If you’ve found your way to this article, then chances are you are at least somewhat interested in becoming a perfusionist. You may have already discovered that a simple “how-to” Google search on this subject gives you scattered results at best. Let’s break down the steps of becoming a perfusionist, starting with training and ending in a glimpse of a beginner’s salary.
Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree
Nearly all perfusion programs or graduate schools require a bachelor’s level education. However, most schools don’t require you to have a specific bachelor’s degree. This is great news for those of you with a biology or science background looking for a career change or alternative options to medical school. With that said, some programs do require certain prerequisite courses, especially master’s programs. These courses may include microbiology, biochemistry, physics, anatomy, and physiology.
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As a perfusionist, your job is not only to take care of the patient but to take care of their loved ones as well. Making the connection happen between a vulnerable patient and their family and friends is almost as important as the surgery itself. And let’s not forget you will also be taking care of the surgeon to an extent. When the surgeon or surgeons have confidence in you, they can relax and just concentrate on the operation, which is where their focus needs to be in the first place.
If you’re currently enrolled in a bachelor’s program and considering a career in perfusion, it would be helpful to talk to your academic advisor to see if you can fit these courses in before you graduate. If you’ve already obtained your bachelor’s, you may find it expensive to go back and take these prerequisites (which cannot be covered by federal loans if taken outside of a designated program). It may be in your best financial interest to seek out an accredited perfusion training program instead. When it comes to the perfusion field, all roads lead to the same career.
Step 2: Get a Certificate or Master’s Degree
Thankfully, your training options are short and simple. You can either 1) enter an accredited perfusion training program or 2) enter a master’s level perfusion graduate program at a college campus or university. Both options take about the same amount of time to complete, which is around two years. Going the graduate school route tends to be more expensive than the training program route, with the cost of college tuition increasing across the board every year.
In training, you will study pathology, physiology, and the equipment used to support or assume the function of the heart and lungs. You will learn to understand the respiratory and circulatory systems and how to operate advanced equipment. You will also learn valuable skills needed in the operating room, like improving your attention to detail, handling stressful situations, and effectively communicating with the surgical team throughout surgery.
Upon finishing a perfusion training program, you will be granted a certificate of completion, qualifying you to move on to the next step of national board certification. Upon finishing a graduate program, you will be issued a master’s level diploma, also qualifying you for board certification.
Step 3: Get ABCP Certified
Before completing your training program or graduate school, you are required to complete a minimum of 150 hours of on-site training at an academic medical center. Once you’ve finished and you’re headed toward graduation, this is the time to start studying for your American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion exam. The ABCP is the official national body that decides whether or not you become a certified perfusionist.
If you enroll in an accredited training program or college, your instructors and advisors will help you prepare for this exam in the months leading up to it. In addition to the ABSP, some states may require additional certification on the state level, so make sure you do your homework before enrolling.
Step 4: Get to Work and Get Paid
Great news for you: a career in perfusion only takes two years of school before you start making money. Perfusionists are in high demand right now due to a national shortage, and that means a larger salary all around. Hospitals, medical centers, clinics, healthcare companies, and individual surgeons are always looking to hire out of school.
On average, the starting salary for a new perfusionist is in the low six figures up to $125,000 depending on location. The average salary for the profession is $129,000, with most reaching $140,000 or higher by the 20-year mark.
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