Almost everyone has heard of the medical specialty and practice of Anesthesiology but most people have no idea what Anesthesiologists do. Yes, they’re medical doctors that put people to sleep for surgeries and other medical procedure, but do they do anything else? Actually, yes, they do a lot! Anesthesiology is a broad medical field that includes an array of important responsibilities.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about anesthesiology. While there are plenty of horror stories that TV shows and movies love to latch onto, anesthesiology is very safe for most people.
What Kind of Training is Needed to Become an Anesthesiologist?
Anesthesiologists are incredibly well-educated. First, in order to become a medical doctor you have to complete of 4 years of undergraduate education and then complete 4 years of medical school. Post-graduate training requires a 1-year internship and then 3 additional years of specialized training called a residency, dedicated to the practice of anesthesia. A fully trained anesthesiologist definitely knows what they’re doing!
To shed some light on the world of anesthesiology, let’s check out some of the facts about this unique medical specialty that is centered around making sure you feel little to no pain during your surgery.
What is Anesthesiology?
Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine that relates to inducing “sleep”, blocking memory and blocking pain during medical procedures. However, anesthesiologists also provide care that goes on before, during and after the surgery. There are a number of sub-specialties in Anesthesiology that require additional training; a partial list includes Cardiac Anesthesia; Critical Care Medicine; Neurosurgical Anesthesia; Obstetrical Anesthesia; Pediatric Anesthesia; Pain Medicine; Regional Anesthesia; Transplant Anesthesia; and Trauma Anesthesia.
What do Anesthesiologists Do?
The clinical duties of an anesthesiologist vary and there’s much more for them to do other than just make sure you’re asleep. First, they participate in a pre-operative evaluation to determine if you are medically ready for surgery or if you need additional work up. Often times, patients need to be “tuned up” a bit before surgery, perhaps they need better nutrition for a month or two; they may be asked to stop smoking; you may need to take anti-biotics or have your blood pressure or blood sugar controlled better. Very often, the anesthesiologist will meet with you and make a plan to ensure that you are as ready for surgery as possible. During the Pre-operative visit, the anesthesiologist will discuss a pain management strategy, meaning how pain will be treated during and after your procedure or surgery. Your expectations regarding pain during your recovery is an important part of your preparation for surgery. Once the procedure day arrives, your anesthesiologist will meet you in the Pre-operative Area, assess your vital signs, start an IV and get you ready for surgery. They will accompany you to the operating room, place safety monitors required for anesthesia and give you the medication that induce anesthesia. During general anesthesia your breathing is usually controlled by a ventilator and a very specialized anesthesia machine that breathes for you and delivers the anesthesia gas. Your anesthesiologist will monitor your heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure, blood oxygenation and ventilation continuously during the procedure. Anesthesiologist are trained to use a bewildering array of drugs to maintain blood pressure, heart rate, unconsciousness and pain and – if needed – administer blood products that include red blood cells, plasma and platelets to make sure you remain safe during surgery. After the procedure, the anesthesiologist will reverse the effects of the anesthetics drugs and this will allow you to wake up from anesthesia.
Anesthesiologists are also trained in Critical Care Medicine, a sub-specialty of anesthesiology, and these specialized physicians work in the ICU and care for patients with life threatening condition. In the ICU, Critical Care Anesthesiologists have specialized training in resuscitation, use of ventilators, invasive cardiac monitors and circulatory assist devices.
On the Obstetrical wards, Obstetrical Anesthesiologists are specially trained to care for medical issues involving pregnant women and their child. OB Anesthesiologists help reduce the pain of child-birth by using a combination of IV medications and or local anesthetics administered via an epidural or a spinal anesthetic. Anesthesiologists also participate during C-sections, a surgical procedure that requires careful monitoring and specialized medications.
Finally, anesthesiologists can help with chronic pain that often requires different kinds of medications compared to acute pain. There are a growing number of procedures that Chronic Pain anesthesiologists can offer to mitigate chronic nerve pain.
In summary, anesthesiologists have a lot of clinical responsibilities but their main goal is always to help reduce pain the safest way possible.
What are the Different Types of Anesthesia?
There are several different types of anesthesia care that patients can receive and the type you receive depends on what kind of procedure you are going to have, your age, your medical history, medications and individual preferences. Other factors are also used by your Anesthesiologists in the decision-making process and ultimately helps ensure your safety during anesthesia.
The three main types of anesthesia are: 1) general anesthesia, the type you’re likely most familiar with. It’s typically administered by a combination of IV medications and inhaled gases, given through a mask and or a breathing tube, and it makes you unconscious and unable to feel pain.
The other major type is called “sedation anesthesia”. Patients remain partially awake during this but are given drugs for relaxation and pain (analgesia). Sedation may also make you unaware that the procedure is going on at all. This is used to help you get back to activities quicker than general anesthesia.
Finally, there’s regional anesthesia where an injection of a local anesthetic agent, called a nerve block is performed and it allows just the area of the surgery, usually and arm or a leg, to be completely numb during the operation. Other forms of regional anesthesia include spinal anesthesia and epidural anesthesia. Patients can remain awake during regional anesthesia or have sedation to suite their comfort level.
Is Anesthesia Safe?
In general, modern anesthesia is considered quite safe and it’s used in virtually all surgical procedure done today. Technological advances have made deaths from anesthesia very rare; perhaps only one in every 200,000 patients.
One of the main fears patients have with anesthesia is the fear of waking up during the procedure but being unable to communicate that you’re awake. As noted earlier, the anesthesiologist is constantly watching your vital signs and the depth of anesthesia, so you should not worry about waking up!
So, there you have it. While anesthesia is definitely something that can seem scary, it’s something that is very controlled and has been made very safe that there’s really no reason to be over-anxious. Anesthesiologists are incredibly well-trained medical specialists, and the practice has become safer with increasing levels of technology. Anesthesiologist undergo rigorous training to deal with virtually every life threatening situation.