Think about heart operations and most of us imagine people working in hospitals – heart surgeons, anesthetists, medical staff. The member of the team (or “cardiothoracic surgical team” as it is officially known) few of us have heard of is the cardiovascular perfusionist. Since April of this year, Steinbeis University Berlin has been providing perfusionists with special academic qualifications.
The number of tasks perfusionists have to perform has risen sharply in recent years. The role ranges from minimal invasive surgery using specialized technologies (navigation devices, telemanipulation) to cardiac support systems (artificial hearts) with the corresponding post-operative treatment of out-patients, processing of autologous blood, therapeutic treatment such as the detoxication of patients with liver disorders, caring for patients with implanted pace makers and defibrillators, and general hospital management tasks. With health companies coming under increasing pressure to cut costs and a plethora of often identical medical products offered by different companies, perfusionists need the qualifications to make informed and careful choices.
The perfusionist’s job is sometimes compared, in terms of profile, to that of an air traffic controller. As well as making sure all apparatus fulfils technical requirements, perfusionists monitor physiological parameters while the heart-lung machine is running.
Especially when starting the heart-lung machine or reducing pump output at the end of an operation, the patient’s circulatory and respiratory systems are tuned to extracorporeal circulation, balancing physiological and technical parameters which are set and controlled by the perfusionist. The slightest mistake in interpretation could be fatal. There is also very little time to make adjustments.
Standard training procedures are no longer sufficient to equip perfusionists with the right skills. Until now, perfusionists went on a two year training course at the Academy for Perfusion at the German Heart Institute Berlin, or DHZB. On an international level the profession requires at least a bachelors degree, with some countries stipulating a masters degree.
In cooperation with the German Heart Institute, Steinbeis University Berlin has been offering a bachelors of science degree in Cardiovascular Perfusion since April 2008. Graduates on the program are also given the opportunity to sit federal perfusion examinations for the state of Berlin and gain a parallel qualification. As a result, after two years’ study they are in a position to embark on medical roles in Germany and other countries. Once they have completed their degree, graduates have the qualifications they need to work in hospitals and clinics worldwide, as well as the biomedical engineering industry.