Mayo Clinic cardiovascular perfusionist monitoring a patient in an operating room

What does a cardiovascular perfusionist do?

A cardiovascular perfusionist, also known as cardiac perfusionist, cardiopulmonary perfusionist, or simply, perfusionist, plays an important role in the operating room. Cardiovascular perfusionists are responsible for operating extracorporeal circulation equipment, such as the heart-lung machine, during an open-heart surgery or any other medical procedure in which it is necessary to artificially support or temporarily replace a patient's circulatory or respiratory function.

Perfusion is the passage of bodily fluids, such as blood, through the circulatory or lymphatic system to an organ or tissue. Because the heart is mainly responsible for pumping fluid through the body, when a patient has a procedure that interrupts the heart’s normal function, a cardiovascular perfusionist steps in to temporarily do the heart’s job. They monitor a patient’s vitals and then select appropriate equipment and technique to manage normal blood flow, body temperature, and other respiratory functions.

Scope of practice

Cardiovascular perfusionists work in the operating room with cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists, physician assistants, surgical technologists, nurses, and other members of the health care team. They are highly trained to work with patients of all ages who have a number of conditions. 

The roles and responsibilities of a cardiovascular perfusionist include:

  • Studying the patient’s medical history and notes to be prepared for the surgery
  • Operating and selecting of a variety of extracorporeal circulation equipment, such as the heart-lung machine, the artificial heart, blood transfusion devices, the intra-aortic balloon pump, and various ventricular-assist devices
  • Monitoring and care management of the patient during surgery to ensure safe physiologic functions 
  • Routine administration of various types of blood products and medications to patients during surgery
  • A variety of administrative duties, such as equipment management, supply purchasing, department management, and quality improvement

While they traditionally work with open heart surgeries, their role continues to expand to other surgical areas such as congenital heart defects, treatment of heart disease, and emergency cases. 

Work environment

The work environment of a cardiovascular perfusionist is within a typical operating room within a hospital or large surgical center. They may find themselves standing for a majority of their day as well needing to operate heavy and intricate equipment.

Cardiovascular perfusionists generally report the ability to maintain an appropriate work-life balance, but their work shifts vary. While most typically work a 40-hour work week, they are required to work a variety of shifts such as days, nights, weekends, rotating holidays, and to be on call.

Becoming a cardiovascular perfusionist

Many employers look for candidates who are able to work well under stressful situations, show a high degree of skill and judgment, are detail orientated, have strong interpersonal skills, and have adequate knowledge of surgical practices and equipment. Strong candidates also have a passion for helping patients and a love for technology and anatomy.

Higher education requirements

To work as a cardiovascular perfusionist, a strong background in biology, anatomy, mathematics, and other sciences is recommended. After a high school education, most go on to acquire an advanced degree, attend cardiovascular perfusionist school, and obtain certification. The typical path to becoming a cardiovascular perfusionist includes:

  • Obtaining a bachelor’s degree
  • Graduating from an Accredited Perfusion Technology Program or approved program of Extracorporeal Technology
  • Certification through the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion to become a certified clinical perfusionist (CCP)

Once certified, like most health care careers, certified clinical perfusionists are responsible for ongoing training to maintain certification.

Career opportunities and outlook 

Cardiovascular perfusionist jobs are available nationwide and have a median salary of $124,000, according to payscale.com. This is widely dependent on experience and qualifications. Because of the small size of this field, most positions are competitive.

Job openings for cardiovascular perfusionists in the U.S. are predicted to climb. One reason is due to the growing number of people aged 65 and older who are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and require open-heart surgery. Secondly, new procedures for many types of heart disease, defects, and disorders are also increasing, impacting the need for cardiovascular perfusionists.

With additional training and experience, some perfusionists become administrators, educators, researchers, and developers for product manufacturers or move into marketing and sales.

By the numbers

Cardiovascular perfusionist programs at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic offers a two-year Cardiovascular Perfusionist Clinical Rotation in Phoenix, Arizona to prepare students for a career as a certified clinical perfusionist (CCP).

Browse similar careers

Mayo Clinic echocardiographer using a sonogram machine

Cardiac sonographer

Mayo Clinic perioperative nurses in a hospital room

Perioperative nurse

Mayo Clinic surgical first assistant in an operating room

Surgical first assistant

Academics ▸ Explore Health Care Careers ▸ Careers A-Z ▸ Cardiovascular Perfusionist

Careers in health care: Let us help you find your fit

Contact us