the ECMO Specialist

Who is truly qualified to be an ECMO SPECIALIST? The answer to that question seems to vary widely across the United States. Some believe ONLY perfusionists can really be the Specialist. Some believe Nurses and Respiratory Therapists might be trained to be technicians with Perfusion back up. Some believe Perfusion involvement isn’t a necessity.

There seems to be two primary camps. One camp has foundation in ELSO (ExtraCorporeal Life Support Organization) background where Nurses, Respiratory Therapists, and Perfusionists all have the same track to becoming an ECMO Specialist. And the second camp seems to be oblivious to the fact that Nurses and Respiratory Therapists have been providing high-quality ECMO support for over 30 years, sometimes with and sometimes without Perfusion support.

Historically, Nurses and Respiratory Therapists have been following ELSO Guidelines as far back as the early 1990s to provide high-quality ECMO support. My personal journey in the ECMO community started as a Respiratory Therapist back in the early ’90s. I worked in a RN/RRT ECMO program. It was and still is a well respected ECMO program with good patient outcomes. I continued my ECMO career at another ECMO program in Tennessee which was also an RN/RRT ECMO program. Also a very high-quality well-respected program. There are actually quite a few high-quality ECMO programs that operate without Perfusion involvement and have done so for many years.

Since starting ECMO Advantage in 2007, we have assisted many new ECMO programs start-up or realign to new equipment or different staffing models. We have utilized our RN/RRT ECMO Advantage Specialists to provide high-quality ECMO support to many patients with and without perfusion assistance. Some of our most successful high-quality ECMO program clients operate with RN/RRT ECMO Specialists with no involvement from perfusion.

So what really makes someone qualified to be an ECMO Specialist? I would argue, from experience, it’s not whether or not they have RN, RRT, or CCP behind their name. It’s whether or not they have been properly educated and trained to function in the role of ECMO Specialist. Over the last 12 years that ECMO Advantage has been training, educating, and working side by side with ECMO Specialists across the U.S., I would put some of the RN/RRT ECMO Specialists at the top of the list of highly qualified and skilled professionals supporting ECMO patients.

I might argue that the RN/RRT ECMO Specialist MIGHT even be the better candidate to provide the highest level of ECMO Specialist support. I have experienced the training process where Perfusionists, Nurses, and Respiratory Therapists can all be taught to function equally in the technical aspects of managing the ECMO circuit, equipment, and response to emergent procedures. But the advantage to the ECMO patient may actually fall on the side of the competently trained ECMO Specialist who also is a highly skilled and experienced ICU healthcare provider. The RN/RRT who has spent years working in the ICU caring for the critically ill patient may have a better understanding of the overall patient disease process as well as a better handle on the ICU environment in general.

The ECMO SPECIALIST should be a well trained, highly experienced RN, RRT, or CCP that has full command and understanding of not only the ECMO equipment, ECMO support processes, and emergent ECMO procedures (including how to AVOID the need for the emergent procedures), but should also understand the disease process, ICU care of that disease process, and how the ECMO support process can best be utilized to provide the most benefit to the patient. The ECMO SPECIALIST can provide the greatest ECMO Advantage if they are able to recognize how the ECMO support process impacts the ECMO patient as well as how the PATIENT and disease process impacts the ECMO system. Simply being an RN, RRT, or CCP does NOT automatically make you an ECMO SPECIALIST. All professions need to experience additional education and training to provide patients the greatest ECMO Advantage.

The following is a post from a few years ago discussing the difference between ECMO Specialist and ECMO tech.

ECMO tech vs ECMO Specialist…Does it really matter?

ECMO tech vs ECMO SPECIALIST…Does it really matter?
Let me answer that before you read on.  YES!!  It matters greatly!

ECMO Advantage has the opportunity to work with many institutions across the United States. We are also able to communicate and associate with other providers of extracorporeal support. One striking thing that I have noticed over the years is the wide range of expectations of the professional sitting behind the ECMO pump. These expectations range from simply having a bedside RN write down numbers and call someone if there is a problem…to a well trained, highly experienced ECMO Specialist (RN, RRT, or CCP) that has full command and understanding of not only the ECMO equipment, but also the disease process, ICU care of that disease process, and how the ECMO support process can best be utilized to provide the most benefit to the patient.

