IMG_0825I’m fortunate to be a member of the clinical faculty in the Department of Anesthesia, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University. Stanford is a unique academic hospital, staffed by both academic and private practice physicians. As the Deputy Chief at Stanford, I’m an elected officer who leads the private practice/community section of the anesthesia department.

Stanford anesthesia residents frequently question me about how the world of private practice differs from academia. I began my writing career by penning a series of Stanford Deputy Chief Columns. These columns originated as a forum to educate residents using specific cases and situations I found unique to private practice.

Although some anesthesia residents continue in academic medicine, most pursue careers in community or private practice. In 2009, the Anesthesia Quality Institute published Anesthesia in the United States 2009, a report that summarized data on our profession. There were 41,693 anesthesiologists in America at that time, and the demographics of practice type were: academic/teaching medical center 43%, community hospital 35%, city/county hospital 11%, and ambulatory surgery center 6%. Per this data, the majority of American anesthesiologists practice outside of teaching hospitals.

How does community anesthesia differ from academic anesthesia? I’m uniquely qualified to answer this question. I’ve worked at Stanford University Hospital for 34 years, including 5 years of residency training and one year as an Emergency Room faculty member, but my last 25 years at Stanford have been in private practice with the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group.

Here’s my list of the 10 major adjustments residents face transitioning from academic anesthesia to private practice/community anesthesia:

  1. You’ll work alone. In academic medicine, faculty members supervise residents. In private practice, you’re on your own. This is particularly true in the middle of the night or when you are working in a small freestanding surgery center where you are the only anesthesia professional. In these settings, you have little or no backup if clinical circumstances become dire. An additional example is the performance of pediatric inhalation inductions. During residency training, a faculty member starts the IV while the resident manages the airway. In private practice you’ll do both tasks yourself. I’d advise you to adopt a senior member of your new anesthesia group as a mentor, and to question him or her in an ongoing nature regarding the nuances of your new practice. (Note that certain private practices, especially in the Midwest or Southeastern U.S., utilize Anesthesia Care Teams, where anesthesiology attendings supervise nurse anesthetists, but this model is less common in California).
  2. Income: your income will be linked to your production. The good news is that you’ll earn more money that you did as a resident. Your income will be linked to the amount of cases you do. You’ll earn more in a twelve-hour day than you do in a four-hour day, so you have an incentive to do extra cases. A job where newly hired physicians have equitable access to workload is desirable.
  3. Income: your income will be linked to the insurance coverage of your patients. Privately insured patients pay more than Medicare and Medicaid patients. You may earn more working a four-hour day for insured patients than you earn working twelve hours working for the government plans of Medicare and Medicaid. It’s too early to know how much Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act will alter physician salaries. A job with a low percentage of Medicare and Medicaid work is desirable.
  4. Vacations. You’ll have access to more vacation time than you did in academic training. Most jobs allow a flexible amount of weeks away from clinical practice, but you will earn zero money during those weeks. It will be your choice: maximize free time or maximize income.
  5. Recipes. You’ll tend to use consistent anesthesia “recipes,” rather than trying to make every anesthetic unique, interesting or educational, as you may have done in an academic setting. Community practice demands high quality care with efficient inductions and wakeups, and rapid turnovers between cases. Once you discover your best method to do a particular case, you’ll stick to that method.
  6. Continuing Medical Education (CME). In an academic setting, educational conferences are frequent and accessible. After your training is finished, you’ll need to find your own CME. In California the requirement is 50 hours of CME every 2 years. Your options will include conventions, weekend meetings, and self-study at home programs. Many physicians find at-home programs require less investment in time, travel, and tuition than finding out-of-town lectures to attend.
  7. Malpractice insurance. You’ll pay your own malpractice insurance. As a result, you’ll be intensely interested in avoiding malpractice claims and adverse patient outcomes. You’ll become well versed in the standards of care in your anesthesia community.
  8. No teaching. No one will expect you to teach during community practice. You may choose to lecture nurses or your fellow medical staff, but it’s not required.
  9. No writing. No one will expect you to write or publish scholarly articles. You may choose to do so, but you will be in the minority.
  10. 10.  Respect. You’ll experience a higher level of respect from nurses and staff at community hospitals and surgery centers than you receive during residency. Nurses and staff accept that you are fully trained and experienced, and treat you as such. Free food at lunch and breakfast is common. Some hospitals have comfortable physician lounges where medical staff members gather. Teams of physicians work together at the same community hospitals for decades, and form strong relationships with the nurses, techs, and their fellow medical staff. It feels terrific to collaborate with the same professionals week after week.

