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Certified Clinical Perfusionist (C.C.P.)


How does a person stay alive during open heart surgery? What type of medical technology is used in high risk surgeries? Who controls and monitors the heart and blood during such operations? Certified clinical perfusionists (CCP) are certified medical technicians responsible for the oxygenation of blood outside the body during open heart surgery. Working as a part of the "heart team," they are also in charge of the operation and maintenance of the equipment, such as a heart-lung machine or controlling the perfusion.

Certified clinical perfusionists are trained and educated specifically for the selection, setup, and operation of a mechanical device earlier referred to as the heart-lung machine. During most open heart surgeries, a patient's heart is stopped so that it is easier for the surgeon to work. The patient's blood is diverted away from the heart and lungs into a heart-lung machine. This machine takes blood out of the body, oxygenates it, and then returns the blood to the patient, thereby keeping him or her alive in the process.

In effect, the heart-lung machine assumes the function of both the heart and the lungs during an open heart operation. The clinical perfusionist is responsible for operating this machine during surgery, monitoring the altered circulatory process closely, taking appropriate corrective action when abnormal situations arise and keeping both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist fully informed. This is serious teamwork, therefore communication lines must be open and as clear as possible due to the risky nature of the operation.

Certified clinical perfusionists also perform other tasks besides operating the heart-lung machine and act as support for other medical specialists. They operate mechanical devices to assist in the conservation of blood and blood products during surgery, and also provide long-term support of the patient's circulation outside and after the operating room environment. After a long, trying operation, the patient is closely monitored until stabilized.

Working as a clinical perfusionist can often be full of adrenaline and stress. Since they treat many patients who stop breathing, these cases are a matter of life and death, which means that sometimes the patients do not survive. This is definitely the hardest part of the job. The flip side however, is the reward felt for saving so many lives.
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  Interests and Skills  
Certified clinical perfusionists need great communication skills, and the ability to work both independently and in health care teams. They have a genuine compassion and interest in caring for others, and can think and act quickly in crisis situations. Perfusionists are organized and have good problem solving skills. Finally, they are empathetic and sympathetic to their patients' needs and like to educate people on proper breathing techniques and lifestyle changes.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Set up cardiopulmonary bypass circuits
  • Assemble, maintain and operate extracorporeal circulation equipment, intra-aortic balloon pumps and other heart assist devices to support or temporarily replace patients' cardiopulmonary functions during open heart surgery
  • Administer blood products, drugs and other substances through heart-lung machines and other devices as directed by cardiac surgeons and anaesthetists
  • Operate the heart-lung machine for routine adult cardiac cases such as coronary artery bypass grafting, and valve repair or replacement
  • Monitor vital signs to maintain patients' physiological functions during cardiopulmonary surgery, such as blood pressure and fluid balance
  • Supervise and train student clinical perfusionists and other clinical perfusionists
  • The exact duties and responsibilities of a certified clinical perfusionist are often dependent upon the particular institution where an individual works. They generally work standard 40-hour work weeks, which may include evening and weekend work. However, depending on how many patients are in need of surgery, the hours can extend very significantly. Some perfusionists are on call and they may be called in at any time of the day or night, when an emergency or open heart surgery arises. Some clinical perfusionists say that they learn to live by the sound of their pager.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Certified clinical perfusionists work in hospitals. Those who work in large hospitals generally work in emergency departments, intensive care units, chronic cardiopulmonary disease units, operating theaters and recovery rooms and medical and surgical floors, or in rapid transport of critically ill patients.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Certified clinical perfusionists with years of experience may advance to clinical specialist or supervisory positions. They may also move into respiratory therapy or technology. However, due to the specified nature of the training, without further schooling, other opportunities for advancement are limited.

  Educational Paths  
Certified clinical perfusionists generally have bachelor's degrees in a related heart specialty area, such as respiratory therapy or registered nursing. Once graduated, they must complete a one-year college program in perfusion, which will include a work period in a hospital. In order to become certified, they must pass an examination to gain the title CCP.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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