In high school, I distinctly remember viewing the field of anesthesiology as one for the weaklings. Something that’s easy. Something which requires knowing a few drugs, some simple procedures, and having the luxury of doing nothing 95% of the time while surgeons diligently work to save someone’s life as the real doctors.
In undergrad, my views about anesthesia remained unchanged as I became more engrossed with the rigorous training of a budding surgeon. Those anesthesiologists seemed to always be in the background as I shadowed surgeons, yet I had no idea exactly what they were doing. Although I was curious, my focus was definitely more on learning surgical technique.
After finishing nearly all of my core clinical rotations as a medical student, I became somewhat discouraged and cynical (as almost all med students do) by the current state of healthcare and medical education. Residents are frustrated, stressed, and exhausted. Attendings are unsatisfied. In particular, I found that surgery residents seemed so unhappy and often times treated more junior residents with ridicule. I’m a product of those around me, and I was already feeling uneasy about the prospect of being a disgruntled resident for years. 🙁
Then I did two weeks of general anesthesiology at the end of my third year of medical school… and something sparked within me. Teaching. Learning. Happy people. The responsibility of being the watchful eye over a patient and applying critical thinking with advanced pathophysiology and pharmacology to offset even the most gruesome disturbances of homeostasis. I made my late decision to switch to anesthesiology convinced that I would indeed find my niche in this diverse field.
As I began residency, I observed how certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) play into the grand scheme of perioperative care, how their training is similar and different than that of a physician, and above all else, how much they are lobbying for greater autonomy in the anesthesia environment. Almost concurrently, I worked alongside attending anesthesiologists who almost exclusively supervised CRNAs but did very little in the interim. How does one retain their skills and knowledge base just by supervising? How do I differentiate myself from the growing number of mid-level providers? I didn’t want to be the typical bread-and-butter anesthesiologist who oversees easy cases and has to compete with the “threat” of CRNAs who, arguably, can perform similar anesthetics.
I then made the decision to pursue fellowships in critical care and cardiothoracic anesthesiology. Stepping away from the stereotype of the “airway-book-chair” anesthesiologist, I sought the role of an incredibly well-trained perioperative physician involved in both the operating room and intensive care unit to care for patients and educate medical students, residents, and fellows.
In my mind, anesthesiology has been transformed from an easy/boring speciality into a bridge towards something much, much greater – a bridge to become a jack of all trades as a calm physician who has been trained to deal with the sickest patients in virtually any setting using all modalities of technology.
I’m excited for what the next decade holds and how my viewpoint will continue to change. 🙂