There are several ways to provide ECMO support and there are several devices and configurations of an ECMO system that can be used to support ECMO patients. There are many ways to manage the patient on ECMO. But I believe one aspect of quality care that is often overlooked is the ability of the ECMO Specialist to make all those things work together for the benefit of the patient. That is what we strive for at ECMO Advantage. All of our ECMO Specialists are RN’s, RRT’s, or CCP’s who have ICU backgrounds in addition to their many years as an ECMO Specialist. They all know what it’s like to provide long term care for a critically ill patient in the ICU. They understand the ICU environment and what is involved in the care of a patient on ECMO from the perspective of the ICU healthcare provider. In addition, they have full command and understanding of the ECMO process (that is not to say we are not all still learning!). The combined knowledge, skills, and experiences definitely provide an ECMO Advantage to the clients and patients we serve whether that be in the role of consultant, educator, preceptor, primer, coordinator, or the ECMO Specialist sitting at the pump.

ECMO Advantage Trains Local Hospital to Provide ECMO Transport Services

As the demand for ECMO support increases, one local hospital expands their ECMO support capability to retrieve sick patients who are on ECMO or may need ECMO to bring them back to their experienced ECMO Center in Nashville.

ECMO Advantage was honored to assist them with some ECMO education needs at our ExtraCorporeal Education Center (EC2) in Murfreesboro, TN.

News Channel 5 stopped by to see what we were up to…

Miracle Machine Makes Heroic Rescues — And Leaves Patients In Limbo

This article from Melissa Bailey of Kaiser Health News highlights some of the challenges we have with rapidly emerging technologies in healthcare. Part of the mission of ECMO Advantage has been to help institutions learn how to safely and responsibly utilize ECMO to provide the best possible care for their patients. Each institution has its own philosophies regarding what is best. We have had some client institutions that are very selective with the use of ECMO and maybe miss some opportunities to help a patient that did not go on ECMO. And some client institutions are very quick to place patients on ECMO in order to give every patient the greatest opportunity to benefit from ECMO even if they have very little reasonable chance of survival.

Is there a right way to approach this? How do you decide when to withhold or withdraw a potentially life-saving technology? Should it be up to the patient? Family? Individual Caregiver? Institution? Insurance? Government?

Having a clear understanding of what ECMO is, what it can do, and what it can’t do can be invaluable in the process of making those decisions.

Contact us and allow us to provide you with the ECMO Advantage!

ECMO System Type Survey

ECMO Advantage is Hiring

(Email if interested)

It’s an exciting time for ECMO Advantage as we are experiencing significant growth and positive momentum with an opportunity to serve the Extracorporeal Community. We are looking for the best of the best to join our family of top talent.

Go to to learn more or contact Laurie Fenton, Director of Clinical Services at

Comprehensive ECMO Training Course at EC²

ExtraCorpreal Education CenterOur inaugural 5-Day Comprehensive ECMO Training Course at EC² (our new state of the art ExtraCorporeal Education Center in Tennessee) is almost full! Early Bird Special for the February 12-16, 2018 course has ended. Registration is closed for the February 19-21 course. Our next open course is the 5-Day Comprehensive ECMO Training Course March 5-9, 2018. Register soon to take advantage of the Early Bird Special while spots remain.

ECMO Advantage offers scheduled courses at our new EC² year round. We are also available for custom courses at EC² or for courses structured specifically for your team provided on-site at your institution.

Contact Us to learn more!

Making Comprehensive ECMO Training Easier

ECMO Advantage is making comprehensive ECMO training easier! Many of our clients say they simply can’t commit five consecutive days to attend a comprehensive ECMO training course. We have heard you!  Learners can now take two 3-Day sessions weeks or even months apart.  Our traditional 5-Day ECMO Specialist Training Course has been converted into two 3-Day sessions called Mastering ECMO Fundamentals and Application of ECMO Fundamentals.  This new structure benefits the learner by allowing more time to deepen understanding of the content, making it easier to apply in the clinical setting. Plus, there is an additional day of simulation that will further strengthen critical thinking skills and technical expertise. ECMO Advantage continues to offer the traditional 5-day ECMO Specialist training course at your institution or at EC², our independent ECMO simulation center.

Mastering ECMO Fundamentals is a 3-Day session designed to provide comprehensive core curriculum focused on the fundamental principles of extracorporeal life support. This session will introduce the learner to key ECMO principles as described in the ELSO guidelines. Upon completion of this session the learner will have a deeper understanding of physiology and pathophysiology of extracorporeal life support and its clinical application.

Application of ECMO Fundamentals is a 3-Day session designed to employ the technical aspects required to manage an extracorporeal life support system. This is accomplished through the use of various scenario-based simulations in which the learner will perform emergent and non-emergent procedural skills and utilize their knowledge and critical thinking skills to address clinical alterations in care of the patient on extracorporeal support.

ECMO Advantage also offers training and simulation sessions customized to your specific needs. Contact Us to learn more about our customized services.

Explore our Upcoming Courses and allow us to share the ECMO Advantage with you!

Learn More