My debut novel, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014) features a nurse anesthetist in the starring role of Mr. Dylan.

Nurse anesthetists have provided anesthesia care in the United States for nearly 150 years. In the beginning, anesthesia care for surgical patients was often provided by trained nurses under the supervision of surgeons, until the establishment of anesthesiology as a medical specialty in the U.S. in the 20th century. (Matsusaki T, The role of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists in the United States, J Anesth. 2011 Oct;25(5):734-40. doi: 10.1007/s00540-011-1193-5. Epub 2011 Jun 30)

Here are 10 reasons why certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) will be a major factor in anesthesia care in the 21st century:

1. Rural America is dependent on CRNAs to staff surgery in small towns underserved by MD anesthesiologists. CRNAs are involved in providing anesthesia services to about one-quarter of the American population that resides in rural and frontier areas of this country. Despite a significant rise in the number of anesthesiologists in recent years, there is no evidence that they are attracted to practice in rural areas. (Gunn IP, Rural health care and the nurse anesthetist, CRNA 2000 May;11(2):77-86).
2. Obamacare will increase the demand for mid-level healthcare providers, e.g. nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurse anesthetists. These mid-level providers are perceived as a cheaper alternative to MD health care.
3. Seventeen states have opted out of the requirement for physician supervision of CRNA anesthetics. These states are Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Kansas, North Dakota, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Montana, South Dakota, Wisconsin, California, Colorado, and Kentucky. In these states, it’s legal for a CRNA to give an anesthetic without a supervising anesthesiologist or surgeon.
4. For cost-saving reasons, hospital administrators will consider the lower hourly rate charged by CRNAs to be a saving over MD anesthesia care rendered by anesthesiologists alone.
5. Future trends such as the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Perioperative Surgical Home or bundled payments to Accountable Care Organizations will seek out the cheapest way to manage anesthetic populations. A likely economic model for a healthy patient population is the anesthesia care team, e.g. a 4:1 ratio of four CRNAs supervised by one MD anesthesiologist. This model can be used to staff four simultaneous surgeries on four healthy patients having simple surgical procedures. More complex procedures such as open-heart surgery, brain surgery, major vascular surgery, or emergency surgery will be best served by MD anesthesia care. Extremes of age (e.g. neonates or very old patients) and patients with significant medical comorbidities will be best served by MD anesthesia care.
6. Certain regions of the United States, particularly the South and the Midwest, are already entrenched with anesthesia care team models of 3:1 or 4:1 CRNA:MD staffing because of anesthesiologist preference. An MD anesthesiologist’s income can be augmented by supervising three or four operating rooms with multiple CRNAs simultaneously. These physicians will have little desire to rid themselves of nurse anesthetists and to personally do only one case at a time by themselves.
7. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) presents a strong, well-funded lobby which promotes the continuing and increasing role of CRNAs in medical care in the United States.
8. The educational cost for a registered nurse to become a CRNA is significantly less than the cost of training a board-certified MD anesthesiologist. The median cost of a public CRNA program is $40,195 and the median cost of a private program is $60,941, with an overall median of $51,720. (MacIntyre P, Cost of education and earning potential for non-physician anesthesia providers. AANA J. 2014 Feb;82(1):25-31)
9. A registered nurse can significantly increase their income by becoming a CRNA. A registered nurse with one year of intensive care unit or post-anesthesia care unit experience can become a CRNA with 2-3 years of CRNA schooling. The average yearly salary of a CRNA in America in 2011 was $156,642. (MacIntyre P, Cost of education and earning potential for non-physician anesthesia providers. AANA J. 2014 Feb;82(1):25-31)
10. The increasing starring role of CRNAs in American fiction ☺. (See The Doctor and Mr. Dylan, below)

After perusing this list one might ask, are CRNAs and anesthesiologists equals?
No, they are not. Anesthesiologists are doctors, and their training of four years of medical school followed by a minimum of four years of anesthesia residency makes them specialists in all aspects of surgical medicine.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists’ STATEMENT ON THE ANESTHESIA CARE TEAM states “Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine including, but not limited to, preoperative patient evaluation, anesthetic planning, intraoperative and postoperative care and the management of systems and personnel that support these activities. In addition, anesthesiology includes perioperative consultation, the management of coexisting disease, the prevention and management of untoward perioperative patient conditions, the treatment of acute and chronic pain, and the practice of critical care medicine. This care is personally provided by or directed by the anesthesiologist.” (Approved by the ASA House of Delegates on October 26, 1982, and last amended on October 16, 2013)

Doctor J H Silber’s landmark study from the University of Pennsylvania (Anesthesiologist direction and patient outcomes, Anesthesiology. 2000 Jul;93(1):152-63) documented that both 30-day mortality and failure-to-rescue rates were lower when anesthesia care was supervised by anesthesiologists, as opposed to anesthesia care by unsupervised nurse anesthetists. This study has been widely discussed. The CRNA community dismissed the conclusions, citing that the Silber study was a retrospective study. In a Letter to the Editor published in Anesthesiology, Dr. Bruce Kleinman wrote regarding the Silber data, “this study could not and does not address the key issue: can CRNAs practice independently?” (Anesthesiology: April 2001 – Volume 94 – Issue 4 – p 713)

I’m not a fan of CRNAs working alone without physician supervision. In both my expert witness practice and in the expert witness practice of my anesthesia colleagues, we find multiple adverse outcomes related to acute anesthetic care carried out by non-anesthesiologists.