Academic training is an essential building block in every physician’s career. If and when you choose to venture beyond academia into community anesthesia, this column gives you some idea what to expect. I recommend you find a mentor to help you adjust to the challenges of your new practice setting, and I wish you good luck with the transition.

Introducing …,  THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a legal mystery. Publication date September 9, 2014 by Pegasus Books.

The first four chapters are available for free at Amazon. Read them and you’ll be hooked! To reach the Amazon webpage, click on the book image below:


Stanford professor Dr. Nico Antone leaves the wife he hates and the job he loves to return to Hibbing, Minnesota where he spent his childhood. He believes his son’s best chance to get accepted into a prestigious college is to graduate at the top of his class in this remote Midwestern town. His son becomes a small town hero and academic star, while Dr. Antone befriends Bobby Dylan, a deranged anesthetist who renamed and reinvented himself as a younger version of the iconic rock legend who grew up in Hibbing. An operating room death rocks their world, and Dr. Antone’s family and his relationship to Mr. Dylan are forever changed.

Equal parts legal thriller and medical thriller, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan examines the dark side of relationships between a doctor and his wife, a father and his son, and a man and his best friend. Set in a rural Northern Minnesota world reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ Fargo, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan details scenes of family crises, operating room mishaps, and courtroom confrontation, and concludes in a final twist that will leave readers questioning what is of value in the world we live in.


5.0 out of 5 stars The Doctor and Mr Dylan, March 3, 2015
prabha venugopal (chicago, il USA) – See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
Gripping from the beginning to the end. Very well written, bringing to the forefront all the human emotions seen in an operating room spill over into real life. I cannot wait for Dr. Novak to wrote another book! As another physician in the same profession, my admiration for his book knows no limits.

Bang-Up Debut Novel, November 16, 2014

By Norm Goldman “Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures”

This part legal and medical thriller is structured with a mixed bag of situations involving relationships, jealousy, evil, lies, courtroom drama, operating room mishaps as well as moments that engender conflicting and unexpected outcomes. Noteworthy is that as the suspense builds readers will become eager to uncover the truth involving a mishap concerning Nico and a surgical procedure that has unanticipated ramifications.

This is a bang-up debut from a writer who understands timing and is able to deliver hairpin turns, particularly involving the courtroom drama,that you would expect from a book of this genre.

TwinCities.com PIONEER PRESS Entertainment

by Mary Ann Grossman, Entertainment Editor, St. Paul Pioneer Press mgrossman@pioneerpress.com, January 4, 2015

“The Doctor & Mr. Dylan” by Rick Novak (Pegasus Books, $17.50)

Dr. Nico Antone doesn’t hide the fact he hates his wife, but he says he didn’t kill her during an operation. The authorities think otherwise and his trial is the riveting suspense in this novel that is part medical thriller, part legal thriller, part exploration of family relationships.

Nico is an anesthesiologist (as is the author) who leaves his wife, their plush life in California and his job at Stanford to move to his hometown of Hibbing so their son, Johnny, has a better chance of getting into a prestigious college. Johnny hates the idea of moving to a small, cold town, but he’s popular from the first day in school. Nico doesn’t do so well. He’s envied by Bobby, an anesthetist who’s jealous of the better-educated Nico. But it’s hard to take Bobby seriously, since he thinks he’s the young Bob Dylan and lives in the house where Bobby Zimmerman grew up. To complicate matters, Nico is attracted to the mother of the young woman his son is dating. When the two teens get in trouble, Nico’s furious, rich wife comes to Minnesota and needs an emergency operation that puts her on Nico’s operating table.

Novak grew up in Hibbing, where he worked in the iron ore mines and played on the U.S. Junior Men’s Curling championship teams of 1974 and ’75. After graduating from Carleton College, he earned a medical degree at the University of Chicago and spent 30-plus years at Stanford Hospital, where he was an associate professor of anesthesia and Deputy Chief of the Anesthesia Department. His courtroom scenes are based on his experiences as an expert witness.

The Physician’s Late-Night Reading List

Two Pritzker alums pen captivating tales

By Brooke E. O’Neill, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, editir, Medicine on the Midway Magazine

For most physicians, writing — patient notes, case histories, perhaps journal articles — is part of the job. But for anesthesiologist-novelist Rick Novak, MD’80, and neurosurgeon-memoirist Moris Senegor, MD’82, it’s a second career that consumes early morning hours long before they step into the OR.

Fans of John Grisham will find a kindred spirit in Novak, whose fast-paced medical thriller, The Doctor & Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014), transports readers to rural Northern Minnesota, where an accomplished physician and a deranged anesthetist who thinks he’s rock legend Bob Dylan see their worlds collide in the most unexpected ways.

