Anesthesiologists are doctors who give patients drugs to relieve pain or put them to sleep during surgery.
When you think of anesthesia, you probably think about sleep. After all, you are being "put under" during a procedure. Yet, anesthesia is actually about the management of pain during and after surgery. Becoming voluntarily unconscious is part of that process - not the main goal.
Anesthesiologists must be familiar with patients' conditions in order to determine the best way to treat them. They begin by reading patients' medical charts. They look for allergies and read the comments of family doctors and specialists. In addition, anesthesiologists meet with patients and examine them. They discuss possible risks, listen to patients' concerns, and answer questions. They also talk with other members of the medical team. Together with the patient and other doctors, anesthesiologists decide which methods and medicines to use.
On the day of the procedure, anesthesiologists talk with patients and family members. They explain what to expect before, during, and after the procedure. Nurses prepare patients for most procedures. They insert a needle in the patient's vein and start an intravenous (IV) drip. Some drugs are liquids. Anesthesiologists may add these drugs to patients' IV using a needle. For some procedures, anesthesiologists start the IV. Before inserting any needles, they may swab patients' skin with a numbing solution.
Anesthesiologists make patients as comfortable as possible for the procedure. They place or assist others in placing patients in the best position. When the surgeon is ready, anesthesiologists give patients anesthetics. General anesthetics put patients to sleep. In contrast, local or regional anesthetics allow patients to remain awake but not feel pain. When patients are awake, anesthesiologists can talk to them to check on their comfort and awareness.
During the procedure, anesthesiologists monitor patients' temperature, pulse, heart, and breathing rates. They watch for bad reactions to the drugs. In these situations, they change doses or give different drugs to counteract reactions. Anesthesiologists record the types and amounts of medicines they give. They also supervise nurses and operating room assistants. These workers help them check vital signs and monitor the medications and patients.
Some anesthesiologists have additional duties. They may respond to emergencies in the hospital. They may also teach others about managing pain in a safe way. They teach medical students who are interns or residents. They also instruct or advise other staff members. To update their skills, anesthesiologists read articles in medical journals and take classes. They may do research in pain management and publish their findings.