IS PRIVATE PRACTICE ANESTHESIA DOOMED?

the anesthesia consultant

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

What is the future of private practice anesthesiology?

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First off, let’s define “private practice.” The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines private practice as: “a professional business (such as that of a lawyer or doctor) that is not controlled or paid for by the government or a larger company (such as a hospital).”

In my community the dentists are all in private practice, as are most of the accountants, psychologists, and attorneys. Why should anesthesiologists be any different? Let’s look at the issues.

A private practice single-specialty anesthesia group will usually provide anesthesia for similarly self-employed surgeons who are in private practice. How does the business work? When a single-specialty anesthesia group provides a service, the group decides the cost of that service, and the group sends a bill to the patient’s insurance company or to Medicare or Medicaid for that amount. How much will they get paid? It depends. Medicare and Medicaid cap their payments at a small fraction of an anesthesiologist’s typical fee. For insured patients, the anesthesia group collects whatever the insurance company pays, along with the deductible or co-pay the patient owes through their insurance plan. The collected amount, minus the group’s overhead (office employee salaries, office rent, office supplies, malpractice insurance, and health insurance for their own families) equals the anesthesia group’s profit.

A private practice anesthesia group needn’t be a physician-only group. In many private practice anesthesia groups, physician anesthesiologists supervise multiple nurse anesthetists in multiple operating rooms. These groups are still single specialty anesthesia groups. Physician anesthesiologists pay their nurse anesthetists as employees as well as their other expenses, and then divide the profit.

In recent years the prevalence of the private practice model is decreasing. The model is being replaced by jobs where the anesthesiologists are employees. Employees of whom?

One employee model is the multispecialty group model, in which all medical specialties work in parallel under one umbrella organization. Examples of this are the Permanente Medical Group (of Kaiser Permanente), Sutter Health in California, Mayo Clinic, and university groups such as Stanford Health Care in my neighborhood. The essence of this model is physicians are salaried, and income is divided amongst the different specialties. Surgical specialties such as anesthesiology and all surgeons earn less than they would in a self-employed private practice model, with some of the income from their services going to primary care specialists like family practitioners, internists, and pediatricians. It’s a symbiotic system since the referrals to the surgical specialists commonly originate from the primary care doctors in the first place. In this model an anesthesiologist will earn less money per case, but may increase his or her income by doing more cases.

A second employee model is the for-profit national physician corporation. The national corporation may purchase anesthesia private practice groups to gain access to their hospital and/or surgery center contracts. The corporation pays an up-front payment to the current anesthesiologists of each smaller group at the time of purchase. The parent corporation collects all future anesthesia bills, and pays out a decreased fee to the anesthesiologists who are now employees. The difference between the collected fee and the anesthesia pay-out equals the profit bottom line of the purchasing corporation, which may be a publically traded company.

A third employee model occurs when a single anesthesiologist or a smaller company attains an exclusive contract for a hospital or a surgery center. This solitary anesthesiologist or smaller company then employs other anesthesiologists at a lower set rate or salary, then contracts to have all billing and collecting done, and keeps the difference between the collected rate and the rate paid to the employees as profit.

One of the reason employee models are increasing in frequency is that the private practice of primary care medicine and the private practice of surgery are both shrinking. If more and more primary care doctors join large multispecialty groups or a national company, and if more and more surgeons join large multispecialty groups or a national company, there will be a paucity of patients for a freestanding anesthesia group to attend to. These trends are not going away.

As a result, today’s graduates from anesthesia residencies and fellowships are finding decreasing opportunities in true private practices, and increased offers to become someone’s employee. This means some of the anesthesia income will be shared with or siphoned off by other people.

Can young anesthesiologists do anything to reverse this trend? It depends. Private practice opportunities still exist in many geographic areas of the United States, if a new anesthesiologist is flexible about where he or she is willing to live. If you’re determined to stay in an overcrowded, underpaying marketplace, you may find nothing better than a salaried job at a modest income.

What is a modest income? Is $250,000 a year a modest income? That number sounds like a large income to most Americans. However if the doctor worked 60 hours per week and was awake all night performing anesthetics every fifth night, and if the collected fees for that individual’s anesthesia work that year totaled $750,000, then that individual was being paid significantly less than they earned.