CRNAs will play a significant role in American healthcare in the future. That significant role will be best played with an MD anesthesiologist at their right hand.





Introducing …  THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a medical-legal mystery which blends the science and practice of anesthesiology with unforgettable characters, a page-turning plot, and the legacy of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.

Publication date September 9, 2014 by Pegasus Books.

On October 2, 2014 THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN became the world’s  #1 bestselling anesthesia Kindle book on Amazon.com.

To reach the Amazon webpage, click on the book image below:



In this debut thriller, tragedies strike an anesthesiologist as he tries to start a new life with his son.

Dr. Nico Antone, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University, is married to Alexandra, a high-powered real estate agent obsessed with money. Their son, Johnny, an 11th-grader with immense potential, struggles to get the grades he’ll need to attend an Ivy League college. After a screaming match with Alexandra, Nico moves himself and Johnny from Palo Alto, California, to his frozen childhood home of Hibbing, Minnesota. The move should help Johnny improve his grades and thus seem more attractive to universities, but Nico loves the freedom from his wife, too. Hibbing also happens to be the hometown of music icon Bob Dylan. Joining the hospital staff, Nico runs afoul of a grouchy nurse anesthetist calling himself Bobby Dylan, who plays Dylan songs twice a week in a bar called Heaven’s Door. As Nico and Johnny settle in, their lives turn around; they even start dating the gorgeous mother/daughter pair of Lena and Echo Johnson. However, when Johnny accidentally impregnates Echo, the lives of the Hibbing transplants start to implode. In true page-turner fashion, first-time novelist Novak gets started by killing soulless Alexandra, which accelerates the downfall of his underdog protagonist now accused of murder. Dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the insults hurled between Nico and his wife are as hilarious as they are hurtful: “Are you my husband, Nico? Or my dependent?” The author’s medical expertise proves central to the plot, and there are a few grisly moments, as when “dark blood percolated” from a patient’s nostrils “like coffee grounds.” Bob Dylan details add quirkiness to what might otherwise be a chilly revenge tale; we’re told, for instance, that Dylan taught “every singer with a less-than-perfect voice…how to sneer and twist off syllables.” Courtroom scenes toward the end crackle with energy, though one scene involving a snowmobile ties up a certain plot thread too neatly. By the end, Nico has rolled with a great many punches.

Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.

Additional Reviews: 

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:




  1. Top 5 reasons MDA’s will be marginalized in the future:

    1. They make claims based on a study which was admittedly fabricated.

    2. They disrespect the anesthesia professionals that allow them to make piles of money while in the lounge.

    3. They demean a profession by creating a villain CRNA in a novel.

    4. ACT MD’s get weaker clinically by the day while those performing anesthetics are honing their skills.

    5. Apparently CRNA’s become much more competent whenever there is a pressing dental appointment, tennis tournament, or school function.


    1. Mr. Brown,
      I’m sorry your opinion of, or experience with, physician anesthesiologists has been negative. There will be important roles for both CRNAs and physician anesthesiologists in the future, particularly when working together.
      Regarding a villain CRNA in a novel, you haven’t read The Doctor and Mr. Dylan yet, or you’d realize the CRNA is no villain and is arguably the most intriguing character in the book.
      Rick Novak MD


  2. I think just like there are good surgeons and bad surgeons, be it anesthesiologists or CRNAs, there is presence of both extremely competent and barely functional ones. It is the experience, knowledge and confidence that one practices their profession with that makes them good or bad, not necessarily a degree. Similar thoughts were shared between DO and MD as well yet they are both doctors.
    I have been through places where CRNAs’ abilities are undermined by anesthesiologists by simply limiting their abilities to perform basic anesthesia related procedures. As you mentioned, this profession was initially all CRNAs and it is preposterous to assume that just because surgical science has advanced so much, CRNAs are all of a sudden incompetent to advance their skills and there is a need for anesthesiologists.
    It is totally acceptable to choose careers based on financial reward. However, it is absurd to demean skills of a CRNA to promote one’s need as an anesthesiologist than simply admitting the reason being financial rewards of being an anesthesiologists.
    CRNAs are partly responsible for dealing with such a system and not accepting their role in anesthesia as an independent provider. Regardless, it is something that I stand up against by simply opting to only work at places that allow my full potential to be realized and keep an open mind to learn from all my CRNA and MDA colleagues.
    I look forward to reading your novel to get a better understanding of your views and hope you promote the CRNAs that are your colleagues into being better and more self-sufficient providers.


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