Understanding Anesthesia – 

Most people think of the anesthesiologist as the person who puts them to sleep before surgery and wakes them up when it’s over. While that is true in some scenarios, it can actually be different “types” of anesthesia professional(s), that make up your “anesthesia care team” and play an important role in the operating room throughout the surgery, regulating vital functions during and after surgery. Anesthesia is typically used to block pain, relax a patient or control a patient’s level of consciousness in conduction with surgery or other complex procedures. The anesthesia professional ensures that patients are comfortable during surgery and monitors and controls functions such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure to help contribute in positive outcomes.

Anesthesia refers to care that typically involves a patient’s health status before surgical or other procedures, developing an anesthesia plan for the patient, ensuring a patient does not feel pain during surgical or other procedures, and caring for the patient after a procedure (this includes pain relief after surgery). There are two main types of anesthesia:

  • With general anesthesia, you are unconscious and have no awareness or other sensations. There are a number of general anesthetic drugs – some are gases or vapors inhaled through a breathing mask or tube and others are medications introduced through a vein.
  • With regional anesthesia, your anesthesia professional makes an injection near a cluster of nerves to numb the area of your body that requires surgery. You may remain conscious, or you may be given a sedative; either way you do not see or feel the actual surgery taking place. There are several kinds of regional anesthesia; the two most common are spinal anesthesia and epidural anesthesia
    • Watch demonstration videos:
      • Part 1 provides basic information about anesthesia, what an anesthesiologist/anesthesia professional does, and types of anesthesia and general preparation instructions for anesthesia; part 1
      • Part 2 provides more information about what to expect on the day of the surgery and the flow from pre-op (before surgery) to surgery to post op (after surgery); part 2

These videos were made available by Lifeline to Modern Medicine. They reserve all rights to these videos and NTAC, in no way accepts credit or responsibility in the making them. Please check out their website for more information.

Instances, other than surgery, where anesthesia may be provided include pain management for acute and chronic diseases (such as cancer), during childbirth, and for other procedures performed in ambulatory surgery centers and doctors’ offices (such as endoscopies). Anesthesia services may be provided at hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, in an office or clinic, and other settings.

Who Provides Anesthesia Services?

Anesthesia professionals are responsible for ensuring the delivery safely to patients in most healthcare settings. This includes evaluating the patient before surgery, consulting with the surgical team, creating a tailored anesthesia plan for each patient and during surgery, managing the patient’s breathing and other life support functions and controlling pain. Typically, anesthesiologists are also the first to diagnose and treat medical problems during the recovery period after surgery.

Anesthesia is often administered by an anesthesiologist, but may also be given by a certified registered nurse (CRNA) or anesthesiologist assistant (AA). While CRNAs may be supervised by a physician who is not an anesthesiologist, AAs must be supervised by an anesthesiologist. The differences between anesthesia providers are explained are as follows:

  •  Anesthesiologists are physicians (MD or DO) who have completed four years of college, four years of medical school, an accredited four-year residency program in anesthesiology, and are legally licensed to practice by the state in which they perform services. Most, but not all, have also been certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are registered nurses who are licensed by the state in which they perform services. A CRNA is either currently certified by the Council of Certification of Nurse Anesthetists or the Council on Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists, or has graduated with the past 18 months for a nurse anesthesia program that meets the standards of the Council of Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs and is awaiting initial certification. Some states permit CRNAs to practice independently, while in others they must be supervised by a physician.
  • Anesthesiologist Assistants (AAs) are permitted by state law to administer anesthesia and have successfully completed a six year program for Anesthesiologist Assistants, which consists of four years of college and two years of specialized academic and clinical training in anesthesia. Depending on state laws, an AA may either be licensed as an AA or practice under the license of an anesthesiologist ender principle of delegation.