The role of a cardiovascular perfusionist is not for the faint of heart; it is a 24/7 career that is high-paced, stressful and often stretches into one's home life, requiring long work hours, evenings and weekends away from family on top of your regular work week. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC), home to Canada's largest cardiac and vascular patient volumes.
"We have a very dynamic team," says Cyril Serrick, Manager of Perfusion & Anesthesia Services at University Health Network (UHN). "Perfusionists receive experience here that they can get nowhere else in Canada. While the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre is the major part of our business, we also service Thoracic Surgery, Multi-Organ Transplant, as well the ECLS (Extra Corporeal Life Support) Programs, all of which require a unique skill-set and are constantly evolving."
For their contribution to perfusion education and promoting the profession, the Perfusion Department has been recognized with the Perfusion Team of the Year Award, presented by the Canadian Society of Clinical Perfusion a national body that encourages and fosters the development of the profession.
A perfusionist is a vital member of any cardiac surgery team, responsible for operating the heart-lung machine to keep blood circulating and oxygen flowing to vital organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and intestines.
During many types of open-heart and thoracic surgery, a patient's heart is arrested and blood is diverted away from the heart and lungs being pumped and oxygenated by the heart-lung machine. In effect, the machine does the pumping and breathing for the patient. The perfusionist is responsible for operating the machine during surgery, monitoring the altered circulatory process closely and taking appropriate corrective action when abnormal situations arise.
"Some of our team-members have over 20 years of perfusion experience, while others have less than a year," explains Cyril. "Some have been nurses and Respiratory Therapists in the past, while others have an undergraduate or graduate science background. All team members bring their own unique skills and perspectives that allow us to provide the best patient care possible in the busiest hospital in Canada."
Specifically, the Perfusion Department has been heavily involved in many professional development activities, from lecturing and operating simulation labs at the Cardiovascular Perfusion training program at the Michener Institute for Applied Technologies, to presenting at Canadian Society of Clinical Perfusion local and national as well as international meetings to promote best practices in the profession.
"The ECLS Symposium was a highlight for our group," says Cyril, when asked to illustrate the work of the team. Held in April, the two-day Symposium attracted over 60 participants, and included presentations from the perfusion team, physician leadership group and nursing partners. It also included a patient interview and half-day of comprehensive simulation sessions.
"All of our team members were involved in organizing and overseeing the Symposium," explains Cyril. "Even though people had to give up their weekend, everyone was proud of our accomplishments as a team, which was overwhelmingly apparent to the other professionals attending the Symposium. We received tremendous praise from perfusionists from other centres regarding how well everyone worked together and how valuable the conference was to them."
As patients continue to present with progressively more complex conditions, the roles and responsibilities of the perfusionist in providing cardiovascular support is continually being redefined.
"There are often times at the end of the day when emergencies come through our doors that the team always pulls together and rises to the occasion to look after not only our patients but each other," says Cyril. "That's what makes me proudest and why I consider it an honour to lead such a dedicated group of individuals."
The mission of the Canadian Society of Clinical Perfusion is to encourage and foster the development of the profession of Clinical Perfusion through education and certification, so as to provide optimum patient care.