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Ecmo exam

Upstate professor leads team to develop, launch first ECMO Specialist Certification exam

An Upstate Medical University professor led a team of specialists from across the country to develop the first certification exam for an advanced piece of operating room equipment that is being used frequently with severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Jeffrey Riley, MHPE, CCP Emeritus, LP, is a research associate professor in the department of cardiovascular perfusion at Upstate. Riley has been a perfusionist—the person who operates the heart-lung machines during open-heart surgery and life-support equipment in the ICU—for 46 years, with most of his career spent at the Mayo Clinic.

For the last decade, Riley has been working with the American Society of Extracorporeal Technology to develop an official certification for the operation of a common tool used by perfusionists: the ECMO machine. ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The ECMO machine handles oxygen delivery to the patient’s body, allowing a person’s lungs to rest and heal. Patients can rely on an ECMO machine for a few hours or weeks at a time. The device has been in high demand – right along with ventilators – for some of the most severely ill COVID-19 patients, Riley said.

Any number of health professionals can operate one as an ECMO specialist—a nurse, doctor, respiratory therapist or perfusionist—which can lead to different methods of operating the machine.

“Depending on who was training you, you could be a better, safer, more flexible ECMO specialist,” Riley said. “We started realizing there was a lot of variation in job performance, which lead to variation in accidents, incidents and complications.”

Riley spent 13 months working with 19 ECMO experts across the country to develop an exam to award an official ECMO Specialist certification from the American Society of Extracorporeal Technology. The team, which included fellow Upstate professors and certified clinical perfusionists Edward M. Darling, MS, CCP, and Bruce E. Searles, MS, CCP, documented its entire certification exam creation process, which was recently published in The Journal of ExtraCorporeal Technology.

The 100-question test, which covers more than 700 skills, abilities and knowledge points, was offered for the first time this spring, Riley said. The exam costs $150 and is offered online with a neutral exam proctor present, usually a librarian or human resources staff person. To date, more than 175 specialists have taken the exam with an average score of 84 percent and an 86 percent pass rate.

That score is about what the team expected, Riley said, and he’s been pleasantly surprised with how many doctors have taken the exam.

The new certification is especially important as the perfusionist field is not as big as the demand, especially during the pandemic, Riley said. The Upstate Clinical Perfusion Program is one of only 17 programs in the United States. Those programs graduate about 250 perfusionists a year, adding to 5,000 perfusionists across the country. The ECMO certification requires a re-certification process every two years.

For more information or to apply to take the exam, visit: http://intbbm.org/ces-certification/.

Caption: From left, Bruce E. Searles, MS, CCP; Jeffrey Riley, MHPE, CCP Emeritus, LP; and Edward M. Darling, MS, CCP. With them are two types of ECMO machines used at Upstate. Riley, at center, holds an oxygenator, which is component of an ECMO machine.