Profile of an Anesthesiologist: Doreen
Questions and Answers
1) Tell me about your job. Is what you do different in any way from what others in your occupation do?
I work in a large, urban hospital that includes a cancer center, cardiac center and the country's first and biggest trauma center. My primary job is working in the operating room, providing anesthesia for patients undergoing various kinds of surgery.
My second main area of responsibility involves taking care of trauma patients in the emergency department. I co-ordinate the diagnosis and treatment of their injuries when they first arrive. This could mean stopping serious bleeding, for example, starting an IV (intravenous line), or making sure that they are breathing properly. In many cases, urgent interventions are required to keep the person alive.
Our hospital is a teaching hospital, which means that medical students, interns and residents are trained there. So another of my responsibilities is teaching them to be doctors.
2) Can you tell me about your background and how you got into this field?
I studied health sciences and biochemistry at university before entering medical school. As a student, I worked as a store clerk and data entry operator. After finishing medical school, I worked for a few years as a family doctor / general practitioner before taking a specialist anesthesia training program.
After qualifying as an anesthesiologist, I started working at a large, urban hospital. I also used my vacation time to teach anesthesiology courses in Uganda and Tanzania.
3) What personal characteristics are required for someone to be successful in your job?
First of all, you have to be observant and pay attention to detail. You have to give patients the right drug, in the exact right amount, at the right time. You also have to carefully monitor patients and be aware of any possible side effects. Sloppiness can really get you in trouble.
You also have to function well in high stress situations. There are always some moments in the OR (operating room) when you have to act quickly and intelligently.
Finally, you must work well in a team. The operating room is a team environment and you have to be able to communicate well, especially in emergency medical situations.
4) How much job security is there for people in your field?
Because there will be a strong demand for anesthesiologists' skills for the foreseeable future, there should continue to be excellent job security. As a doctor, the only reason you would ever lose your job is if you lost your medical license by being incompetent or committing some other serious misdeed.
5) What other jobs could you do with the skills you have gained in this field?
Not many people leave medicine once they have become fully qualified. Most remain doctors for their whole career. However, you could use your knowledge of the health care system to act as a policy for a hospital, the government, or a health-related company.
The only other thing I can think of is becoming an airline pilot, since as an anesthesiologist you have moments of high stress that you have to work through in a very calm and effective manner.
6) What do you think the future holds for people in your occupation?
Because of the current shortage of qualified anesthesiologists, we are exploring the idea of allowing specially trained anesthetic assistants to perform simpler tasks like monitoring patients with local anesthetic and mild sedation. The assistants would work as part of anesthetic care teams under the supervision of a qualified anesthesiologist.
7) What are the biggest challenges in your job?
Some people can't handle the pressure of the operating room, but that is not a problem for most of us. The toughest thing, really, is getting people through complex surgical procedures with a minimum of pain, side effects and risk. Every patient is different and can react in unpredictable ways to anesthesia. We have to take their personal characteristics into account, as well as the disruption caused by surgery and illness. Through the whole surgical process, we have to keep their physical systems 'in balance', closely monitor their vital signs, and adjust the anesthesia accordingly.
8) Are there many opportunities in your field? What should people do to get started?
There are lots of opportunities! There is a shortage of doctors worldwide, especially in anesthesiology and certain other specialties. The only way to get into the field, though, is by going to medical school and then taking specialized training in anesthesiology. It's a lot of years of education and entry to medical school can be very competitive.
One of the best things about being an anesthesiologist is knowing how to deal with life-threatening situations. Nothing is more exciting than saving a patient's life and getting them back on the road to health.
It is also really satisfying when you give patients a perfect balance of anesthesia for their needs. So that they get through the operation without pain and don't feel sick or drowsy.
Another good thing about this career is the team atmosphere. In the operating room, we work closely with surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals. Anesthesiology is a lot more team oriented than some other medical specialties.
And finally, it is one of the few professions out there with life-long job security, and that's pretty rare these days.
Well, you never really get used to working all night, and you have to do it more frequently when you're just starting out as a resident. But even senior anesthesiologists have to work night shifts because someone's always got to be at the hospital if an emergency occurs.
The other thing that's really frustrating is not having enough resources to work with. In Canada, for example, you are at the whim of government funding, and in the United States, everything is about HMOs and their economic interests: the bottom line. So it would be nice to have at least some control over some of these issues.
But still, the very worst thing is losing a patient. And it doesn't matter how long you've been doing this job for, it is still very upsetting when it happens.
Well, get ready for a long haul. It takes almost ten years of training to become an anesthesiologist, and that's after doing an undergraduate degree. But the journey is very interesting, and it is a very rewarding and interesting career, and one that you'll probably stay in for your whole life.
A Day in the Life
7:30 am - 8:00 am Preparing for a surgical procedure, in this case, the removal of a brain tumour; checking the equipment I will use; speaking to the patient; applying vital signs monitors to the patient.
8:00 am - 11:00 am Inducing anesthesia and giving the patient drugs to cause unconsciousness; monitoring the patient's vital signs continuously as the surgeons perform the surgery (which involves taking out part of the skull bone in order to remove the brain tumour and then replacing the skull bone afterwards); adjust the anesthesia as required.
11:00 am - 11:30 am After the surgery is finished, turning off and stopping all anesthetics in order to wake the patient; taking the patient to the recovery room and monitoring the patient until all vital signs return to normal.
11:30 am - 12:00 pm Preparing for the next surgical procedure, this time spinal disc surgery; checking the equipment I will use; speaking to the patient; applying vital signs monitors to the patient.
12:00 pm - 2:30 pm As in the first surgical procedure, administering anesthesia and drugs; monitoring the patient; making adjustments as required; waking the patient after the surgery and checking that her vital signs return to normal.
2:30 pm - 3:30 pm Rushing to the Emergency Department to see a trauma patient, a roofer who has fallen 30 feet off the top of a house; coordinating the trauma team that cares for him; ordering any necessary blood tests and x-rays.
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Learning that the patient has a collapsed lung, broken ribs and a broken femur; taking steps to stabilize his condition; taking the patient to the OR (operating room) for surgery.
4:30 pm - 6:30 pm Teaching a group of anesthesiology residents who are training at our hospital.