Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine dedicated to the relief of pain and total care of the surgical patient before, during and after surgery.
The education of today's anesthesiologists has kept pace with their expanding role in offering the highest quality health care available anywhere in the world. After completing a four-year college program and four years of medical school, they enter a four-year anesthesiology residency training program. Fellowships in an anesthesia subspecialty and in education or research may also be taken for an additional year.
In the operating room:
An estimated 40 million anesthetics are administered each year in this country. Anesthesiologists provide or participate in more than 90 percent of these anesthetics. In the operating room, they are responsible for the medical management and anesthetic care of the patient throughout the duration of the surgery. The anesthesiologist must carefully match the anesthetic needs of each patient to that patient's medical condition, responses to anesthesia and the requirements of the surgery.
In the postanesthesia care unit (recovery room):
This is where patients are transferred after surgery, allowing them to emerge fully from the effects of the anesthesia under the watchful eyes of skilled nursing personnel with anesthesiologist consultation immediately available. While safety is of course the foremost priority during surgery, it is also of utmost concern that the patient be monitored and continually assessed while fully regaining consciousness. In most cases, the anesthesiologist decides when the patient has recovered enough to be sent home following outpatient surgery or has been stabilized sufficiently to be moved to a regular room or ward in the medical facility.
For pain management:
In addition to the patient's pain being relieved or blocked entirely during a surgical procedure, it is equally important to provide adequate pain relief postoperatively for the patient's comfort and well-being. After surgery, the anesthesiologist is involved in prescribing pain-relieving medication and techniques that are best for each individual patient to maintain a level of comfort and to follow proper rest.
Because of their specialty training, anesthesiologists are uniquely qualified to prescribe and administer drug therapies for acute, chronic, cancer and childbirth pain. In childbirth, the anesthesiologist manages the care of two people, providing pain relief with epidural or spinal blocks for the mother while managing the life functions of both the mother and the baby.
In critical care and trauma medicine:
As an outgrowth of the postanesthesia care unit, critical care units are now found in all major medical facilities throughout the country. The role of the anesthesiologist in this setting is to provide medical assessment and diagnosis, respiratory and cardiovascular support, and infection control.
Anesthesiologists also have the medical background to deal with many emergency situations. They provide airway management, cardiac and pulmonary resuscitation, advanced life support and pain control. As consultants, they play an active role in stabilizing and preparing the patient for emergency surgery.