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ECMO Specialist vs. Perfusionist: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

ECMO specialists and perfusionists are both medical professionals who work with heart and lung patients. ECMO specialists are responsible for operating the ECMO machine, which is a life-support system that takes over the functions of the heart and lungs. Perfusionists, on the other hand, operate the heart-lung bypass machine during surgery. In this article, we compare and contrast the job duties, education and training requirements, and salary information for ECMO specialists and perfusionists.

What is an ECMO Specialist?

ECMO Specialists are medical professionals who operate extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines. ECMO machines are used to provide temporary cardiac and respiratory support to patients whose organs are failing. ECMO Specialists are responsible for the care of ECMO patients, from initial assessment and placement of the ECMO cannula to the patient’s discharge from the ECMO unit. They work closely with the patient’s medical team to ensure that the ECMO machine is functioning properly and that the patient is receiving the best possible care. ECMO Specialists are also responsible for providing education and support to the patient’s family members.

What is a Perfusionist?

Perfusionists are allied health professionals who operate and maintain heart-lung bypass machines during open heart surgery. They are responsible for ensuring that the patient’s blood circulates properly and that they receive the correct amount of oxygen. Perfusionists also operate other medical equipment, such as ventilators and dialysis machines. They often work as part of a surgical team and must be able to quickly and efficiently respond to changes in the patient’s condition. Perfusionists must be able to maintain a high level of concentration and focus during surgery, as even small mistakes can have serious consequences.

ECMO Specialist vs. Perfusionist

Here are the main differences between an ECMO specialist and a perfusionist.

Job Duties

While both an ECMO specialist and a perfusionist work to provide blood circulation for patients, their duties differ. A perfusionist performs traditional cardiopulmonary bypass procedures, such as heart surgeries or lung transplants. They also manage the ECMO machine and monitor patient vitals during treatment.

An ECMO specialist’s job duties are more extensive. They conduct training and education on ECMO use and perform follow-up care with patients after they leave the hospital. In addition, an ECMO specialist may assist in making decisions about whether to transfer a patient to a facility that offers long-term ECMO support or consults with other medical professionals regarding a patient’s overall treatment plan.

Job Requirements

ECMO specialists and perfusionists are medical professionals who operate machines that circulate blood and oxygen to patients’ organs. They typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as biology or physiology, before completing a one-year ECMO training program. Some perfusionists also pursue a master’s degree in perfusion technology. After completing their education, ECMO specialists and perfusionists must obtain certification from the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion before they can begin working.

Work Environment

Both EMCOs and perfusionists work in hospitals, but the environments can differ depending on where they’re employed. For example, an EMCO may work in a hospital’s emergency department or operating room. They also may travel to different locations to provide care for patients who need it.

Perfusionists typically work in a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU), although some may work in other areas of the hospital as well. The environment is often fast-paced and stressful, so perfusionists must remain calm under pressure.


Both ECMO specialists and perfusionists need to have excellent problem-solving skills. This is because they are often working with patients who have complex medical needs and require innovative solutions. They also both need to be able to work well under pressure, as they may be required to make quick decisions in emergency situations.

ECMO specialists need to have strong interpersonal skills, as they will be working closely with patients and their families. They need to be able to build trust and rapport so that patients feel comfortable sharing information about their condition. Perfusionists also need to have strong interpersonal skills, as they will be working with a team of surgeons, nurses and other medical professionals. However, they may not have as much direct contact with patients.

ECMO specialists need to have a deep understanding of the heart and lungs and how they work together. They also need to be familiar with the different types of ECMO machines and how to operate them. Perfusionists need to have a deep understanding of the circulatory system and how it works. They also need to be familiar with the different types of perfusion machines and how to operate them.


The average salary for an ECMO specialist is $101,999 per year. The average salary for a perfusionist is $136,900 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the location of the job, the level of experience and the type of employer.


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