How can you tell if your employer is paying you less than you earned? Find out what they are collecting per anesthesia unit of time, and do the math. Compare that number to what they are paying you. See my article on anesthesia billing as a reference for this.

Many private practice groups will survive. In the words of Charles Darwin, it will be survival of the fittest. Private practice groups will have to change and adapt to maximize their chances for survival. They will have to provide a higher level of service, and become more involved outside the operating room, in perioperative leadership, and in their local hospital politics and economics.

The anesthesia job market is part of the free marketplace in America, and Adam Smith’s invisible hand will drive individuals toward the best and highest paying opportunities. If you’re a young anesthesiologist, can you do anything to avoid the trend toward low salaried jobs? You can refuse to settle for poorly-paying jobs. Move to a marketplace that pays you well for your time. You may choose to not settle for a salary which is a mere fraction of what you are earning, especially if you are keeping patients alive at 3 a.m. while healthcare businessmen and stockholders are sleeping.

Medscape lists the best states for doctors to practice in. Flexibility in geography may yield a superior opportunity for you.

Medscape recently reported the average yearly income for anesthesiologists in the United States as $364,000. If your yearly income is $250,000 (this would be $114,000 under the average), then somewhere in the United States there are anesthesiologists with an income of $364,000 + $114,000 = $478,000, to maintain the average yearly income that Medscape reported.

When you input “private practice anesthesiologist” into Indeed.com, you’ll find multiple job offers. The private practice of anesthesia may be shrinking, but it’s far from gone.

 

The most popular posts for laypeople on The Anesthesia Consultant include:

How Long Will It Take To Wake Up From General Anesthesia?

Why Did Take Me So Long To Wake From General Anesthesia?

Will I Have a Breathing Tube During Anesthesia?

What Are the Common Anesthesia Medications?

How Safe is Anesthesia in the 21st Century?

Will I Be Nauseated After General Anesthesia?

What Are the Anesthesia Risks For Children?

 

The most popular posts for anesthesia professionals on The Anesthesia Consultant  include:

10 Trends for the Future of Anesthesia

Should You Cancel Anesthesia for a Potassium Level of 3.6?

12 Important Things to Know as You Near the End of Your Anesthesia Training

Should You Cancel Surgery For a Blood Pressure = 178/108?

Advice For Passing the Anesthesia Oral Board Exams

What Personal Characteristics are Necessary to Become a Successful Anesthesiologist?

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT RICK NOVAK’S FICTION WRITING AT RICK NOVAK.COM BY CLICKING ON THE PICTURE BELOW:

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ON BECOMING AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST… WHAT PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS ARE ESSENTIAL TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL ANESTHESIOLOGIST?

the anesthesia consultant

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

What are the personal characteristics of a successful anesthesiologist? You’ve found The Anesthesia Consultant website, so you have some interest in anesthesia. Perhaps you’ve heard that anesthesiologists earn a comfortable living.

Per wikiprofessionals.org: “According to figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, the lowest 10% of anesthesiologists earn under $135,110 per year, whereas the top 10% earn up to $408,000 per year. The median annual earnings, defined as that figure where half the experienced anesthesiologists earn less than that amount and half earn more, is $292,000. Anesthesiologists’ salaries are among the highest of all U.S. professions.”

Perhaps you’re wondering if anesthesiology is a potential vocation for you, your child, your cousin, or your niece. The truth is: a career in anesthesia involves unique demands that most people would not seek, tolerate, or ever grow accustomed to.

Nonetheless, I believe no medical specialty is more fascinating than anesthesiology. Based on thirty years as an anesthesiologist, here’s my checklist of ten qualities necessary to succeed in this profession.

