What Is An Anesthesiologist?
If you have ever undergone surgery, you probably thought seriously about the skills and experience of the surgeon, who might literally be holding your life in his or her hands. But chances are there was at least one other medical doctor in the room—an anesthesiologist. The successful outcome of a surgery and healthy recovery depend just as heavily on the role of the anesthesiologist. But what is an anesthesiologist, and what does an anesthesiologist do?
An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who practices anesthesia, the use of medication to produce a loss of sensation—particularly pain—in the body. Without anesthesia, most surgical operations would not be possible. Anesthesia makes the patient comfortable and reduces anxiety. It also alleviates the physical and emotional shock of surgical procedures, making it possible for the surgeon to perform complex and delicate operations.
An anesthesiologist is much more than just an anesthesia doctor, however. Before an operation, the anesthesiologist evaluates patients to ensure they are healthy enough for surgery. During an operation, the anesthesiologist monitors the patient’s vital signs and adjusts medications to ensure patient comfort. After surgery, the anesthesiologist may monitor the patient’s recovery from anesthesia and assist in the management of post-operative pain.
IS AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST A DOCTOR?
An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in the administration of anesthesia and in critical care. An anesthesiologist may work on a team that includes such non-doctors as certified registered nurse anesthetists and anesthesia assistants.
Types of Anesthesia
An anesthesiologist can administer several types of anesthesia, depending on the nature and severity of the operation being performed.
General anesthesia involves rendering the patient completely unconscious for the duration of surgery. Putting the patient under always carries some medical risk, so general anesthesia is often reserved for the most major surgical procedures, including open-heart surgery and major joint replacement.
Regional anesthesia involves using nerve blocks, spinal injections, and other techniques to block sensation from a major portion of the body. It is often used for surgeries of the arms, legs, or abdomen. An epidural is a common form of regional anesthesia administered to alleviate the pain of childbirth.
Local anesthesia involves the use of injections to deaden sensation in a small part of the body. It may be used in fairly minor, highly localized operations, such as oral surgery or the removal of a mole. Local anesthesia may or may not be administered and overseen by an anesthesiologist.
Sedation involves the use of medications that produce a calming effect in the patient. Minimal sedation may render the patient drowsy but still able to talk. A patient put under deep sedation will not remember the surgical procedure. Sedation is often combined with other types of anesthesia to help alleviate anxiety and ensure patient comfort.
WHAT DOES AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST DO?
An anesthesiologist does not simply put you under before a surgical procedure and then leave. Instead, the anesthesiologist provides a range of perioperative care—that is, care before, during and after an operation.
Before an operation, the anesthesiologist meets with the patient to assess general health. The anesthesiologist may review the patient’s medical history, ask questions, and look over the results of any tests. The purpose of this exam is to form an anesthetic plan tailored to the patient’s needs. On the day of the surgery, the anesthesiologist helps to prep the patient for surgery and oversees the administration of anesthetic.
The anesthesiologist generally remains with the patient throughout surgery, monitoring heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and general level of awareness. The anesthesiologist adjusts medication as necessary to ensure the patient’s comfort and safety.
After the surgery, an anesthesiologist may monitor the patient in recovery, keeping the patient comfortable and checking breathing, circulation, blood oxygen levels, and general consciousness. The anesthesiologist may help decide when the patient has recovered from anesthesia enough to be moved to another area or discharged. Anesthesiologists may also help to develop a plan for dealing with post-operative pain.
A few anesthesiologists specialize in the treatment of nonsurgical pain. They may be involved in the management of such chronic conditions as migraine, fibromyalgia, and cancer pain.
Anesthesiologists are widely experienced in dealing with patients who are unconscious and in serious medical condition. For this reason, they may provide vital service in critical care units.
MEET AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST
George Soliman, MD, a 2013 graduate of AUC, is an anesthesiology and interventional pain management physician, owner/partner at Orthopedic Center of Florida. We asked Dr. Soliman to describe the role of an anesthesiologist.
Q: Why did you decide to go into your specialty?
A: My decision was based on having the perfect work life balance which has allowed me to start a family and to be present without missing important occasions due to work.
Q: Any advice to medical students considering the specialty?
A: Empathy and patience are important if you’re considering pain management.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Learning about the lives of my patients outside of their medical history.
HOW TO BECOME AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST
The path to becoming an anesthesiologist begins with four years of undergraduate education. It continues with four years at an accredited medical school, such as American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. AUC is accredited through 2021 by the Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM, www.accredmed.org), which is the accreditor used by the country of St. Maarten.
An anesthesiologist’s education continues with 3 to 4 years of residency, practicing the specialty under the close watch and tutelage of experienced professionals. Finally, the aspiring anesthesiologist must pass a board certification exam, such as that offered by the American Board of Anesthesiology.
Some anesthesiologists will continue on to pursue a fellowship in one of the discipline’s many subspecialties. They include:
- Pain management
- Cardiac anesthesia
- Pediatric anesthesia
- Obstetric anesthesia
- Critical care medicine
- Hospice and palliative medicine
YOUR CAREER AS AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST
As a career, anesthesiology tends to attract people who are scientifically minded. Attention to detail is important, as mistakes can have drastic consequences. An anesthesiologist must have the presence of mind to closely monitor often routine procedures and be ready to take decisive action when emergencies arise.
Interpersonal skills are important, as an anesthesiologist almost always works as a member of a care team. Most anesthesiologists work in a hospital or surgical clinic. Many anesthesiologists work long hours, requiring stamina, and night, weekend, or on-call duties are often part of the job. The payoff is an exciting, in-demand career and the reward of helping people at a critical time in their lives. Many anesthesiologists thrive on pressure and might be bored in a less intense role.
The overall job outlook for anesthesiologists is positive. Factors that specifically contribute to the need for anesthesiologists include an aging population and improvements in rates of insurance coverage. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, surgical procedures are on the rise, with more than 40 million conducted in the country each year.
Now that you know what an anesthesiologist does, are you interested in a high-demand career at the frontiers of medicine and surgery? Apply for admission to AUC School of Medicine to start your journey.