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Anesthesiologists make sure that the patient's body is not overstimulated or injured by a medical procedure and that the patient feels no pain while undergoing the procedure. Traditionally, anesthesiologists deal mainly in the area of surgery. They do, however, also oversee the administration of anesthetics during other medical procedures, and if needed, during childbirth.
After reviewing a patient's medical history, the anesthesiologist will determine the best form of anesthesia for the patient. Different medical problems and various kinds of surgery require different kinds of anesthesia. These determinations are based on the anesthesiologist's broad background in medicine, which includes an understanding of surgical procedures, physiology, pharmacology, and critical care.
In the operating room, an anesthesiologist gives the patient an anesthetic, making the patient unconscious and numb to pain. This involves administering drugs to put the patient under and maintaining the anesthesia. In some cases, only a regional, or local, anesthesia is required—numbing only the part of the body on which the surgery is being performed. In more complex cases, anesthesiologists may need to prepare special equipment such as blood-warming devices. Anesthesiologists use monitoring equipment and insert intravenous lines and breathing tubes. They make sure the mask is secure and allows for a proper airway. In an emergency situation, an anesthesiologist is also part of the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) team.
An anesthesiologist pays close attention to the patient's well-being by monitoring blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and body temperature throughout surgery. It is also the anesthesiologist's responsibility to position the patient properly, so that the doctor can perform the surgery and the patient remains uninjured. The anesthesiologist also controls the patient's temperature, cooling or heating different parts of the body during surgery.
Anesthesiologists are not limited to the operating room; they also spend time with patients before and after surgery. When meeting the patient beforehand, an anesthesiologist explains the kind of anesthesia to be used and answers any questions. This interaction helps put the patient at ease and allows the anesthesiologist to get to know the patient before surgery. Unlike other doctors, anesthesiologists do not have the opportunity to work closely for long periods of time with patients.
Anesthesiologists may specialize in different areas, such as pediatric anesthesia, respiratory therapy, critical care, and cardiovascular anesthesia. They often work in teams, consisting of anesthesiology residents, nurse anesthetists, and anesthesiology assistants. The anesthesiologist will delegate responsibilities to other members of the care team.
While emergency cases require anesthesiologists to make quick decisions and act without hesitation, in other cases they have time to carefully plan, to study a patient's medical history, to meet with the surgeons and the patients, and to work by a regular schedule. Most anesthesiologists work in hospitals, though they may actually be part of an individual or group practice. Others direct residents in teaching hospitals or teach at medical schools.