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A Day in the Life of an Anesthesiologist

Apr 08, 2010

The work day of an anesthesiologist generally begins very early in the morning.  Anesthesiologists are responsible for the administration of anesthesia and medication that helps control pain.  Because many primarily work with patients undergoing surgery, and most surgeries occur early in the morning, most anesthesiologists are awake before the sun rises.  Many anesthesiologists specialize in particular fields like cardiovascular surgery, obstetrics, or neurologic surgery.  The type of patients an anesthesiologist is treating greatly affects his exact job responsibilities. 

Primary Job Responsibilities

Anesthesiologists meet with patients prior to their surgery to gather information about their health history including what medications they take, any past surgeries, past medical problems, and also about their social history including whether the patient smokes, drinks, or uses illicit drugs.  The patient will also have time during this initial meeting to ask questions about the anesthesia or pain medications that they are going to receive.  The anesthesiologist will review the types of anesthesia that the patient will receive and have the patient give what is called informed consent.  Informed consent means that the patient is aware of the possible dangers of a medication, surgery, or procedure and agrees to go forward with the procedure despite any risks. 

There are several different kinds of anesthesia, and anesthesiologists need to be experts on each one.  General, regional, MAC (monitored anesthesia care), and local anesthesia are the four primary types of anesthesia that doctors use in order to sedate patients and help control their pain.  Each one has different protocol and uses different medications. 

The anesthesiologist during surgery is not only responsible for making sure the patient remains sedated and comfortable, but also for closely monitoring the patient's vital signs like respirations, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, fluid balances, and urine output.  If the patient is placed on a ventilator during the surgery, he will also closely monitor that.  He makes all the decisions about the medications that are administered, as well as which type of intravenous fluid.  If blood products are needed, it is often the anesthesiologist's job to order these. 

Perhaps the most important job of an anesthesiologist is knowing what to do in case of an emergency.  Most surgeries are completed without any complications, and patients handle procedures and anesthesia without any serious problems.  Sometimes, however, a potentially life-threatening problem might arise, and it is up to the anesthesiologist in conjunction with nurses, nurse anesthetists, and the surgical team to help treat the patient and stabilize their condition.  The anesthesiologist also has a role in the recovery room; he or she will help "reverse" the anesthesia and help bring the patient back to a state where they are awake as painlessly and uneventfully as possible. 

After surgeries and procedures, it is the responsibility of the anesthesiologist to dictate the procedures that have been completed as well as patient outcomes or any adverse effects of anesthesia. 

Where Do Anesthesiologists Work?

Anesthesiologists are able to work in a number of health care settings.   They can be in private practice, work with a group of other anesthesia providers, or be employees of a hospital.   They can work in obstetric units, in free-standing surgical centers, in pain management clinics, trauma centers, burn centers, or even community hospitals.  Some anesthesiologists work for short times in different places and travel from one setting to another.  The job opportunities for anesthesiologists and the settings where anesthesiologists can find employment are generally extensive.

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