Carlow’s partnership with UPMC prepares perfusionist students for solid careers

PITTSBURGH — Courtney Claar ‘19 is academically driven and ambitious, but she never once took her education for granted. 

She was the first person in her family to go to college. Her family could not coach her through the college landscape, but when she sought help on campus, she learned the Carlow faculty were willing to answer questions and guide her along the way.

Today Claar has her bachelor of science degree in Biology and master of science degree in Cardiovascular Perfusion by completing the five-year program at Carlow. With the skills she learned from her time in the program, Claar now plays an instrumental role in the health care world.

Stephen Boreck PhD in Carlow’s biology department was the first faculty member to help Claar during her visit as a high school senior. After learning of her interest in biology, he recommended Carlow’s unique, fast-tracked program to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cardiovascular perfusion. 

In the operating room (OR), a perfusionist monitors the heart-lung machine that performs the heart’s essential functions. Also known as the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, the heart-lung machine takes over the heart’s functions by pumping blood and adding oxygen to the blood. Perfusionists are essential members of a surgical team and help to save lives by providing high quality care in the OR.  

Borecky’s advice would eventually shape Claar’s career decision to become a perfusion technician.

“Courtney had strong skills coming into the program. She not only had the academic skills, but the personality to handle the stresses of the profession,” Borecky said.      

The profile of someone who would do well in the perfusion program is a student who has a strong academic record, particularly in the sciences and math, and an ability to work well under pressure, due to the nature of the operating room and the high demands of the surgical team. According to Claar, students should also have some level of mechanical aptitude to be able to operate the heart-lung machine.

Carlow’s program incorporates 18 months of clinical training at UPMC Shadyside. Claar started training at Shadyside in the summer after her junior year and completed it in November after her senior year. She started her full-time job on the day after Christmas 2019.  

Claar is now a perfusionist at Charleston Area Medical Center in West Virginia. She works daily on a surgical team made up of an open-heart surgeon, nurses and lab technicians. Her important works centers around the functions of the heart-lung machine.

The career is challenging, according to Claar, but not without benefits. Perfusion technologists earn competitive salaries among medical professionals with similar years of educations, with some starting salaries falling in the low six-figures. 

“In terms of a value proposition, graduates of Carlow’s perfusion program require a four-year college degree followed by five terms to complete the master’s degree before fulfilling a significant role in the operating room. Doctors must spend years in medical school and residency. In the workplace, perfusionists tend to have more predictable work schedules than surgeons, while also earning an attractive salary,” Borecky said. 

Borecky actively visits high schools to talk about the profession and find students who would be a good fit for Carlow’s perfusion program, which is how he first met Claar. He is “pumped” to show how students with potential could one day be an important member of a surgical team. 

Learn more about majoring in Cardiovascular Perfusion. 

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