Saturday, October 07, 2006

Do you need to be a doctor?


Apparently large numbers of people are unaware that, in the UK at least, all anaesthetists are doctors. ‘Don’t you ever wish you’d done medicine’ a patient asked me the other day. Some of my colleagues get very exercised about this issue, and the Royal College of Anaesthetists organised a special day to tell people.

Part of the reason lots of folk don’t know we are doctors is because they can’t see why you need a doctor ‘just to put you to sleep’. Simply putting someone to sleep is actually pretty easy, you give someone an anaesthetic agent and off to sleep they go. Of course anaesthesia is not ‘sleep’ and the problem is that inducing it (anaesthesia) removes many of the bodies natural balances (homeostasis). The anaesthetist essentially takes over many of these functions and ensures the patient stays alive.

And that is before the surgeons even start. Surgery is a traumatic insult, like a car crash only a bit more controlled. Keeping the patient alive and in-balance despite the activities of the surgeon is the real challenge. To do all of this requires an in depth knowledge of the sciences of human biology, a comprehensive understanding of drugs and their actions on the body and how the various monitors use work and what they actually tell you.

Many patients are elderly or have multiple illnesses and are on long term medication. These can have an impact on how the patient responds to anaesthesia, surgery and disturbance of their ‘natural balance’.

So perhaps you can see why anaesthetists need to be doctors?


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