A licensed perfusionist is a highly specialized and highly skilled health care professional whose main responsibility is to operate a heart-lung machine during open-heart surgery. In this capacity, a licensed perfusionist is the primary health professional with specialized training on the machinery and with the technology used to replace and support the patient’s circulatory and respiratory functions.
During surgery, at the order and direction of the cardiac surgeon, the licensed perfusionist:
- redirects the circulation of a patient’s blood outside of his or her body and through artificial organs (heart, lung, and kidney) to temporarily relieve the patient of his or her dependence on his or her own organs;
- administers medications to stop the patient’s heartbeat and protect the heart while it is stopped;
- reanimates the heart and is skilled at transferring the vital life-sustaining circulatory responsibilities back to the patient when the surgery is complete;
- is an expert in ventricular assist devices, artificial hearts, and membrane lungs;
- is skilled at interpreting patient data and managing patient circulatory and respiratory functions.
Since the skills of the licensed perfusionist are so specialized, he or she is an essential member of the surgical team and often plays a key role during transport of patients and organs supported by extracorporeal and intracorporeal technologies.