What is a Perfusionist?

Perfusionists: Who we are

Perfusionists operate the heart-lung bypass machine generally during heart surgery. This maintains safe and stable patient circulation while the heart is stopped for surgical repair.

Perfusionists may operate such equipment during any medical situation where it is necessary to support or temporarily substitute for the patient’s heart and lung function.

What services do perfusionists provide?

Perfusion describes the naturally occurring process of blood and oxygen delivery to the organs and tissues of the body.

Perfusionists utilise a heart-lung machine to facilitate blood circulation while the heart is temporarily stopped during heart surgery; and to facilitate blood oxygenation while the patient’s lungs are temporarily stopped. Cardiopulmonary bypass ensures perfusion of the patient’s organs and tissues. During heart surgery, the heart and lungs are bypassed and blood is pumped outside the body through plastic tubes and through an oxygenator – then back into the patient to deliver blood and oxygen to the patient’s organs and tissues.

Most heart operations require the services of a perfusionist to operate the heart-lung bypass machine. Some perfusionists specifically train to work in paediatrics.

Where do perfusionists practice?

Perfusionists work in operating theatres in public and private hospitals. Their main work is performed within a cardiac operating theatre, but they also work in Intensive Care Units, General, Orthopaedic, Vascular and Neurosurgical Operating theatres, Cardiac Catheter Laboratories and Research Laboratories.

When will I need a perfusionist?

A perfusionist is allocated to work with a Cardiac Surgeon when patients undergo cardiac surgery. Tertiary hospitals undertaking cardiac surgery employ a team of perfusionists.