How Long Have You Been in the Field? ·   

I have been a perfusionist for 18 years.         

What are the Benefits of a Career in Perfusion?

A career in perfusion fills you with satisfaction.  As a perfusionist, we are influential in restoring a life daily. We help give children a future and provide more time to adults needing heart surgery. Knowing that we save lives is one of the best benefits. If saving a life isn’t enough, there are other benefits as well, such as the work-life balance, being a part of a team, and autonomy in our work.

What is a Day in the Life of a Perfusionist Like?

As a perfusionist, you wake up early. If I am doing one of the first cases, I wake up by 5 a.m. I make my coffee and head to the hospital. I usually arrive by 6:30 a.m. and start to set up my room. My patient will come in the room by 7 a.m., just in time for me to get some breakfast. Depending on the case and surgeon, I will be done with this case around noon. Then, I do normal things like stock the pump room, check on the ECMO patients, and talk to my nurse friends before trying to head out for the day. I am an area manager, so I may also have a few hours of administrative work that needs to be done as well. 

What is Something You Wish All Perfusionists Knew to Prepare Themselves for Before Starting Their Careers?

Perfusion isn’t a job where you punch a clock and leave for the day, never to think about it again until the next day. Perfusion, as a career, is a choice. It is a choice we make to care for patients, a choice we make to work for amazing surgeons, a choice we make to sacrifice time at home, and a choice we make to miss some holidays. It’s an amazing career with such fulfillment in life, but it’s not easy. Being a good perfusionist isn’t passing all the tests in school. It’s hard work to be good. When you start out, you need to do every case and every ECMO insertion to learn. The more you do, the better you become. You must throw yourself into the stressful situations so that one day you will be calm enough to call the shots. You may miss holidays, birthdays, and Friday happy-hours with besties, but as a perfusionist, you must know in your heart you are helping someone and are right where you need to be in that moment when you were called in but weren’t on call.  

How Does a Perfusionist Contribute to the Well-Being of the Patient?

A perfusionist keeps the patient’s blood oxygenated and flowing while their heart is stopped and the surgeon is fixing the defect.  We monitor many parameters to make sure the flow is adequate for the patient. 

How Does a Perfusionist Change the Dynamic of the OR?

Perfusion is the life of the party, besides the surgeon and the anesthesiologist. Basically, the patients care is passed from the anesthesiologist to the perfusionist and then back to the anesthesiologist, all while the surgeon is working their magic. We are necessary for open heart surgery to occur, but we are also in the background until we are needed.  

What Advice Would You Give a New Perfusionist?

I would say to go with the flow and get as many cases as you can. Volunteer to stay late or help on the weekends. Being new only lasts so long and you only get one chance to make a good impression. Our field is very small and well connected, so don’t burn bridges because you never know when you may need to cross them. 

What is One Way a Perfusionist Can Set One’s Self Up for Greatness?

Be humble and always listen!

What Was a Surprise to You About the Career When You First Started and How Did You React?

I was surprised, 18 years ago, that the field was so small and everyone knows each other or there is someone that knows you. I reacted by working hard to make sure my reputation was good. I had to make sure that if I was known, it was for being a good perfusionist, a good teacher, and a good leader. 

What Led You to Become Interested in Perfusion and Can You Describe the Path You Took?

I happened to stumble onto perfusion while visiting Barry University. I was on the path to be a doctor, but started doing research on perfusion and fell in love with it. I directed my classes toward getting into the perfusion program and was accepted and started in August of 2001.  

What Has Been a Memorable Moment or Story You’d Like to Share From Your Career?

In 18 years, there are a lot of memories; some are good, and some are bad. I’ve cried with families over the loss of a loved one, and I have been fortunate enough to have many stories of laughing with families because we saved their loved one. One of the good ones occurred earlier in my career and it is memorable because it affected my grandmother in a way that I will never forget. The patient was a young girl that went into heart failure and came to us for a heart transplant. Her transplanted heart failed very quickly after she received it. She was place on a tandem heart pump, one of the first on a child. I remember the pump failing and having to replace it. The new heart was rejecting so badly that the surgeon had to fully remove it and place her on a BiVAD with “homemade atria” until she could get another heart. She was like this, without a heart, for a couple months until she received another heart. My grandmother followed her story once she found it in the news in her town in South Carolina because the patient was from there. Her family came down to us in Miami for her transplant. So, my grandmother was immediately connected to this young girl because I did all of her surgeries and they were both from the same state. I just remember it being a success story that my grandmother would ask me about daily.