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How to Find Top Anesthesiology Med School Programs

Discussion in 'Anesthesia' started by Hadeel Abdelkariem, Jun 3, 2018.

  1. Hadeel Abdelkariem

    Hadeel Abdelkariem Golden Member

    Apr 1, 2018
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    When sick patients need major surgeries, their survival depends on the competence of their doctors, including not only the surgeons who perform their operations, but also the anesthesiologists who monitor their vital signs.


    Dr. Karen Sibert, the president of the California Society of Anesthesiologists and an associate clinical professor with the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California—Los Angeles and UCLA Health, says she chose to become an anesthesiologist because she was intrigued by the idea of putting patients to sleep so they could endure a medical procedure.

    "I thought it was absolutely fascinating that anesthesiologists could take people and put them into this state of induced coma and take care of their heart and their lungs and their neurologic function and their diabetes... and then bring them out of it and wake them up," Sibert says. "And the patient has no idea that time has even passed."

    Dr. Ruth S. Waterman, associate professor of anesthesiology and interim chair of the department of anesthesiology at the University of California—San Diego School of Medicine and UC San Diego Health, says there is unfortunately a lot of confusion about what anesthesiologists do on a daily basis.

    "An anesthesiologist not only gives you medicine so that you are quote-un-quote asleep, which is really unconscious, during the surgery, but they are monitoring all of the vital signs during the case," she says. "They are ensuring that your heart is working properly and your lungs. They are making sure that your kidneys are producing urine."

    Anesthesiology is not part of the core curriculum at most medical schools, but many schools offer an elective rotation or clerkship in the discipline. Plus, aspiring doctors who are interested in anesthesiology can take comfort in the fact that it is a lucrative field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average anesthesiologist's salary is more than $260,000. And anesthesiologist was ranked as the No. 1 Best Paying Job in the U.S. News Best Jobs rankings.

    But while a career in anesthesiology can lead to a generous salary, Sibert says it's a mistake to choose this medical specialty if the only aspect of the profession you find intriguing is the money.

    Sibert and other medical school professors say that med students should begin school with an open mind about what specialty they could enter, since they won't know which specialty they prefer until they get some experience in that area of medicine. "The basic thing to do is find something you're really interested in," Sibert says.

    Anesthesiology medical school faculty say a key quality necessary to thrive in anesthesiology is the ability to stay calm in the midst of a crisis, such as when a surgery patient starts to suffer from a cardiac problem that requires immediate intervention.

    "Obviously, somebody who freezes up when something bad is happening isn't going to do well in anesthesia," Waterman says. Practicing anesthesiologists also say that aspiring doctors can benefit from high-quality medical school courses in anesthesiology even if they don't intend to become anesthesiologists. Waterman says aspiring surgeons can benefit from learning how anesthesiologists evaluate prospective surgery patients to gauge whether these patients are ready for surgery. She adds that medical school students who are interested in breathing disorders can also profit from lessons on how anesthesiologists facilitate the breathing of sedated patients.

    Dr. Adam Blomberg, the national education director for the anesthesia division of Envision Physician Services, a multispecialty medical group with physicians throughout the U.S., says that medical students who intend to become primary care physicians often don't realize that an anesthesiology rotation could be useful. Because an anesthesiology rotation teaches medical students which screening tests are necessary for patients who need surgical procedures, it offers important guidance for most prospective physicians, Blomberg says. He adds that an anesthesiologist will often use information from a patient's primary care physician to determine what kind of anesthesia is most appropriate for a patient.

    Here are five traits to look for in medical schools to gauge whether they offer a strong curriculum in anesthesiology and solid preparation for a residency in that specialty.

    [Read: Identify Med Schools With Strong OB-GYN Programs.]

    Anesthesiology courses that are available to third-year medical students. Experts say the timing of when a medical school allows its students to enroll in an anesthesiology rotation is crucial, since students need to apply for a post-medical school residency early in their fourth year.

    "I would look for a school that gives you the opportunity to take electives in the third year of medical school or has anesthesia as part of the primary curriculum in the third year," said Dr. Leif Dahleen, a Minnesota-based anesthesiologist, via email.

    Hands-on training during the anesthesiology rotation. Anesthesiologists say the best possible rotation is one where students not only observe the anesthesiology professors and residents during medical procedures, but also assist with procedures and are told the rationale behind treatment decisions.

    "If your rotation is just to stand in the corner of the operating room and [you] don't make a word and don't make a sound, that's not a good experience," Blomberg says.

    Varied group of anesthesia patients. Waterman says that it's ideal for an anesthesiology rotation to include not only simple outpatient surgical procedures, but also complex inpatient surgeries.

    "You don't want to rotate through an anesthesia rotation where it's all what we term 'bread and butter,' meaning that you're just doing these simple cases and you don't get to see the breadth of the experience, like a heart transplant or major abdominal surgery," she says.

    Solid courses in physiology and pharmacology. Physiology is a branch of biology that explores the mechanics of routine bodily functions like breathing and digestion, while pharmacology is a branch of biology that focuses on the impact of medication on the human body.

    Understanding the inner workings of the body's life-sustaining organs like the heart and lungs is crucial for anesthesiologists since they need to ensure that those organs function properly during surgeries, experts say. And experts add that, because many surgery patients have complex medical histories and a long list of prescriptions, it's impossible to properly choose anesthesia for these patients without considering how drugs interact. So, getting a solid grasp of physiology and pharmacology is necessary for anybody who plans to specialize in anesthesiology, according to practicing anesthesiologists.

    Blomberg says a compelling course in pharmacology will teach students problem-solving strategies they can use to mitigate the possibility of dangerous drug interactions.

    Anesthesiology residency match rates. "I would ask for a list of recent graduates who matched into anesthesia residency programs," Dahleen said. "If few graduates matched to anesthesia (we make up about 7% of U.S. physicians), I would consider that to be a red flag."


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