Preparing for Surgery: An Anesthesia Checklist


Surgery is performed to correct a problem or make you feel better, whether you’re having a mole removed or a knee replaced, a hernia repaired or a heart valve replaced. Your procedure might be performed in the hospital, at an outpatient surgery center or even in your doctor’s office. Whatever type of surgery you’re having and wherever you have it, you most likely will be given some type of anesthesia to keep you comfortable. Planning ahead for surgery and anesthesia can help ensure a successful procedure and smooth recovery. This Preparing for Surgery: An Anesthesia Checklist to help ensure your access to safe, high-quality care.

Getting ready before surgery

  • Do your homework.
    • Are your physicians qualified? Ask your physicians and nurses about their experience performing the specific procedure you are undergoing to make sure they are qualified with the appropriate medical education and training.
    • Is the facility licensed and accredited and are emergency procedures in place? If you are having surgery outside of the hospital – at an outpatient facility or your doctor’s office – be sure it is licensed (check with your state’s health department) and appropriately accredited by an organization such as The Joint Commission, the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) or the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF). While complications are rare, they can happen, so if you’re having surgery outside of the hospital, you will want to be reassured that the facility has emergency medications, equipment and procedures in place, especially if there is no emergency facility nearby.
    • Avoid surprise medical bills. “Surprise medical bills” are caused by “surprise insurance gaps” that occur when the insurance plan offers a low premium but limits the number of physicians in the plan’s network. Before having a medical procedure, ask who will be involved in your care and whether they’re in your plan’s network. Also, call your insurance company to verify that not only the hospital or medical center, but also your particular physicians and other providers are in-network. Low premiums don’t necessarily mean affordable care. Always ask for details about what the health insurance plan does and doesn’t cover before signing up to protect against high co-pays, deductibles and a plan with a narrow network of physicians.
  • Get healthy. You’ll want to be as healthy as possible for surgery, so spend the time before the procedure being as active as you can, eating right and getting good sleep. It’s also very important to stop smoking as soon as possible, even if you stop just days before the surgery. Smoking can cause problems with breathing and recovery from anesthesia and surgery, including complications such as wound infections, pneumonia and heart attack. After you’ve stopped smoking for surgery, you can use it as an opportunity to quit for good.

Talking to your physicians

  • Find out who will provide the anesthesia. Be sure your anesthesia care is led by a physician anesthesiologist. You may ask, “What does a physician anesthesiologist do?”  A physician anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesia, pain and critical care medicine and works with your surgeon and other physicians to develop and administer your anesthesia care plan. With 12 to 14 years of education and 12,000 to 16,000 hours of clinical training, these highly trained medical specialists help ensure safe, high-quality care. Physician anesthesiologists play a key role in safety by meeting with you before surgery, closely monitoring your anesthesia and vital functions during the procedure and monitoring you afterwards to assure your recovery is smooth and your pain controlled.
  • Talk with your physician anesthesiologist. Your physician anesthesiologist will devise a care plan especially for you, which may be adjusted based on the information you provide. When you talk with your physician anesthesiologist before the procedure, be sure to discuss:  
    • Your health and medications. Tell your physician anesthesiologist all about your health, such as how physically active you are, if you snore, and if you have chronic health issues such as heart or lung problems, liver or kidney disease, allergies or any other medical conditions. Provide a list of all of the medications, supplements and vitamins you take. Your physician anesthesiologist might tell you to temporarily stop taking some of them because they may react with the anesthesia during surgery.
    • Your use of recreational or illicit drugs. The use of recreational or illicit drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, narcotics, and stimulants, among others, should be discussed with your physician anesthesiologist. These substances can have a significant impact on your reaction to medications used to provide anesthesia and can affect the amount of anesthetic and pain medications you may require, not to mention the negative effects of these substances on your body.
    • Your experience with anesthesia. If you or a family member has had a bad reaction to anesthesia or pain medication (even years ago) or any anesthesia side effects be sure to tell your physician anesthesiologist.
    • Your fears. It’s natural to fear surgery and anesthesia. If you’re afraid, tell your physician anesthesiologist, who can give you information to ease your mind and help you feel safe.
    • Your questions. Write down your questions before you talk to the physician anesthesiologist and then bring them up during your discussion. Ask for any details you want about the procedure and anesthesia.
    • Your recovery. The physician anesthesiologist continues to care for you after surgery, so ask about how any pain will be managed. Ask about any concerns you have regarding recovery, returning home and getting back to your normal routine.  

Preparing for the day of the surgery

As the day of the procedure arrives, plan to:
  • Follow pre-surgery directions and diet. Unless you have local anesthesia, you may be told not to eat or drink anything after midnight before your procedure. Although it is rare, food or liquid in your stomach could get into your lungs while you’re under anesthesia if you eat or drink past midnight. Ask your physician anesthesiologist for guidance. In some cases, you may be able to drink clear liquids.
  • Bring a friend. You won’t be allowed to drive home after outpatient surgery, and may not be able to drive even after a few days in the hospital, so plan to have a friend or family member take you home.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. Be sure to wear or bring loose-fitting clothing because you might be sore or swollen from the surgery or have bulky bandages over your incisions. Leave your jewelry and valuables at home.

To learn more about what physician anesthesiologists do before, during and after surgery, visit