Education and Training Requirements

High School

High school students interested in perfusion technology should prepare by taking all available science, mathematics, and health science courses.

Postsecondary Training

Cardiovascular perfusionists must complete formal training from one of 16 schools throughout the United States accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. As a prerequisite for admission, these schools generally require a bachelor of science degree, although in some cases they accept applicants who have trained at nursing schools and other technical schools and have experience as nurses or health technicians. Accredited perfusion technology programs range in length from 20 to 24 months. Several accredited schools offer a combined undergraduate degree and a degree in perfusion technology, but more often perfusionists are trained once they have completed a bachelor's degree or other training.

There is strong competition for entry to an accredited perfusion technology program; only 10 to 20 percent of applicants are accepted. The accredited schools carefully examine academic record, character, and even personal temperament before accepting new students. The admissions officers at these schools realize that it takes a special individual to function under the kind of pressure and long hours perfusionists frequently encounter.

A strong background in biology, mathematics, and other sciences is recommended for applicants to perfusion technology programs as these programs are designed to convey a great deal of technical information as well as clinical training over a 20- to 24-month period. The perfusion technology program includes courses in physiology, cardiology, respiratory therapy, pharmacology, and heart surgery. Classroom experience is combined with extensive clinical experience where students learn about extracorporeal circulation, respiratory therapy, general surgical procedures, anesthesia, and other operating room procedures. Nearly all of the accredited perfusion technology programs attempt to involve students as early and as much as possible in clinical experience, as the practice of extracorporeal circulation relies so much upon actual operating room experience.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification currently is not an absolute requirement for perfusionists. It is, however, rapidly becoming a practical requirement as more than 70 percent of perfusionists nationally are now certified.

Certification is administered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion (ABCP). Applicants must meet educational and experience requirements (at least 75 clinical perfusions performed during their education) and pass a certification examination, which consists of two separate parts: the Perfusion Basic Science Examination, which is a 220-item, multiple choice exam designed to cover perfusion basic sciences and cardiopulmonary bypass and the Clinical Applications in Perfusion Examination, which is also a multiple choice exam where a series of clinical scenarios are presented. Applicants who successfully complete these requirements may use the designation, Certified Clinical Perfusionist (CPP).

To be eligible for recertification, you must have performed at least 40 clinical perfusions per year and complete continuing education programs. At present, perfusionists do not need separate state licenses to practice.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Perfusionists gain experience while in college by first observing and then eventually performing clinical perfusions. Because of the importance and high stakes of this procedure, tasks are incrementally delegated to the perfusion student, with the ultimate goal of producing a capable and competent perfusionist by graduation.

Perfusionists must excel in the sciences and be able to continue to learn new technologies. They must be able to take direction well, perform under stress, have interpersonal skills with patients, and work well in a cardiac team.