Delivering real-life twists and turns — and a love letter to the Bay Area — is Senegor’s Dogmeat: A Memoir of Love and Neurosurgery in San Francisco (Xlibris, 2014), a coming-of-age tale chronicling the author’s away rotation with renowned neurosurgeon Charles Wilson, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco. Brutally honest, it spares no details of a time Senegor, who also served as a resident under the University of Chicago’s famed neurosurgery chair Sean Mullan, MD, describes as “one of the biggest failures of my life.”

One a vividly imagined nail-biter, the other an intimate peek into the surgical suite, both books deliver an ample dose of intensity and drama.



The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014) by Rick Novak, MD’80

“I thought it was a novel way of killing someone,” said Rick Novak, deputy chief of anesthesiology at Stanford University, describing the imagined hospital death that was the genesis of his dark thriller The Doctor & Mr. Dylan. A huge Bob Dylan fan — the rock icon was born in Novak’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, where the story takes place — he then dreamed up a possible culprit: a psychotic anesthetist who thinks he’s Dylan.

From there, the words flowed. “I would write whenever I was with my laptop and had a free moment: in mornings, in evenings, in gaps between cases,” said Novak, who also blogs about anesthesia topics. “I don’t sleep much.”

After finishing the manuscript — one year to write, another to edit — came the challenge of finding a publisher. “In anesthesia, I’m an expert,” Novak said. “In the literary world, I’m an unknown.” After 207 responses of “no, thanks” or no answer at all, he landed an agent. Two months later, she informed him that Pegasus Books had bought his debut novel.

“I started crying,” Novak admits. “I have a third grader and at the time the big word the class was learning was ‘perseverance.’ That was it exactly.”

Dr. Joseph Andresen, Editor, Santa Clara County Medical Association Medical Bulletin, from the January/February 2015 issue:


This past month, Dr. Rick Novak handed me a hardbound copy of his debut novel The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. Rick and I go way back. It was my first week of residency at Stanford when we first met. A newcomer to the operating room, all the smells and sounds were foreign to me despite my previous three years in the hospital as an internal medicine resident. Rick, a soft spoken Minnesotan at heart, in his second year of residency, took me under his wing and guided me through those first few bewildering months, sharing his experience and wisdom freely.

Fast-forward 30 years later. Dr. Rick Novak, a novel and mystery author? This was new to me as I sat down and opened the first page of The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect. Few books highlight a physician/anesthesiologist as a protagonist, and few books feature a SCCMA member as a physician/author. However, a medical-mystery theme novel wasn’t at the top of my must read list. With my 50-hour workweek, living and breathing medicine, imagining more emotional stress and drama was the furthest thing from my mind. However, three days later, as I turned the last page, and read the last few words. “life is a series of choices. I stuck my forefinger into the crook of the steering wheel, spun it hard to the left and …” This completed my 72-hour journey of and free moments I had, completely immersed in this story of life’s disappointments, human imperfections, and simple joys.

Rick, I can’t wait for your next book. Bravo!

Hibbingite writes twisted medical tale

HIBBING — Readers who are looking for a whodunit that will keep them up all night are in for a treat.

Hibbing native Rick Novak recently released his first book “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan,” a fiction set in Hibbing that merges anesthesia complications, a tumultuous marriage and the legend of Bob Dylan.

“The dialogue is sometimes funny, and there are lots of plot twists,” he said.

Novak said the book will not only entertain readers, but teach them about anesthesiology, Dylanology, the stressful race for elite college admission, and life on the Iron Range.

“The book is very conversational and streamlined,” he said. “I try to write as one would tell a story out loud.”

Novak said “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan” took him three years to perfect. He is currently working on his second book.

5.0 out of 5 stars I Sense We Have Another F.Scott Fitzgerald Emerging on the Literary Scene, December 1, 2014
Deann Brady (Sunnyvale, CA USA) – See all my reviews
I found Rick Novak’s first novel, “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan,” a most exciting combination of biting sarcasm, mystery and daily activity spun with fresh new phrases that made me turn my ear back to listen to the literary cadence of his words again and again even though, on the other hand, I was anxious to turn the pages to see what would happen next. His brilliant handling of scenes is reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A compelling read!Deany Brady, author of “An Appalachian Childhood”


allan mishra

This review is from: The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Kindle Edition)

Just finished Dr. Novak’s delightful novel. I sincerely enjoyed his honest take about the pressures and values that exist within California’s Silicon Valley. He also brought the North Country of Minnesota to life with memorable characters and a twisting, addictive plot. Buried beneath the fun and funny story is a deeper message about how to best care for your kids, your relationships and yourself. Very well written and highly recommended.

Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at rick novak.com by clicking on the picture below:




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