Role of the Anesthesiologist
A common misconception is that an anesthesiologist is the doctor who “puts patients to sleep” before surgery. It’s true that this is part of their job, but it’s only a small part! An anesthesiologist is actually a perioperative physician, where “peri” means all-around. So, an anesthesiologist is responsible for patient care throughout the surgical experience: before, during, and after the surgery itself. An anesthesiologist also has many responsibilities outside of the surgical suite (operating room).
Click on each section below for more information on the role an anesthesiologist plays throughout surgery:
The anesthesiologist will complete a preoperative evaluation before the patient goes into surgery. Depending on the type of surgery to be performed and the nature of the case, emergency vs elective (non-emergent), they might ask questions about patient history, any previous experience with anesthesia, conduct a physical examination, and review laboratory test results. In all cases, the goal is to ensure that the surgery is performed in the safest manner possible. The preoperative evaluation will be as thorough as required to make this determination. Based on this individual patient assessment and the type of surgery to be performed, the anesthesiologist will devise an anesthetic plan for the patient’s surgery. This may include general anesthesia (putting the patient to sleep), and/or a regional nerve block (numbing the affected extremity for surgery or for pain management after surgery).
In the operating room, the anesthesiologist is responsible for patient safety and well-being throughout the surgery. Per the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the primary roles of anesthesiologist during surgery are to:
- Provide continual medical assessment of the patient
- Monitor and control the patient’s vital life functions, including heart rate and rhythm, breathing, blood pressure, body temperature and body fluid balance
- Control the patient’s pain and level of consciousness to make conditions ideal for a safe and successful surgery
Anesthesiologists are trained extensively to understand patient needs and to make the best decisions for their overall health and safety.
After surgery, the patients are taken to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit or Intensive Care Unit, where specialized nurses, anesthesiologists or other physicians will continue to monitor the patient’s condition and the effects of anesthesia. They will also take steps to ensure that any pain resulting from surgery is minimized.
Anesthesiologist are trained to manage pain during and after surgery. Surgical pain, or pain following an injury, is commonly known as acute pain. This is pain that usually resolves over time as the body heals. Pain that persists longer than expected, is known as chronic pain. Chronic pain can be related to trauma, such as a nerve injury, or a disease process such as cancer or diabetes. Some anesthesiologists take an additional year of specialized training and become board certified in Pain Medicine. They are uniquely qualified to manage and help patients with acute and chronic pain.
Anesthesiologists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine also have significant academic and administrative responsibilities. They frequently conduct research, train new physicians to properly practice anesthesia, and provide overall leadership in the areas of patient safety and quality care.