Brittany Young, M.S. Secretary, ASA Medical Student Component
“Austere environments (post-disasters, areas of conflict, and chronic humanitarian crises) are not intuitive. Even the most experienced volunteer can meet unexpected challenges...” Kelly McQueen, M.D., 2013 (Chair, Committee on Global Humanitarian Outreach)
As I watched an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” I wondered why it seemed as if surgeons had all the cool cases and was consistently shown to exemplify the proverbial “grace under pressure”? As an aspiring anesthesiologist, I would like others pursuing the specialty to realize that there is more to anesthesia than primetime television realizes or understands. On a day-to-day basis, anesthesiologists demonstrate the ability to handle versatility in cases and patients, unrelenting focus on patient safety and care, and possess the courage and leadership skills that it takes to lead a team. Traditionally, anesthesia professionals perform their roles inside the operating room, but there is a continuing need and growing trend for this role to expand. For those thinking that I am referring to NORA or “non-operating room anesthesia”, I essentially am; however, let’s consider anesthesia even outside of the hospital.
Academic Pursuits: International Health Electives and Global Anesthesia Fellowship
Anesthesia fulfills a critical role in global health care by ensuring patient safety during various procedures or natural processes like childbirth. Medical conditions that are considered trivial or routinely treated according to standards of care in developed nations can be life threatening in third-world countries due to lack of access, adequate supplies or medical education. Academic institutions recognize the need for the skills of anesthesiologists abroad and have developed global health programs to address health care disparities. Anesthesia residents are encouraged to explore opportunities for clinical training in the developing world and are provided research-based guidance for projects on an international scale. International health electives and global anesthesia fellowships enhance resident training by providing learning experiences focused on perioperative patient care and anesthetic management in resource-poor environments. Residents are not only managing more advanced pathology and medical conditions in the developing world that aren’t encountered back home, but they are also enjoying rich cultural experiences different from their own.
Humanitarian Efforts: Medical Mission Trips and Post-Disaster Relief
According to the ASA Committee on Global Humanitarian Outreach, there is an anesthesia crisis in low- income countries around the world, and the organization has made improving patient safety in low-income countries a top priority. Commitment to volunteerism has been a long-standing tradition among anesthesiologists who have provided their services and ensured patient safety during surgical, obstetric and pain management procedures. The skills that make anesthesiologists essential in the operating room prove to be critical when similar procedures are undertaken in areas that lack resources. Although being outside of the controlled environment of the operating room can be challenging, it can only prove to increase the expertise of the clinician. Volunteer anesthesiologists have made an impact on the lives of citizens in every region of the world by decreasing health disparities through medical missions and providing desperately needed medical care in disaster relief efforts.
In conclusion, you have chosen an excellent specialty. Although I could only give you a brief overview of the impact that anesthesiologists make on a global scale, I hope that I was able to share some insight into the vast opportunities available to you. There are many ways in which you can contribute to communities and people’s lives as a future anesthesiologist. As you look at residency programs and research volunteer opportunities throughout medical school, consider the ways in which you can make an impact not only in your own communities but also abroad. Be sure to reach out to your institution’s department of anesthesiology or a mentor for advice. Remember that our world can only be as great as the individuals who decide every day to make a difference!