Christopher Li, M.S. AMA Alternate Delegate, ASA Medical Student Component CJLI@carilionclinic.org
Every aspiring physician comes to the same crossroads in their medical career, facing the same question – “What specialty is right for me?” Factors ranging from board exam scores to work-life balance all flood the brain at once. The culmination of these factors for me was to take the route to perioperative care, to become an anesthesiologist. With that decision rooted in my mind I proudly gave my reply to all who inquired of my interest. However, to my chagrin, I was met with the reproach that I was taking the easy road, a softer specialty. Was that what I was doing? Is anesthesia a cushy specialty?
In search of an answer, I turned to Dr. Richard Novak, the Deputy Chief of Anesthesia at Stanford University, or more specifically, to his blog: The Anesthesia Consultant. Dr. Novak’s reply to this question is no simple one, but he does decisively shred the myth of the anesthesiologist golfer, intermittently interrupted to perform their duties in the operating room. He describes in detail the on-call anesthesiologist, in at 6:30 a.m. with eight surgical anesthetic cases for the day, a night of epidurals, and a struggling endotracheal tube greeting him along with the sun. Dr. Novak admits that there is a lifestyle advantage, one that juxtaposes periods of dedicated work and dedicated leisure. Due to the absence of chronic patient follow-up and hospital employee overhead, anesthesiologists have flexibility in their schedule that allows for part-time work or longer vacations. However, does this make anesthesia a laxer specialty? Dr. Novak notes that an anesthesiologist, the epitome of airway expertise, provides care to 500-1,000 patients every single year, ensuring that each one of them receives the airway management care they require for whatever the situation, be it delivery, trauma, organ transplant or critical care. Many of these cases are as prevalent during the day as the night, and no matter the cause for that patient’s presence, right by their side is an anesthesiologist, whether they know it or not.
After reading his article, I bring myself back to the question at hand. Is anesthesia a cushy specialty? My answer is no - the anesthesiologist, just as any other physician in any other specialty, toils over their patients because that is what drew them to medicine in the first place. As it has been described to me before, the anesthesiologist is the airplane pilot of the operating room. Passengers don’t clap for a pilot when a plane lands safely – they fully expect it to each and every time it lifts off. Patients most likely won’t clap for an anesthesiologist when they successfully emerge from surgery, even if there were bouts with blood pressure or bronchospasm that had to be dealt with while they were under. Regardless, the anesthesiologist is there, by the patient’s side through it all. Therefore, as a medical student striving toward mastery of airway management, I will always state with pride that I want be an anesthesiologist, the pilot laboring over his passengers until the end of every flight.
The Anesthesia Consultant (www.theanesthesiaconsultant.com), by Dr. Richard Novak, is an online blog designed to inform and entertain both laypeople and medical specialists on various topics in the field of anesthesiology.