Anesthesiology is the medical specialty dedicated to administration of anesthesia and relief of pain. But many people don’t know that it’s also the specialty dedicated to the total care of patient—before, during and after surgery. Anesthesiologists are the highly trained physicians who are ultimately responsible for a patient’s wellbeing. They evaluate, monitor and supervise care for the duration of a surgical procedure, from scheduling to discharge. They have the medical education and training necessary to make critical decisions, should emergencies arise or routine procedures become complicated.
In addition to medical school, anesthesiologists complete at least four years of residency training in medicine, surgery and anesthesiology. Then, in order to achieve board certification, they must pass two national examinations, one written and one oral, given by the independent American Board of Anesthesiology or American Board of Osteopathic Anesthesiology. Both are recognized members of the American Board of Medical Specialties.
There are three types of surgical anesthesia. General anesthesia renders a patient unconscious during procedures, with no awareness or sensations. With regional anesthesia, patients can remain awake during a procedure, or be given a sedative; either way, the region of the body that requires surgery is completely numbed, and patients are not able to feel the procedure taking place. The two most common forms of regional anesthesia are spinal and epidural. Local anesthesia is used for minor procedures. The anesthetic drug is typically injected directly into the tissue to numb a very specific location of the body.
Anesthesiologists are uniquely qualified pain medicine experts. Many work outside of the operating room to diagnose, evaluate and treat patients who suffer from chronic pain. Proper treatment requires an in-depth knowledge of the complexities of pain, the ability to assess complicated pain conditions, an understanding of specialized tests used for diagnosis, and skills to perform interventional procedures such as nerve blocks and spinal injections.