You must have:

  1. Calmness under intense pressure. I’ve experience countless emergency moments where patients dropped their heart rate or blood pressure dangerously low, increased their heart rate or blood pressure dangerously high, hemorrhaged from an artery, lost their airway, or in some other unexpected way sustained a life-threatening event. An anesthesiologist must remain focused and decisive at these moments. An anesthesiologist must choose the correct diagnostic and therapeutic moves to save the patient’s life. An operating room emergency is not a time for screaming, temper tantrums, or freezing. An operating room emergency is a time for calm, assertive action.
  2. Vigilance during long periods of quasi-boredom. In between those emergency occurrences, an anesthesiologist must remain attentive without becoming bored or distracted. The motto of the American Society of Anesthesiologists is one word: Vigilance. During surgery, much of our job is to observe. One day I brought my 15-year-old son into the operating room with me to observe surgery, hoping he would respect the complex nature of my job. Instead his impression afterward was, “Dad, most of the time you don’t really do much of anything. You watch monitor screens, talk to the surgeon and the nurses, and listen to music.” One of my partners overheard this analysis and remarked, “If you see an anesthesiologist working hard, then you’ve really got a problem!”
  3. Superior skills with your hands. There are no tests during college pre-med classes or medical school clerkships to quantify an individual’s fine motor skills. Many doctors with superior manual dexterity migrate toward operative specialties like surgery or anesthesia. But not all anesthesiologists are equal. Some resident anesthesia doctors are less skillful than others at various anesthesia procedures such as placing breathing tubes into windpipes, inserting catheters into veins and arteries, injecting nerve blocks near peripheral nerves, or injecting spinals and epidurals into the lumbar spine. Residents have dropped out of our specialty altogether because they were not confident with the required procedural skills.
  4. The patience and motivation to persist through 25-27 years of training. In the song Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan wrote, “Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift.” In anesthesiology, twenty years of schooling earns you both the dayshift and the night shift. Your education will consist of thirteen years through high school, four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship, three years of anesthesia residency, and probably an extra one or two years of fellowship specialization. This cascade of years stretches your education past the age of thirty. You must to be accepting of delayed gratification. During the last of those twenty-five years, when you owe $250,000 in educational debt and are roaming hospital hallways at three a.m., your college classmates who chose business careers are at home sleeping in a house they’ve already purchased.
  5. A tolerance for sleeplessness. You must have the ability to thrive during early mornings and late nights. Scheduled surgeries start early in the morning, usually at 0730. Prior to that hour, anesthesiologists meet, evaluate, and obtain consent from their first patient, and then bring the patient to the operating room and safely render them unconscious. Not all cases start at sunrise—surgical patients get sick around the clock. Emergency surgeries may start at midnight or three o’clock in the morning. Anesthesiologists must be tolerant of fatigue and still be able to work unimpaired.
  6. Compulsive attention to detail. All aspects of anesthesia care, including a) the review of a patient’s medical condition prior to surgery, b) the planning and conduct of the anesthetic, and the management of medical conditions and c) complications immediately after surgery, require the anesthesiologist to avoid mistakes of any kind and to strive for near-perfection. Psychiatrists often diagnose OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) in patients. It’s probable that most anesthesiologists have a least a touch of OCD.
  7. Thick skin. You cannot be too hard on yourself, even though anesthesiologists are not allowed to have a bad day. A bad day in this career could mean a dead patient, a comatose patient, or a patient who was supposed to be discharged home instead lying in an intensive care unit on a ventilator. You’re human, and you may make a mistake. That mistake may have no consequence or it may cost a patient dearly. If a patient suffers a bad outcome secondary to a mistake you make, you’ll have to endure the emotional toll. There are stories of anesthesiologists who quit the specialty, become addicts, or commit suicide because a patient suffered a bad outcome. You can’t succumb.
  8. Excellent communication skills. You must be someone who can sell yourself to a patient in ten minutes. Anesthesiologists typically have ten minutes before surgery to interview a patient, examine them, obtain their consent, and gain their trust. The patient will be anxious. You need to assess and manage both their medical and their emotional needs at this demanding moment. An anesthesiologist’s patients are unconscious most of the time, but not all the time. If you want a medical career with zero awake hours of patient contact, consider pathology instead of anesthesiology. A successful anesthesiologist must also cooperate with different teams of surgeons, nurses, and medical techs every day. Surgeon personalities come in all varieties—some are demanding, some are condescending, and some are bullies. You have to work effectively with all types of surgeons, whether you admire that individual’s personality or not.
  9. Intelligence. Admission to anesthesia residency positions is very competitive. In 2014 there were only 1,049 anesthesia PG-1 (Post-Graduate Year 1) residency positions in the United States and 1,836 individuals who applied for these positions. Nearly 50% of applicants—all of them medical school seniors or medical school graduates—failed to land a position in anesthesia. (Ref: Results and Data, National Resident Matching Program 2014 http://www.nrmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Main-Match-Results-and-Data-2014.pdf)
  10. A love for helping people. Every physician must have this. We spend years memorizing facts about physiology, disease, and pharmacology, but a successful doctor must care about each patient as an individual. Empathy for patients before, during, and after the day of their surgery and anesthesia is essential.

These are ten qualities I look for in an outstanding anesthesiologist. The next time you need surgery, I’d advise you to look for and expect the same qualities in the man or woman who will anesthetize you.

 

The most popular posts for laypeople on The Anesthesia Consultant include:

How Long Will It Take To Wake Up From General Anesthesia?

Why Did Take Me So Long To Wake From General Anesthesia?

Will I Have a Breathing Tube During Anesthesia?

What Are the Common Anesthesia Medications?

How Safe is Anesthesia in the 21st Century?

Will I Be Nauseated After General Anesthesia?

What Are the Anesthesia Risks For Children?

 

The most popular posts for anesthesia professionals on The Anesthesia Consultant  include:

10 Trends for the Future of Anesthesia

Should You Cancel Anesthesia for a Potassium Level of 3.6?

12 Important Things to Know as You Near the End of Your Anesthesia Training

Should You Cancel Surgery For a Blood Pressure = 178/108?

Advice For Passing the Anesthesia Oral Board Exams

What Personal Characteristics are Necessary to Become a Successful Anesthesiologist?

 

 

 

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

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10 WAYS PRIVATE PRACTICE ANESTHESIA DIFFERS FROM ACADEMIC ANESTHESIA

the anesthesia consultant

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

Academic and private practice anesthesia differ. I’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. From 2001 until 2015, I served as the Deputy Chief of Anesthesia at Stanford, an elected officer who leads the private practice/community section of the anesthesia department.


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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.

 

The most popular posts for laypeople on The Anesthesia Consultant include:

How Long Will It Take To Wake Up From General Anesthesia?

Why Did Take Me So Long To Wake From General Anesthesia?

Will I Have a Breathing Tube During Anesthesia?

What Are the Common Anesthesia Medications?

How Safe is Anesthesia in the 21st Century?

Will I Be Nauseated After General Anesthesia?

What Are the Anesthesia Risks For Children?

 

The most popular posts for anesthesia professionals on The Anesthesia Consultant  include:

10 Trends for the Future of Anesthesia

Should You Cancel Anesthesia for a Potassium Level of 3.6?

12 Important Things to Know as You Near the End of Your Anesthesia Training

Should You Cancel Surgery For a Blood Pressure = 178/108?

Advice For Passing the Anesthesia Oral Board Exams

What Personal Characteristics are Necessary to Become a Successful Anesthesiologist?

 

 

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Published in September 2017:  The second edition of 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.

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:

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

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WHY DOES ANYONE DECIDE THEY WANT TO BECOME AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST?

the anesthesia consultant

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

A question anesthesiologists are commonly asked is, “Why did you want to become an anesthesiologist?”

Let’s assume a young man or woman has the discipline and intellect to attend medical school. Once that individual gains their M.D. degree, they will choose a specialty from a long line-up that includes multiple surgical specialties (general surgery, orthopedics, urology, neurosurgery, cardiac surgery, ophthalmology, plastic surgery, ear-nose-and-throat surgery), internal medicine, pediatrics, family practice, dermatology, radiology, invasive radiology, radiation oncology, allergy-immunology, emergency medicine, and anesthesiology.

Why choose anesthesiology? I offer up a list of the reasons individuals like myself chose this specialty:

  1. Anesthesiologists do acute care rather than clinic care or chronic care. Some doctors enjoy sitting in a clinic 40+ hours a week, talking to and listening to patients. Other doctors prefer acute care, where more exciting things happen moment to moment. It’s true that surgeons do acute care in the operating room, but most surgeons spend an equal amount of time in clinic, seeing patients before and after scheduled surgical procedures. Chronic care in clinics can be emotionally taxing. Ordering diagnostic studies and prescribing a variety of pills suits certain M.D.’s, but acute care in operating rooms and intensive care units is more stimulating. It’s exciting controlling a patient’s airway, breathing, and circulation. It’s exciting having a patient’s life in your hands. Time flies.
  2. Patients like and respect their anesthesiologist, and that feels good. Maybe it’s because we are about to take each patient’s life into our hands, but during those minutes prior to surgery, patients treat anesthesiologists very well. I tend to learn more about my patients’ personal lives, hobbies, and social history in those 10 minutes of conversation prior to surgery than I ever did in my internal medicine clinic.
  3. An anesthesiologist’s patients are unconscious the majority of time. Some anesthesiologists are attracted the this aspect. An unconscious patient is not complaining. In contrast, try to imagine a 50-hour-a-week clinic practice as an internal medicine doctor, in which every one of your patients has a list of medical problems they are eager to tell you about.
  4. There is tremendous variety in anesthesia practice. We take care of patients ranging in ages from newborns to 100-year-olds. We anesthetize patients for heart surgery, brain surgery, abdominal or chest surgeries, bone and joint surgeries, cosmetic surgery, eye surgery, urological surgery, trauma surgery, and organ transplantation surgery. Every mother for Cesarean section has an anesthetist, as do mothers for many vaginal deliveries for childbirth. Anesthesiologists run intensive care units and anesthesiologists are medical directors of operating rooms as well as pain clinics.
  5. Anesthesiologists work with a lot of cool gadgets and advanced technology. The modern anesthesia workstation is full of computers and computerized devices we use to monitor patients. The modern anesthesia workstation has parallels to a commercial aircraft cockpit.
  6. Lifestyle. We work hard, but if an anesthesiologist chooses to take a month off, he or she can be easily replaced during the absence. It’s very hard for an office doctor to take extended time away from their patients. Many patients will find a alternate doctor during a one month absence if the original physician is unavailable. This aspect of anesthesia is particularly attractive to some female physicians who have dual roles as mother and physician, and choose to work less than full-time as an anesthesiologist so they can attend to their children and family.
  7. Anesthesia is a procedural specialty. We work with our hands inserting IV’s, breathing tubes, central venous IV catheters, arterial catheters, spinal blocks, epidural blocks, and peripheral nerve blocks as needed. It’s fun to do these procedures. Historically, procedural specialties have been higher paid than non=procedural specialties.

What about problematic issues with a career in anesthesia? There are a few:

  1. We work hard. Surgical schedules commonly begin at 7:30 a.m., and anesthesiologists have to arrive well before that time to prepare equipment, evaluate the first patient, and get that patient asleep before any surgery can commence. After years of this, my internal alarm clock tends to wake me at 6:00 a.m. even on weekends.
  2. Crazy hours. Every emergency surgery—every automobile accident, gunshot wound, heart transplant, or urgent Cesarean section at 3 a.m. needs an anesthetist. Working around the clock can wear you out.
  3. The stakes are high if you make a serious mistake. In a clinic setting, an M.D. may commit malpractice by failing to recognize that a patient’s vague chest pain is really a heart attack, or an M.D. may fail to order or to check on an important lab test, leading to a missed diagnosis. But in an operating room, the malpractice risks to an anesthesiologist are dire. A failure in properly insert a breathing tube can lead to brain death in minutes. This level of tension isn’t for everyone. Some doctors are not emotionally suited for anesthesia practice.
  4. In the future, anesthesia doctors may gradually lose market share of their practice to nurse anesthetists. You can peruse other columns in this blog where I’ve discussed this issue.
  5. Anesthesiologists don’t bring any patients to a medical center. In medical politics, this can be problematic. Anesthesiologists have limited power in some negotiations, because we can be seen as service providers rather than as a source of new patient referrals for a hospital. Some hospital administrators see an anesthetist as easily replaced by the next anesthetist who walks through the door, or who offers to work for a lower wage.

The positive aspects of anesthesiology far outweigh these negatives.

Akin to the Dos Equis commercial that describes “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” I’d describe the profession of anesthesiology as “The Most Interesting Job in the World.”

And when you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.

 

The most popular posts for laypeople on The Anesthesia Consultant include:

How Long Will It Take To Wake Up From General Anesthesia?

Why Did Take Me So Long To Wake From General Anesthesia?

Will I Have a Breathing Tube During Anesthesia?

What Are the Common Anesthesia Medications?

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The most popular posts for anesthesia professionals on The Anesthesia Consultant  include:

10 Trends for the Future of Anesthesia

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