Magnarelli: New York State Must License Operating Room Perfusionists

If nail technicians, interior designers and massage therapists require licensing from the state, shouldn’t the professionals who operate machines that assume a patient’s life functions during surgery also have to meet certain standards?

Perfusionists are the specialists who operate critical heart-lung machines during major operations, such as open-heart surgery. Perfusionists are also responsible for monitoring in the medical environment, blood salvage technologies before, during and after medical procedures, and cardiac support systems throughout the hospital. Many are integral to robotics programs, laser systems or other ancillary technologies. Surprisingly, however, New York does not require licensing or certification for perfusionists – something most other states regulate.

To ensure our health care professionals are properly trained and accredited, I have introduced legislation that requires licensing for perfusionists, establishes a state board of perfusion and provides for a continuing professional education curriculum for those involved in the profession (A.10822). Doctors and professors from University Hospital and members of the New York State Society of Perfusionists that have spoken to my office believe that implementing a licensing procedure and state board will be in patients’ best interests.

Presently, perfusionist certification by a national board is only voluntary. That means that a person could potentially be operating heart-lung machines without any sort of formal training. Currently in New York, there are just over 200 perfusionists. The legislation I sponsored also creates a transitional period that allows hospitals to maintain the appropriate staffing after the licensing procedures become law. It also allows for reciprocity of licensing with neighboring states.

The week of May 1 – 7 was National Perfusionist Appreciation Week. It’s important that we recognize and understand the vital role these specialists play in our hospitals and health care facilities. Perfusionists occupy a highly technical and skilled profession that saves lives. For their professional advancement – and the safety of patients – it’s time for New York to license perfusionists.