Happy Perfusion Week! I am Sylvana McIntyre, one of five perfusionists that have recently joined a blended program at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. I have been a perfusionist for almost four years, and have been with SpecialtyCare for six months.

A career in perfusion was not something I had ever dreamed of or planned for. In fact, I had never heard of the word “perfusionist” until several years after graduating college with a biomedical engineering degree. Looking back, it was certainly the best decision I had ever made; but the journey that led me to where I am today was an interesting one.

While pursuing my engineering degree in college, I became very interested in providing emergency patient care and pursued my EMT license so that I could join a university-funded volunteer EMS program that was dedicated to saving lives during sporting and non-sporting events. It was through these experiences that I learned how much I enjoyed helping others and how to manage high-stress emergent situations.

I had two engineering jobs after college, one of which involved providing support in the field, and the other was providing support over the phone. It wasn’t until the second job that I realized that a desk job was not for me and that I wanted to get involved in more direct patient care. My desire was to be on the front lines saving lives and making a difference.

My Introduction to Perfusion

In 2013, I left my desk job to join a team as a Circulatory Support Specialists at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. I prepared almost all the cardiac devices available on the market for implantation as well as troubleshoot when needed, both in and out of the OR. It was during this time that I truly learned what a perfusionist was and what a critical role they played in the field of cardiac surgery. A perfusionist is a certified medical professional that is responsible for the extracorporeal oxygenation and circulation of the blood during open-heart surgery so that the surgeon can operate on a still and bloodless field.

I was so intrigued that I started asking questions, watched from a distance, interviewed perfusionists, and conducted research on the profession. The more I learned about it, the more I became inspired to pursue perfusion as a career.

I consider myself fortunate in the fact that it was during this moment, in 2014, that a new program was being developed at UTHealth McGovern Medical School, under the direction of Kirti Patel, now a National Clinical Specialist for SpecialtyCare. I was grateful to have Kirti as a mentor as well as an advisor in the months leading up to my application and interview process. After completing the one-year rigorous, yet immensely rewarding program, I graduated from the first inaugural class at the end of 2015 and become certified by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion in 2016.

Paying it Forward

Since graduation, I have served as a clinical instructor to new students and participated in a mentorship program for new students. I am very thankful for this past experience as it aided me in giving back to the new and prospective students, just as other perfusionists had done for me. I truly enjoyed the teaching and mentoring aspect of my job because not only did it help me impart my clinical knowledge to new students, but it also helped me keep up with my own skills, both didactically and clinically.

In November of 2018, I joined SpecialtyCare and began working at Houston Methodist Hospital alongside their in-house perfusion team. I have gained a great wealth of knowledge and skill set in this new role in just a matter of a few months and truly enjoying my job.

When people ask me what I love most about my job, I always tell them that there are no two days or two procedures that are ever the same. Each day brings forth new challenges, but with those comes an immense sense of reward as well. Knowing that I contribute daily to each patient’s survival and recovery is one of the best gifts in life. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to make an impact on the lives of our patients, their loved ones and our communities. I hope to continue to grow in this gratifying field and help others learn more about the profession.

I continue to highly encourage many to consider this profession as there are available opportunities in scholarships and education programs. SpecialtyCare is dedicated in the future of the profession is proud to offer the Brown-Brukardt Perfusion Scholarship, which is designed to support and assist cardiovascular perfusion students. SpecialtyCare also supports Thomas Jefferson University’s Institute of Emerging Health Professions Center for Perfusion and Extracorporeal Technology Education, with simulation equipment to help prepare students for the OR.