Anesthesiologists are an important part of the surgical team. Without them, surgeries would be very interesting — and a lot more painful.
One of the biggest duties of an anesthesiologist is to administer anesthetics to people undergoing surgery.
It requires great knowledge and experience to deliver local or general anesthesia, and the anesthesiologist takes on great responsibility to ensure their tasks are done to the best of their ability.
Anesthesiologists basically inject a mix of medicines into a patient which slows down the body system to a near-death level and blocks the pain signals from the brain.
Most commonly, the anesthesia comes in the forms of some kind of pain blockers, medications, injections, gasses, or other numbing agents. All of these pain blockers and numbing agents are essential in making sure that the patient is unconscious during the course of the surgery, or doesn’t feel any sensation or pain in the surgical area.
While it might seem easy, it is actually a lot more complex than that. Anesthesiology requires a lot of extensive training, education, and responsibility to ensure that you do your job correctly.
Essentially, an Anesthesiologist is a physician, and their goal is to make sure the patient is comfortable while they are undergoing surgery.
There is always a need for Anesthesiologists in the world of healthcare as there are millions of surgeries conducted a year, and each surgery needs an Anesthesiologist in some capacity.
There were approximately 51 million surgeries conducted back in 2010, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. As access to healthcare continually improves and healthcare insurance continually changes to become more affordable, the number of surgeries will continue to rise and Anesthesiologists will be needed in greater numbers.
Employment projections for Anesthesiologists are currently around 34,000 and expected to rise to around 52,000 over the course of the next decade.
Anesthesiologists are responsible for several different forms of anesthesia during surgery or medical procedures. The first type of pain relief that an Anesthesiologist can provide is called General Anesthesia. This is when Anesthesiologists put the patient to sleep while the operation is going on. This is to ensure they don’t wake up or disturb the surgery while it’s in process.
The second type of anesthesia that an Anesthesiology can provide is referred to as sedation. This type of anesthesia helps to calm the patient so they aren’t aware of the procedure. Typically this form of sedation is given through an IV.
The third type of anesthesia that an Anesthesiology can provide is regional anesthesia. This is when the anesthetic is injected into the nerves near an area that requires numbing before being operated on.
Typically this type of anesthesia is used when a smaller area is going to be operated on when the patient doesn’t need to be completely under more amounts of sedation to perform the procedure.
This form of sedation is also used when the surgeon is operating near a delicate region like the spinal cord.
One of the most important thing for Anesthesiologist involves accurate chemical calculations. These important calculations ensure that the correct ratio of anesthesia or pain relief is given to the patient before and during the surgery.
Too little anesthesia and the patient will feel every sensation or potentially endanger themselves by being aware of the procedure as it’s happening. Too much anesthesia and there could be fatal consequences.
As an Anesthesiologist, you need to have strong math skills to ensure you calculate the accurate dosage when you’re prepping the patient for surgery.
An Anesthesiologist is also responsible for providing critical care or emergency care whenever something goes wrong. For instance, an Anesthesiologist might have to provide critical care or critical support for breathing and circulation, make diagnoses, or assess patients before the surgery.
Because Anesthesiologists are also physicians, they are allowed to contribute to emergency medicine in the event that an emergency scenario arises.
Some of the emergency scenarios that an Anesthesiologist should be prepared to handle include advanced life support techniques, pain control, patient stabilization, cardiac resuscitation, airway clearance, and more.
Some Anesthesiologists are required to seek additional training or qualifications, as part of their continuing education credit requirements. While some facilities or hospitals might require additional training or qualifications as a requirement, other Anesthesiologists will pursue these continuing education opportunities as a way to specialize in a particular skill and add it to their repertoire.
Anesthesiologists typically specialize in certain medical areas so they can practice on certain patients. The anesthesia that an Anesthesiologist provides for an elderly patient suffering from cardiac issues is going to be very different from the anesthesia they provide a healthy child with a strong heart.
It’s scenarios like this that are the main reason that Anesthesiologists typically specialize in a certain aspect. Some of the potential Anesthesiology specializations include Pain Medicine, Pediatric, Critical Care, Cardiothoracic, Neurosurgical, Obstetric, and Orthopedic.
• Pain Medicine
Anesthesiologists who specialize in pain medicine help patients who are dealing with a variety of ailments that are recurring pain issues. If a patient is dealing with headaches, diabetes, herpes, burns, chest pain, pelvic pain, or something else — they would typically refer to a pain medicine Anesthesiologist.
Pediatric Anesthesiologists typically work with pain management techniques and general anesthesia for children.
• Critical Care
Anesthesiologists who work in critical care settings help diagnose and intervene in intensive care or critical care scenarios. These interventions might be related to something that could be affecting the entire body.
