I am a doctor, but not like the kind on TV

american society of anesthesiologistsA guest column by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, exclusive to KevinMD.com.

Hospital dramas are not very short on excitement, but for some reason, anesthesiologists never seem to get the glamour treatment. Maybe that’s because our job is so difficult to transition onto the silver screen. After all, it would be pretty boring to see only one person bridging communication gaps between physicians to provide comprehensive care, all while monitoring, advocating and caring for the patient.

We do not practice some ghoulish breed of medicine where we kill a patient, then bring them back to life, as some Hollywood storylines suggest, nor do we hang out around the procedure room without contributing to the actual procedure. It may be understandable that patients don’t necessarily comprehend all their anesthesiologist is responsible for and all that the specialty entails.  It’s to be expected— the patient is usually unconscious for the majority of the time they are around their anesthesiologist.  It might be easy to minimize what we do each and every surgery.

Anesthesiologists have a unique understanding of many medical specialties, making them a key component of a physician-led care team. We have led the way in perioperative testing and overall patient safety. We understand critical concepts of cardiology, surgery, internal medicine and many other specialties. With cross-specialty knowledge in addition to in-depth anesthesia training, we provide oversight and input as both a patient advocate and a component of a collaborative medical team.

Normally, entertainment also confines anesthesiologists to the operating room, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. For instance, while my patient only sees me briefly before entering the operating room and maybe as he or she regains consciousness, my role in that patient’s care started well in advance of the procedure, lasted throughout its entire duration and also included planning for their care after the operating room.

I may call the other physicians the night before the surgery to receive a briefing on the specific case and ask any questions I have. I review the patient’s chart to verify test results and I will potentially order additional tests if I feel like there might be a gap in patient safety. In doing so, not only do I increase efficiency by preventing cancellations, but I also use my expertise to minimize the costs associated with unnecessary testing.

The morning of the surgery, I will assist with the patient’s preparations, including placing epidurals for post-operative pain relief and coordinating medications for optimal post-operative care and healing. Safety is my utmost priority, so I take part in key preventative checkpoints like reconfirming the correct surgery site, padding pressure points to avoid injury and conducting ongoing monitoring of the patient’s vital signs.

Throughout all this activity, I am working with each specialist present to help coordinate each discipline’s unique brand of care. My job doesn’t end there, but I think you understand my point. Anesthesiologists do not simply knock out the patient, then mill about the room. We’re there with you, working with you every step of the way.

Anesthesiologists have more than 10,000 hours of training and at least eight years of medical education. We’ve learned advanced technical skills like intubation and ultrasound interpretation, while also being fully prepared to participate in emergency situations and intensive care. We’re the first line of defense for patients, yet our job is misrepresented and misunderstood so frequently.

To learn more about anesthesiology and how patients can work together with their physician-led care team for the best surgical outcomes, visit Lifeline to Modern Medicine.

Paul H. Ting is a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. 

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