Anesthesiology is defined by the American Society of Anesthesiologists as: “The practice of medicine dedicated to the relief of pain and total care of the surgical patient before, during and after surgery.”
Anesthesiologists are involved in around 90 percent of the more than 40 million surgical procedures that are carried out under anesthetic each year in the United States.
This involvement may include direct care of the patient or supervision of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) or Anesthesia Assistants, who also play a key role in the field.
What do anesthesiologists do?
The anesthesiologist provides pain relief before, during and after surgery, but they also fulfill a number of other important roles.
Pain relief in surgery
Before an operation, a patient will meet with the anesthesiologist for an evaluation. The anesthesiologist will make a plan for the operation that takes into account the individual needs of the patient.
On the day of the operation, the anesthesiologist supervises the administration of medication so that the patient will not experience pain.
However, the anesthesiologist does not physically provide most anesthetics. They supervise either a CRNA or Anesthesia Assistant while they provide the anesthetic. CRNAs often work independently without supervision as well.
The type of pain relief offered during surgery may be:
General anesthesia: The patient “goes to sleep” while the operation lasts.
Sedation: Intravenous drugs calm the patient or make them unaware of the procedure.
Regional anesthesia: Local anesthetic is injected near the nerves to numb the area that will be operated. These may be nerve blocks or spinal or epidural injections.
During the procedure, the surgeon carries out the surgical work, but the anesthesiologist will continue to be responsible for the medical management of the patient.
They monitor the patient’s bodily functions, assess the best way to treat the vital organs, and provide a balance of medications suited to the individual’s needs.
The functions they need to monitor include:
- heart rate and rhythm
- blood pressure
- body temperature
- fluid balance
The anesthesiologist controls these vital measures and the patient’s level of pain and unconsciousness throughout the operation.