Training, lack of staff… The alarm signal for perfusionists, this little-known profession, who “ensure the patient’s survival while their heart is stopped”

Paid like simple nurses, this medical profession little known to the general public demands real status and better remuneration, because, today, the profession is no longer attractive and this can have dramatic consequences.


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Illustration of an operating theater.  (PATRICK VALASSERIS / AFP)

Today there are only 300 in France. And since this summer, “a child dies every monthdue to not being able to undergo heart surgery at the Necker hospital: this is Olivier Raisky, the head of the cardiac surgery department of the Paris hospital who launched the alert in December 2023. The cause: the lack of staff in the operating room and in particular perfusionists. This little-known, very demanding profession is essential for open-heart operations, but also in intensive care.

The patient’s blood is diverted to an extracorporeal circulation machine. It is oxygenated and then it is reinjected into the patient to ensure their survival while the heart is stopped, explains Laurent Mathieu, perfusionist at Bordeaux University Hospital. This allows the surgeon to intervene on a heart that is not moving and is empty of blood.

“Nurses are quickly put off”

Like other perfusionists, Laurent Mathieu trained on the job: there is in fact no need for a diploma other than that of nursing to practice this profession. However, there is a two-year training course, but it is not valued. “L“Nurses who come to replace perfusionists who are retiring are quickly put off by the responsibilities which are important, a salary which is not enough and long overtime hours to compensate for the lack of staff”denounces Laurent Mathieu.

The professional, who founded the National Union of Perfusionists (SNPerfu), is awaiting a gesture from Catherine Vautrin, the new Minister of Health. Otherwise, with his colleagues, he plans to go on strike.

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