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How to become a clinical perfusionist

You’ll need to apply for trainee opportunities on our recruitment website to become a clinical perfusionist.

What is a clinical perfusionist?

Clinical perfusionists set up and manage equipment used to support patients during:

  • cardiac surgery
  • isolated limb perfusion
  • extracorporeal membrane oxygenation therapy

Clinical perfusionists are also known as clinical perfusion scientists.

Starting your career as a clinical perfusionist

Choosing subjects at school

If you’re interested in a career as a clinical perfusionist, useful school subjects include:

  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Human Biology
  • Maths
  • Physics

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

To become a clinical perfusionist, you’ll need to complete a pre-registration training programme. You will also need an honours degree in a relevant scientific or nursing subject. You can apply for trainee opportunities on our recruitment website.

During the programme, you’ll complete:

  • an MSc in Perfusion Science at the University of Bristol at SCQF level 11
  • accredited work-based training

Once you have completed the training programme, you’ll sit the Certificate of Accreditation in Basic Clinical Perfusion Sciences exam.

When you pass the exam, you’ll register as a qualified clinical perfusionist with the College of Clinical Perfusion Scientists. You’ll then be ready to practise in the NHS.

Get to know the role

As a clinical perfusionist, you will mainly work in hospital operating theatres in a cardiac surgical team, though some aspects of the job will take you to other parts of the hospital, such as the intensive care unit.

Cardiac surgery

You’ll monitor and manage a patient’s blood flow, body temperature, and respiratory functions during cardiac surgery using a heart-lung machine, also called a cardiopulmonary bypass machine.

The cardiopulmonary bypass machine temporarily takes over the functions of the heart and lungs. It controls the patient’s respiration and pumps oxygenated blood around the body. 

Isolated limb perfusion

In isolated limb perfusion, you’ll keep blood and oxygen circulating in a patient’s arm or leg separate from the rest of their body. Very strong Chemotherapy drugs can then be delivered to the isolated area to treat a tumour.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)

Patients with severe cardiac or respiratory failure or those awaiting transplants may need extracorporeal membrane oxygenation therapy.

You’ll use an ECMO machine to oxygenate blood outside the body. It is then warmed and pumped back into the patient’s body to help their heart and lungs rest and recover over a long period of time, days or sometimes weeks.

It is commonly used in paediatric surgery to help children before and after complex heart surgery.

You’ll need these skills:

  • collaborating
  • communicating
  • decision-making
  • leading
  • problem-solving
  • critical thinking
  • dexterity

Clinical perfusionists work with other healthcare professionals, including:

  • surgeons
  • anaesthetists
  • theatre nurses
  • operating department practitioners
  • theatre support workers
  • cardiologists
  • cardiac physiologists
  • clinical scientists

You'll work in cardiac operating theatres.

Learning and development

Once you’ve become a registered clinical perfusionist, there are ongoing requirements for education and skills development. You’ll have lots of opportunities to go further and learn more.

Career progression

Clinical perfusionists are very specialised, but with training and experience, you could move into other roles, such as teaching or management.

Clinical perfusion scientists undertake academic research as a basic part of training. However, this can continue and expand once you have qualified, as is the case in many clinical scientist roles.

Professional bodies

Once you become a clinical perfusionist, you can register with the College of Clinical Perfusion Scientists of Great Britain and Ireland.

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