Perfusionists set up and control equipment that takes over the workings of the heart and lungs during heart surgery and other operations. They also monitor the patient's condition, and have responsibility for the drugs and solutions used during the operation.
Also known as
- Clinical Perfusionist
As a Perfusionist, you will be setting up and controlling the heart-lung bypass equipment that takes over the workings of the heart and lungs during heart surgery, and other operations such as liver transplants.
This equipment pumps blood around the body and replaces carbon dioxide with oxygen in the patient's bloodstream. Blood returns to the patient's body with the correct level of oxygen and at the right temperature.
Perfusionists have to monitor the patient's condition very closely and use equipment to replace blood loss. You will also be involved in a number of other tasks, such as interpreting blood gas and chemistry, and doing research to develop new types of equipment.
You will also be taking part in isolated limb perfusion. This is used to treat dangerous cancers in the arms or legs. During this procedure, the surgical team uses a tourniquet (a tight band) to stop the blood flow to and from the limb. You will be providing an artificial blood flow during the operation, keeping the limb isolated and allowing drugs to be delivered directly into the blood of the limb.
Liver transplants are becoming more common. The operation can be lengthy and unpredictable, at times involving heavy blood loss, so you must be able to adapt to the changing situation.
You are very much part of a team. You will work very closely with Surgeons, Anaesthetists, Nurses and other support staff.
The Perfusionists role is essential and carries with it a very high level of responsibility. The Anaesthetist hands over responsibility to you, so for the period of the operation you are in complete control of the patient's functions.
Perfusionists also have responsibility for drugs and solutions that could be lethal if used incorrectly.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Perfusionist, you'll need:
- good knowledge of the human body, including anatomy and physiology
- the ability to understand the operations you are involved in
- a knowledge of pharmacology; Perfusionists are responsible for the drugs used in surgery
- quick reactions in emergency situations
- a strong sense of responsibility
Teamwork skills are essential. Although the Surgeon is the leader, all the other people involved are equally important. The success of the operation - and the patient's life - depends on everyone carrying out their role properly.
Pay and Opportunities
NHS employees are paid on a rising scale within defined pay bands, according to their skills and responsibilities. The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Band 7: £37,570 - £43,772
Higher salaries are available for people in senior positions such as Principals and Consultants.
Hours of work
Perfusionists usually work 37 hours a week. However, this is not a nine to five job. Late-night working and an on-call rota system (to deal with emergencies and out-of-hours operations) are usual.
Where could I work?
Vacancies are limited to hospitals that carry out major open-heart surgery and organ transplants.
There are opportunities for Perfusionists to work in other countries. A British qualification in perfusion is highly thought of in many other parts of the world.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on the website of the Society of Clinical Perfusion Scientists of Great Britain and Ireland (SCPS). They also appear on the NHS Jobs website.
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Perfusionist, you first need to enter employment as a paid Trainee Clinical Perfusionist.
You will then combine on-the-job training with part-time block-release study towards a postgraduate qualification (postgraduate certificate, diploma or MSc) in perfusion science.
You can then register with the Society of Clinical Perfusion Scientists of Great Britain and Ireland (SCPS).
Trainees will need to meet the requirements for entry to this course. This is a relevant honours degree or postgraduate qualification, usually in a relevant biological science subject. Chemistry and physics may also be acceptable, if you also have relevant clinical experience.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
Progression to senior positions is possible by taking special responsibilities and advanced qualifications, as well as becoming involved in clinical research.
Previous experience working in a caring environment such as in a hospital or in a care home would be useful for this career.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
This career is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to.
This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
To enter a degree course in biological science, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels where biology is usually essential and you may need at least one other science subject
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above where either English or maths, or both, can be specified
Some universities ask for chemistry if this is not being offered at A level.
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check college/university websites very carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications you need to enter a relevant degree, you might be able to start one after completing a college or university Access course, such as Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to start an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
- 11% of people in occupations such as perfusionist work part-time.
- 4% have flexible hours.
- 5% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Professional institutions have the following roles:
- To support their members.
- To protect the public by keeping standards high in their professions.
The Society of Clinical Perfusion Scientists of Great Britain and Ireland is the professional institution for this career.
NHS Wales Careers
Publisher: National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare
Step into the NHS
Tel: 0345 6060655
Skills for Health
Skills for the health sector
Address: Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 9221155
NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
Address: Westport 102, West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DN
Tel: 0131 6563200
Society of Clinical Perfusion Scientists of Great Britain and Ireland
Address: Fifth Floor, The Royal College of Surgeons of England, 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PN
Tel: 020 7869 6891
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales