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.

You’re a patient.  Is your surgeon a wonderful doctor, superb under pressure, or is he or she a self-absorbed nervous individual who can’t operate their way out of a paper bag? You don’t know.  Your anesthesiologist does. Anesthesiologists watch surgeons for a living.


Yes, we happen to give anesthetics to patients at the same time, but we anesthesiologists are always watching surgeons work.  If you want to know who the best surgeons are, ask an anesthesiologist, an operating room nurse, or an operating room scrub tech.  We see the surgeons on the front line, and we see their strengths and weaknesses.

Most surgeons spend the majority of their professional time in clinics, meeting patients in preoperative surgical consultations or in postoperative surgical follow up.  Most surgeons operate 1 – 2 days per week.  In contrast, most anesthesiologists have no clinic, and work 90-100% of their time in operating rooms.  In a typical week, an anesthesiologist may do 20-25 anesthetics with 10 – 15 different surgeons.  In a typical year, a busy anesthesiologist may work with 100 – 150 different surgeons.

In an operating room, the anesthesiologist stands 2 to 6 feet away from the surgeon, and has a clear view of the surgeon’s technique and an excellent opportunity to establish rapport with the surgical team.  Anesthesiologists and surgeons know each other very well.

As a patient, you may form your impressions of your surgeon based on encounters in the office or in your hospital room.  Favorable surgeons cast an air of confidence, intelligence, leadership and experience.  You may trust the look in their eye, the tenor of their voice, the firmness of their handshake.  You may like or dislike their necktie, their suit, their haircut or their bedside manner.

You have no idea how competent they are once they don sterile gown and gloves in the operating room, but anesthesiologists know.

The surgeon with the firm handshake may have hands that genuinely shake when they are in surgery.  The slick-appearing surgeon may operate in low gear, their fingers moving as slowly as a twig winding downstream in a muddy river.  In the operating room, the surgeon may be a benevolent professional or a moody tyrant who screams and swears at nurses and techs.  The surgeon with the killer smile may cling to outdated techniques or equipment.  Alternately, the surgeon may be world-class technician who knows his or her anatomy cold, handles tissue with exacting precision, and treats everyone on the surgical team like gold.

What can you, the patient, do about accessing information about your surgeon?

You can Google the surgeon’s name to seek information on their professional background, as well as any Yelp comments on other patient’s experiences with that doctor.  If you know anyone who works at that hospital or surgery center, it’s worth your while to query them and get their insider’s impression about the choice of surgeons that work there.  If you can talk to an anesthesiologist, operating room nurse, or operating scrub tech, they will be your best source of information as to which surgeon to consult.

Good luck.  All surgeons are different.  And remember: tonight when you are watching television, thousands of anesthesiologists are watching thousands of surgeons all over the United States.


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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.


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:


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