Get the Facts on Anesthesia, Anesthesia Risks and Anesthesiologists

There are many misconceptions about anesthesiology. Get the information you need to make the right choice for you and your family. Below are the most commonly asked questions concerning the administration of anesthesia.

Isn’t the person giving the anesthesia always an Anesthesiologist (Physician)?

No, often you will meet a physician who performs a pre-operative evaluation, but unless you specifically ask for an Anesthesiologist (Physician), the person who actually performs the anesthetic may be an Anesthesiologist, a CRNA (nurse anesthetist) or an AA (anesthesia assistant).  It’s your choice and you have the right to know.

What’s the difference between an anesthetist and an Anesthesiologist?

Education GraphAnyone who administers anesthesia can be called an anesthetist. This can be an Anesthesiologist (Physician) or a non-physician such as a nurse anesthetist or an anesthesia assistant (AA).

An Anesthesiologist is:

  • A Physician who has completed a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college (usually four years),
  • Plus four years of medical school with an MD or DO degree. After medical school, a doctor has the choice of additional specialization. Some choose Surgery, Pediatrics or other medical fields. Those who enjoy critical care medicine often choose Anesthesiology.
  • As a specialist, an Anesthesiologist must complete four years of advanced training in anesthesia.
  • The American Board of Anesthesiology provides Board Certification for Anesthesiologists.

A nurse anesthetist:

  • Has a nursing degree.
  • And two years of additional anesthesiology training (online available).

I looked on the Internet and read that nurse anesthetists have the same training in anesthesia as Anesthesiologists. Is this true?

Years of Patient ManagementNo, the training is completely different.

Anesthesiologists start their training after they are already Physicians. This is a huge difference.

Physicians have studied and treated medical conditions and are trained to recognize and diagnose medical complications. Physician Anesthesiologists are qualified to treat medical complications because they are licensed physicians.

Nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) and anesthesia assistants (AAs) have limited medical and anesthesia training and are not licensed to practice medicine or treat medical complications. This limited anesthesia training is not a substitute for four years of medical school and four years of specialty training in anesthesiology.

My plastic surgeon uses a nurse anesthetist and supervises the anesthesia himself. Is this safe?

Most surgeons never receive any anesthesia specific training since anesthesia is an elective rotation in medical school.

You should feel free to ask anyone who is supervising anesthesia how much formal anesthesia training they have had and what their credentials are. If complications arise during your cosmetic surgery, it is important to have an Anesthesiologist present to help the plastic surgeon manage your care.

I called my hospital and they told me they use an “Anesthesia Care Team”. What does that mean?

The “Anesthesia Care Team” model typically is an Anesthesiologist simultaneously supervising up to four nurse anesthetists in different operating rooms. All pre-operative evaluations must be approved by the Physician Anesthesiologist, however the primary person delivering the anesthetic is usually the nurse anesthetist.

In some states, nurse anesthetists are allowed to practice without the supervision of a physician.

If I ask for an Anesthesiologist will I have to pay more money?

No, in the vast majority of cases the insurance company reimbursement for the nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is the same as it is for the Anesthesiologist. If you are having a non-insured case performed (e.g. plastic surgery), then the price will be up to the individual performing the anesthesia and may be cheaper or more expensive.

Considering that there is no cost difference to you to have an Anesthesiologist (Physician) administer your anesthesia, wouldn’t you want a doctor by your side in case a complication does arise?

Remember, the biggest risk is not knowing who is administering your or your loved one’s anesthesia. You can rest assured with a doctor by your side.

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