Inside an ECMO Specialist’s Life-Style

Written by: Dalton Sanders, MBA, BSN-RN, CCRN, CES-A

What is ECMO?

ECMO stands for Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation. Inserted into the patient are two very large central catheters. One is for blood drainage and one for blood return. The central catheters as also known as cannulas. The placement of these catheters depicts the mode of ECMO treatment. Two basic modes exist, which always begin with a venous drainage cannula. A venous or an arterial return cannula is inserted depending on the clinical picture.

The acronyms V-V or V-A ECMO is descriptive for what kind of ECMO the patient is receiving. Using a pump, blood drains from the patient and circulates through an oxygenator. The oxygenator, known as the artificial lung membrane, hyper-oxygenates the blood and removes excess carbon dioxide. Oxygenated blood is sent back to the patient. In V-V ECMO, there is no cardiac or hemodynamic support provided. Only the lungs are supported. In V-A ECMO, the heart and lungs are supported simultaneously.

What is an ECMO Specialist?

An ECMO Specialist is an RN or RT specially trained to manage patients on ECMO. They manage the circuit and other aspects such as ventilator, labs, blood products, vasoactive medications, sedatives, and paralytics under provider direction. Historically, ECMO training is done within the hospital. As education and training has advanced, a few training programs now exist.

What is a traveling ECMO Specialist?

After a few years of working as a specialist, the RN or RT can opt to start traveling. Working for an organization like Heartbeat Perfusion Solutions, you fill in blocks of time at hospitals with a surplus of ECMO patients or staff deficit.

Whereas most travel nursing assignments are about 13-week agreements with 36 hours per week, ECMO travel assignments are different. Traveling specialists can work a week or two straight and then take time off. They might only fill in a 3-day weekend before returning home. It is not uncommon for me to work in 2-3 different facilities a week across multiple states before returning home.

There is more flexibility with traveling specialist positions than other more traditional forms of travel. This is in part to a smaller population of specialists. The needs also shift from day to day as opposed to month to month. Some hospitals do not employ ECMO Specialist. At these facilities, they rely on perfusion for initiation and then request travel staff immediately upon cannulation.


Edits by: Claire Lang, BSN-RN


This blog is sponsored by Heartbeat Perfusion Solutions, an OHN Partner. Heartbeat Perfusion Solutions is a Cardiovascular Perfusion staffing agency. They deliver comprehensive Perfusion Services with dedication, excellence, and above all, compassion.

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