational process and later as a professional perfusionist. 

Are research and hands-on experience part of perfusionist education?

Higher quality perfusionist educational centers will typically encourage or include some kind of clinical research prior to graduation. This enables students to dive deeper into a particular area of interest. Perfusion research may even continue after graduation for professionals interested in a scientific investigation. 

The final phase to complete a perfusionist master’s degree consists of clinical experience. Here, students work alongside practicing perfusionists in real-world settings, such as operating rooms, ICUs, and lung / heart-lung transplant units. This hands-on experience ties together everything learned up to this point and puts it into practice. 

The ultimate goals of perfusionist education are:

  • To empower graduates with the skills and knowledge needed for practice.
  • To help graduates feel comfortable working in the clinical perfusionist setting.
  • To encourage continued study and research in the field of perfusion. 

How is performance evaluated when studying to be a perfusionist?

Each school has its own method of evaluation, however, most programs have high standards. This is important since perfusionists work with advanced life-saving technology where the utmost attention to patient care is required.

Perfusionist programs may require a certain grade point average to graduate. Also, in clinical rotations, instructors evaluate students based on their knowledge and technical skills. Clinical skills may be evaluated by a letter grade or competence level required for graduation. 

Perfusionists prepared to achieve and serve   

As the demand for perfusionists continues to grow, more people will be drawn to this exciting and rewarding career path. Although the education is rigorous, the effort is worth it for those who seek to make a positive impact in surgical and critical care scenarios. Quality education is stepping up to prepare future perfusionists to provide the highest quality of service and care.

Learn how CCS teams up with LTU to offer one of the country’s most advanced Master of Science in Cardiovascular Perfusion (MSCVP) programs.