Perfusionist shortage

Linda photo 200pxLinda Mongero, CCP
Director of Education and Clinical Performance, SpecialtyCare
June 24, 2016

One of the most significant trends facing our industry today is the severe shortage of perfusionists. A current sample of 10% of active perfusionists found that nearly 50% are over 50 years old, and in 2015 there were almost 30% fewer new graduates entering the field than professionals leaving the field. This rate of decline cannot be sustained for long before the deficit poses serious risks to the 350,000 patients who need heart surgeries and perfusion services each year.

Frankly, I think the reason for the shortage is simple. Many young people interested in science and medicine just don’t know about perfusion when making career decisions. My colleagues and I know first-hand how remarkably awe-inspiring and rewarding it is to be a vital member of the surgical team—operating the heart-lung machine and other advanced equipment—keeping the patient’s heart pumping and the lungs breathing during surgery so that they benefit from the very best medical outcomes possible. That’s why we are absolutely committed to addressing the perfusionist shortage by encouraging talented men and women to enter the field, and we ask those of you in healthcare to help spread the word. Now, more than ever, perfusion is a very smart career choice.

There are many exceptional perfusion training programs for students to attend. At our annual Mechanisms conference this past May, we announced our involvement with the country’s newest perfusion education program—the Center for Perfusion and Extracorporeal Technology Education, part of Thomas Jefferson University’s Institute of Emerging Health Professions. (Watch our short video announcement here.) SpecialtyCare is supporting the program through the donation of equipment and technology for Jefferson’s high-fidelity simulation lab to ensure that the perfusionists of tomorrow are ready to manage the increasing diversity and complexity of extracorporeal assist devices. We are also providing the program director, SpecialtyCare Clinical Manager Brian Schwartz, CCP, RN, MBA. Having partnered with Jefferson for 10 years in cardiothoracic surgery, we’re proud to support their work in preparing the next generation of clinical perfusionists.

Our commitment to addressing the perfusionist shortage also extends to educational scholarships. SpecialtyCare will provide two scholarships every year for perfusion students enrolled at Jefferson’s Center for Perfusion and Extracorporeal Technology Education or any accredited perfusion training program in the U.S. These scholarships are awarded in memory of Jim Brown and Gary Brukardt, two men with close ties to SpecialtyCare who helped evolve the practice of perfusion and establish the model for outsourced perfusion services that we use today.

Jim Brown started out as a registered respiratory therapist. While working at Pittsburgh’s Shadyside Hospital in the 1970s, he attended Shadyside’s perfusion school, gaining certification as a perfusionist. Jim became the 2nd employee of Perfusion Services, Inc., which became PSICOR, and eventually the SpecialtyCare that we know today. In time, he became a senior member of the organization, but he always considered himself, first and foremost, a perfusionist. To those who knew him, Jim was a legend. He is remembered as a generous and passionate mentor—always pragmatic and fair, and willing to support and elevate individuals, the organization, and members of the perfusion community at large.

Gary Brukardt founded SpecialtyCare and served as its CEO and chairman. He led with a guiding philosophy: “If you do the right thing for the patient, then everything else will take care of itself.” Gary brought thoughtful disruption to healthcare, which enabled the company to tackle problems and devise innovative solutions for patient care. He was a listener and a visionary who understood that healthcare is all about people—people taking care of people. His life and his work impacted many, from those he collaborated with and mentored to the thousands of patients who benefited from his intense focus on providing high-quality, professional care.

Gary Brukardt and Jim Brown exemplified integrity, leadership, and unwavering dedication. We are thankful to their families for allowing us to provide perfusion scholarships to students who share these same qualities. As we look at the challenges facing the perfusion industry in particular and healthcare in general, we’re confident that these students will follow the path forged by Jim and Gary, and advance the practice of perfusion and patient outcomes throughout their careers.

These scholarships and support of Jefferson’s Center for Perfusion and Extracorporeal Technology Education program are just first steps to help shift the tide of the perfusionist shortage. We will continue to look for and explore opportunities to ensure that providers have the necessary supply of expert perfusionists ready to support the needs of America’s changing and aging patient populations.