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How to Become a Cardiopulmonary Perfusionist

by Fred Decker, studioD

Open-heart surgery isn't a trivial undertaking, for the patient or the medical staff. During the procedure, a patient's heart must be deliberately stopped so the surgeon can safely work on it. During that time, a technologist called a cardiopulmonary perfusionist keeps patients alive by using an external machine to circulate their blood and keep it oxygenated. It's a highly responsible position that requires four or more years of education.

Direct Entry

Enroll in one of the four schools offering a bachelor's degree in perfusion. They're located in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Complete the four-year baccalaureate program. The curriculum will include basic math and science courses as well as detailed instruction in the bypass procedures for adult and pediatric patients. Courses also include hands-on instruction in operating and maintaining cardiopulmonary bypass machines.

Perform at least 75 perfusion procedures during your education, demonstrating your competence to the satisfaction of your instructors.

Submit your application for certification to the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion, along with fees, educational transcripts and letters from your instructors documenting your experience and competence.

Take and pass the perfusion basic science examination, consisting of 220 multiple-choice questions designed to test your theoretical knowledge of perfusion and its scientific basis.

Perform at least 50 independent perfusion procedures after graduation.

Take and pass the clinical applications in perfusion examination, a second multiple-choice exam designed to assess your practical understanding of perfusion procedures. If you succeed, you'll receive a credential as a certified clinical perfusionist.

Prior Education

Earn a bachelor's degree in any related field, such as biochemistry or respiratory therapy. Your course work must meet the prerequisites for entry into a certificate or master's degree program in cardiopulmonary perfusion at the school of your choice. These vary by school and program, but typically include a broad grounding in basic sciences and mathematics.

Enroll in the cardiopulmonary program at your chosen school. Certificate programs typically last one year, while master's programs can take two to three years. In 2013, there were five accredited certificate programs and seven accredited master's programs across the country.

Complete the program's course work in science and perfusion technology. During the clinical portion of the program, perform at least 75 perfusions while demonstrating an acceptable level of competence and grasp of proper procedure.

Apply to the American Board of Clinical Perfusion for permission to take the perfusion basic science examination. Pass the examination and find employment with a suitable hospital, university or surgical clinic.

Conduct at least 50 independent perfusions after graduation to show that you have a working knowledge of the profession. Pass the clinical applications in perfusion examination, the ABCP's second certification exam.


  • Certification exams are available twice a year, in the spring and the fall. You can take both exams on the same day if you meet the education and experience criteria.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

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