My name is Jessica Edwards, and I’ve been a perfusionist for 13 years, Chief Perfusionist for two of those. I have spent all 13 years at the same account in Southern Indiana where I’ve been able to form strong relationships with my perfusion team, OR team, throughout the hospital, and within SpecialtyCare.

I am very thankful that my mom, a now-retired NICU nurse, knew a respiratory therapist who became a perfusionist. As a result, she suggested that I look into this career path. Being a perfusionist is a niche career and it’s not for everyone. I feel like those of us that have become perfusionists almost knew right away that this is what we wanted to do. I read what a perfusionist was and shadowed one case when I decided, “Yes! This is what I want to do!” Thankfully, I was accepted into the Texas Heart Institute. 

Perfusion school was so eye-opening. I was so grateful for all of my experience with different cases, surgeons, and perfusionists. Since I was only 22 when I attended school, I wish I had known then how special that time was. I studied there with the great Dr. Cooley and didn’t realize I was in the presence of a legend at the time. I had a fantastic director, Terry Crane, and staff who cared about perfusionists’ futures. They tried to teach us as much as possible, so they sent out a great generation of new perfusionists.

I’ve been fortunate to be mentored by some wonderful perfusion leaders, like my first chief, Larry Quinn. He showed me how to lead by example, how to be part of a team, and how to stay humble. I love being a perfusionist. I can’t imagine any other career that would be as fulfilling as this one. It’s so special because it’s such an essential medical job that a large percentage of the world doesn’t know exists.

There are plenty of healthcare workers that don’t know this career exists. I hear from coworkers that they wish they would have known about perfusion because they may have chosen this path. This career is perfect for those that couldn’t decide if they wanted to go into engineering or the medical field. I feel like this is the best of both worlds. I’m surprised how quickly technology is changing and the different roles perfusionists continue to play in the field. We need to be adaptable and willing to accept change.

Being a perfusionist requires commitment, reliability, high morals, self-discipline, and self-motivation. I work with a small team of four to five people, and we all function well together with these traits. We all work to understand that we are a specialized group and need to take care of one another. With unusual hours and schedules that are often hard to plan for, we all volunteer extra time to cover cases or take calls for one another to help provide a better work-life balance. We operate with the understanding that if one of our team members needs help with a case or multiple unexpected cases happen at once, whoever can get there will do so as quickly as they can, regardless of where they fall in the call schedule. 

When I attended perfusion school, I thought becoming a perfusionist would be it. That was my long-term plan and, maybe before I retired, I would be Chief for a short while. I’d encourage perfusionists to see how they can expand upon this career and know that what they think might be the “top” can still be pushed higher or in a more expansive way.

I was invited on mission trips in 2017 and 2019 to the Dominican Republic. I can now say I have saved peoples’ lives that wouldn’t have had the chance of getting surgery. It’s pretty amazing to pump a case in a different country where they speak a different language. We hope to go back again next year. This is an excellent example of how I expanded my perfusion career and experience.

I also decided to aim higher. I proclaimed after passing my boards that I was never going back to school or taking a test again. However, I am currently 80% done with my Master of Business Administration, with a concentration in Healthcare Administration. Although the clinical world continues to bring new and exciting opportunities to perfusionists, I wanted to explore the business side to gain a broader understanding of how everything works.

My advice for new perfusionists is to understand how important this job is and how essential it is to building trusting relationships with your perfusion and OR teams. To set yourself apart, do more than what is asked of you. Give breaks, stay a little longer, trade or cover calls when you can, and help your team with their tasks and team objectives. If you see an outdated process that you might be able to streamline, bring that to the team’s attention and then take the lead on making it happen. Don’t get discouraged if all of the extra work you do goes unnoticed. Just keep high standards for yourself, and you’ll become a better teammate and possibly leader. Enjoy the ride!