As a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist, I’m accustomed to meeting patients for the first time less than an hour before large cardiac and thoracic surgeries. During these encounters, I have a finite amount of time to explain my anesthetic plan, establish expectations, justify my goals, answers questions, and garner rapport before proceeding to the operating room. Many of my patients are already intubated and receiving sedation. In these situations, I speak with their families and caretakers instead.
Medical students considering anesthesiology often inquire about the nature of the patient-physician relationship in this field. “Do you find meaningful relationships with your patients? Are you fulfilled with the interaction you have?”
The short answer is absolutely!
Although some find anesthesiology appealing because of the lack of continuity and extended conversations with patients, I find the type of interaction much more interesting. Many of my patients can wrap their heads around the nature of surgery. They’ve watched preparation videos, they understand the indication for the operation, and they have arranged for the necessary post-operative resources to expedite recovery. What they are often most concerned about is the anesthesia.
And that’s where I use my chief concern of patient safety to earn their trust, paint the picture of what to expect, and stress the importance of the perioperative team as a family consisting of skilled physicians, nurses, and techs working together to provide the best possible care.
Admittedly, one of the reasons why I chose to also pursue a critical care fellowship was to rekindle the continuity, multidisciplinary rounds, and bedside interactions I loved throughout my training. I consider one of my strengths distilling down complex pathophysiology in a way that patients and their loved ones can understand. In doing so, they understand not only the clinical situation but the reasoning behind why I choose to perform certain tests, rule in/out diagnoses, etc. Although the pre-operative relationships are incredibly important, my role as an intensivist fulfills me the most from a patient-physician relationship standpoint.