For instance, if a patient isn’t responding to anesthesia properly, they have to diagnose whether or not there is an issue with their circulatory system, digestive system, nervous systems, the kidneys, or any other part of the body that could be messing with the anesthesia.
Anesthesiologists who specialize in Cardiothoracic typically focus on health and circulatory systems.
Anesthesiologists who specialize in Neurosurgical typically specialize in anesthesia related to the nervous system. This includes any surgery related to the brain, nervous system, or spinal cord.
One of the most painful scenarios for any patient is when they give birth. For those healthcare professionals who want to work with expecting mothers, then they should focus on Obstetrics. When a mother is about to give birth, she typically receives an epidural to make things a little easier and a little less painful. If complications arise, Anesthesiologists are brought in to reduce the complications and track a course of action.
Patients who are suffering from various Orthopedic issues might seek an Orthopedic surgery. Orthopedic Anesthesiologists specialize in anesthesia-related to the muscle and bone structure of the patient.
Before the surgery, an Anesthesiologist’s job is two-fold: 1.) Inform the patient and their family member about the procedure they are about to go and their role as the Anesthesiologist, 2.) Prepare the operating room and medical equipment for the procedure.
As we’ve covered, undergoing a medical procedure can be relatively scary for the majority of the population. One thing that scares most people is the fact that they are going to be temporarily put to sleep or that they won’t feel anything.
Before the surgery, you will be tasked with putting some of their concerns to rest and explaining how the procedure will work for them.
In addition, you will prepare the operating room and medical equipment for the procedure. In some rare cases if you’re unfamiliar with a procedure or haven’t performed a particular procedure in a long time, it’s also a good time to catch up on some of the recommended practices and techniques.
The Anesthesiologist is responsible for a lot of things during the surgery. Their role doesn’t stop when the surgery begins, as the Anesthesiologist also has plenty of tasks or responsibilities that they need to be aware of throughout the pre, during, and post-surgery phase.
Throughout the course of the surgery, Anesthesiologists are responsible for monitoring the patient. This is to ensure that the patient doesn’t have any negative effect mid-surgery that might cause them to wake up, have a chemical imbalance, or have complications from the anesthesia.
Some of the important functions that an Anesthesiologist will be in charge of monitoring include the fluid balance of the patient, breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, heart rhythm, and body temperature.
The Anesthesiologist is tasked with monitoring all of these important metrics to ensure that the patient’s level of pain is limited and they are unconscious throughout the surgery.
As we mentioned, the Anesthesiologist’s role doesn't stop once the surgery is over with. Once the surgery is complete, Anesthesiologists are responsible for reversing the sedation or anesthesia that the patient is under.
From there, as the patient slowly comes out of the sedation, the Anesthesiologist is in charge of evaluating the patient to ensure they are as comfortable as possible while they recover from the surgery.
While the patient is slowly recovering from the sedation they will often direct other nurses or healthcare professionals to monitor vitals and interact with the patient as they slowly regain consciousness.
After the surgery or medical procedure is complete, you will sometimes be asked to follow up with the patient if necessary. You might have to talk to them about the lingering effects that they’ve had from the surgery such as slight numbness, or concerns they should have moving forward.
Becoming an anesthesiologist involves a ton of practice and schooling. You can either become a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) to be an Anesthesiologist.
The two paths have different responsibilities; a M.D. can administer anesthetic during operations while D.O.s specialize in holistic care and preventative medicine.
An anesthesiologist with a M.D. is mostly involved in various surgical treatments. Their responsibilities include:
Making assessments of person’s response to an anesthetic. They must study a person's medical history and identify any allergies or intolerances to certain medications or chemicals.
Monitoring patient’s condition during the operation. They must check vital signs and make sure the patient does well during and after anesthesia.
Taking care of a patient during the post-surgery process.
An anesthesiologist with D.O. qualification involves quite different duties. Their responsibilities are related to the work outside the operating room, and include:
Taking care of the patients in the Intensive Care Unit
Treating patients with severe chronic diseases
Being present during labor and delivery
Between the two different types of Anesthesiologists, they do have some common responsibilities. We have outlined those responsibilities below:
As an Anesthesiologist, there are a bunch of common activities that you can expect to do as part of your daily routine. Below are some of the common activities that you can expect to do.
• Come Up With Solutions To Complex Problems
As we mentioned, one of your core activities is to solve some complex problems with the care your patients face. Each patient is going to be different with their physical composition, medical makeup, and more. This means that you need to approach them as a unique problem that you need to solve each time.
For instance, if someone doesn’t respond well to pain medicine compared to the general public, then you should sparingly use pain medicine with the patient unless absolutely necessary.
This is just one of the complex problems that each patient might present you with. This is one of the most exciting things about working as an Anesthesiologist because you get to solve a new challenge each day. If you’re a healthcare professional or a healthcare student who wants to have a different day, then this activity is one you should be excited about.
