What can you expect if you pursue a career in anesthesiology, one of the highest-paying medical specialties? A typical day can vary a great deal depending on your work environment and whether you work in general anesthesiology or a subspecialty of the field. However, what’s certain is that you will work directly with patients, keeping their pain under control when they are undergoing surgical procedures, healing from a critical injury or enduring the pain of childbirth. An anesthesiologist’s focus is pain relief, and the career may include long but fulfilling days of making patients as comfortable as possible at the time when they most need care.
The Job of Relieving Pain
An anesthesiologist serves a particular role in patient care: alleviating pain. Anesthetics are medications that numb a patient, causing a general loss of sensation, while analgesia medications remove pain without numbing. General anesthesia causes patients to lose consciousness, while regional and local anesthesia only numb particular areas of the body. Anesthesiologists may administer both anesthesia and analgesia to a patient, as well as intravenous sedatives that relax the patient. Depending on how deeply a patient is sedated, they may fall asleep completely or simply feel drowsy.
Anesthesiologists don’t just put medicine in an IV line and leave. They usually meet with a patient to discuss the anesthesia process and the patient’s medical history during preoperative care. Anesthesiologists administer anesthesia immediately preceding the surgery and continue to monitor the patient during the procedure and adjust the medication as needed. After the surgery is over, the anesthesiologist checks on patients in recovery and advise the patient on any post-anesthesia symptoms or concerns.
A typical day for an anesthesiologist will likely include administering anesthesia and analgesia to multiple patients. One aspect of an anesthesiologist’s job that makes it exciting is that you have the potential to work on many different types of patient’s cases. Over the course of the same day, you may find yourself in preoperative rooms, operating rooms, recovery rooms, emergency departments, intensive care units, labor and delivery wards, or diagnostic testing suites, the American Society of Anesthesiologists reported. Working in the practice of general anesthesiology is a great choice for individuals who don’t want to do the same thing day and day out because there is so much variety in the job.
However, that’s not the case for every anesthesiologist. Physicians who pursue additional training in a subspecialty of anesthesiology may find work in a specialist role that keeps them primarily working in a more consistent environment. If you specialize in obstetric anesthesiology, for example, you will spend much of your days administering pain relief, such as epidurals, to laboring mothers, according to the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry. Your role will also be crucial in preparing mothers to undergo a Cesarian delivery using a spinal block or, in emergency situations, general anesthesia. Critical care anesthesiologists, on the other hand, specialize in pain relief and sedation of acutely ill or injured patients, often in an intensive care unit or other critical care setting of a hospital.
Anesthesiologists don’t all work in hospitals and outpatient or ambulatory surgery centers. Some work in endoscopy or colonoscopy suites of testing centers or specialized medical practices or in physicians’ officers where potentially painful procedures may be performed.
Long Days (and Nights)
For anesthesiologists who work in hospitals, particularly, the typical workday is a long one. Many anesthesiologists start their days early, arriving at the hospital as early as 6 a.m. Work schedules are often, though not always, based on 12-hour shifts. Complications and emergencies can extend your workday unexpectedly.
You may need to work evenings, overnight shifts and weekends, especially if you work in an intensive care unit, a labor and delivery ward or an emergency room. Although routine surgeries are likely to be scheduled during more regular business hours, trauma surgeries, emergency procedures and labor can’t be planned in advance for a convenient time. You may also work for as long as 24 hours if you are on-call, the American Society of Anesthesiologists reported.
Anesthesiologists often work over 40 hours per week, and often up to 60 hours per week, but they still have more time than medical residents, the recently graduated doctors who may work up to 80 hours per week, STAT News reported.