• Caring for Others
Another key activity on the job that you will do as an Anesthesiologist is to care for others. As an Anesthesiologist, you will frequently be tasked with coming up with creative pain relief strategies or anesthesia strategies for surgery.
• Obtaining Medical and Personal Information
As an Anesthesiologist, you will be tasked with collecting and obtaining personal and medical information. This medical information and personal information is important in evaluating any potential risk that might be posed from medical conditions, medical health, or personal habits that might affect how well they recover or if they affect the surgery in some capacity.
For instance, there are going to be medical conditions that affect which anesthesia is most effective for an upcoming surgery. You also have to determine whether or not there are going to be cause for concern based on the patient’s history and medical track record.
• Analyzing Data
Another core activity that you will do on the job as an Anesthesiologist is to analyze data that you obtain from the medical lab reports that you request. This critical data is useful in helping you evaluate whether or not the patient is responding well to the anesthesia that is being provided and if corrective steps need to be taken.
• Monitoring Systems
As we mentioned above, one of the key responsibilities that you have as an Anesthesiologist is to monitor the patient and keep track of how they are responding to the anesthesia as it’s being provided.
• Communicating with other Healthcare Professionals
You will be tasked with communicating with other healthcare professionals to instruct them on how to properly sedate the patient, recommend future treatment methods, and future care recommendations.
• Communicating with Patients and their Family Members
Another common activity that you will find yourself doing on the job as an Anesthesiologist is to communicate with the patients and their family members. Oftentimes they don’t understand how anesthesia workers or what the surgery will entail, and you will be tasked with explaining it for them so they can understand how the surgery will work and what they can expect.
Sometimes the patients or the family members can strongly oppose using anesthesia or pain medicine to make the surgery go smoothly. Under those circumstances, you have to maintain a level head and let them know about the common practices in the healthcare industry and how they are designed to ensure the patient’s safety and well-being, etc.
• Inspecting Equipment
As an Anesthesiologist, part of your job will be to ensure that the medical equipment that you’re using when providing pain relief to patients. While other Medical Equipment managers will be tasked with helping you maintain the equipment, you still have the ultimate responsibility of checking each piece of equipment to ensure it will function properly.
• Organizing the Equipment and Preparing It
The final most common activity that you might experience on the job as an Anesthesiologist is to organize all of the equipment and prepare it for use with each surgery. Even though you might have Medical Equipment Manager help prepare the operating room for you, it’s important to ensure that everything is laid out how you’d like and prepared just the way you like it.
Must be able to clearly convey thoughts and ideas about any issues that arise during surgery and be able to correspond with surgeons and doctors to ensure patient safety.
Assessing patient to make sure they are responding well to anesthesia and make improvements or take corrective action when necessary.
Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
Judgment and Decision Making
Needs to be able to act autonomously and make difficult decisions that would benefit the patient or make corrections. Must consider all benefits and repercussions of potential actions and choose the appropriate one.
Complex Problem Solving
Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions.
Must be able to endure intense situations and handle pressure that comes with extreme situations you may encounter.
Must be trustworthy because you have people's lives in your hands and what you do could help or hurt them. They are entrusted with a great responsibility and must live up to it.
Must be able to monitor gauges, dials, and other indicators to make sure machinery is working properly to ensure patient safety.
The majority of anesthesiologists work in hospitals and outpatient surgical centers. Other opportunities may exist in private and group practices, urgent care centers, academic medical centers, and the military.
As with most other physicians, anesthesiologists work long and hectic hours, with nearly one third working 60 hours a week or more. They work in environments that can see trauma patients, critical care, and other uneasy situations. It is a demanding job with a lot on the line.
The good news is that while the job is quite demanding, Anesthesiologists frequently get good vacation time to compensate for the long hours and weeks they typically work. Compared to some other healthcare jobs or other professional jobs, Anesthesiologists aren’t required to travel as part of their job.
Your work areas will mostly be filled with fluorescent lighting, cold floors, and sanitized medical equipment. You must stand for long hours and be able to fill demand as it arises. When surgeries or procedures are underway, Anesthesiologists will be exposed to loud noises, hazardous conditions, or diseases.
As an Anesthesiologist, you will also be asked to work with teams and interact with patients and their family members on a daily basis. In other words, you need to be personable and enjoy interacting with others.
Another aspect of the working conditions as an Anesthesiologist is that you will have to work with patients closely in terms of physical proximity. At any given point during a surgery or medical procedure, you will be within a couple inches of them to ensure everything is going smoothly.
If you don’t like being too close to someone else, then this might not be the working condition that you are truly comfortable with.
If you’re interested in learning more about How To Become an Anesthesiologist, you should take a look at our Anesthesiologist Career Path, and also check out the Salary Trend Insights for Anesthesiologists.
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