Who Are Anesthesiologists

What is anesthesiology ? (an⁃es⁃the⁃si⁃ol⁃o⁃gy)

Anesthesiology is that branch of medicine that is dedicated to total care of a patient undergoing surgery and the relief of pain. Total care includes preparing you for surgery (see assessment before surgery) being responsible for pain relief in the early recovery phase as well as treating complications that may result from the anesthetic.

Anesthesiology has been a leader in ensuring that surgery is safe.

Who are anesthesiologists ? (an⁃es⁃the⁃si⁃ol⁃o⁃gist)

Before your operation you will meet an important specialist physician. A vital member of the surgical team, the anesthesiologist is responsible for keeping you safe and comfortable during and after your operation.

Anesthesiologists give more intravenous drugs than all other types of physicians combined. Anesthesiologists are the only physicians with expert knowledge of the extremely potent drugs during your surgery to ensure 'sleep' (when needed - see regional anesthesia) and absence of pain.

Anesthesiologists are familiar with all medical conditions and their implications for patients undergoing a wide range of surgeries. They have experience in giving an anesthestic for all surgical procedures. They provide care to all ages - from premature babies to grand-grandmothers.

What training do anesthesiologists undergo ?

Canadian trained anesthesiologists are physicians who have completed a pre-medical degree, followed by medical school and then five or more years of training (called 'residency') in the field of anesthesiology.

During their residency, anesthesiologists are extensively trained in human physiology (how the body works), particularly the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. They spend a year working in such internal medicine areas as cardiology and respirology.

At least six months are spent in critical care units, such as coronary care, neonatal, pediatric and adult intensive care. By the end of their training they have become experts on anesthesia, resuscitation, critical care, and pain management. They then take the specialty examinations of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and become certified specialists in anesthesiology.

Anesthesiologists who have completed their training in other countries may take the same specialty exams after an thorough process to ensure that their training meets the high standard of their Canadian colleagues.

A special group in Canada ‑ mostly in rural areas ‑ is Family Practice Anesthetists. These are skilled individuals who are qualified in Family Medicine and who have completed additional training in one of the university departments of anesthesia.

Do anesthesiologists provide care outside of the operating room ?

A considerable portion of most anesthesiologists' work is in providing anesthesia in the operating room. However in most hospitals, they also work in many other areas. You will find them in the intensive care units, the maternity unit, the pre-admission clinic and the chronic pain clinic.

In larger hospitals they are the leaders of the acute postoperative pain team (often called 'APS' for short) (link word in blue to ‘Pain after surgery’ where they work in teams with nurse practitioners trained in managing acute pain. More and more procedures are now being done without open surgery (called 'non-invasive surgery') in the the radiology and cardiac departments.

Many of these procedures needs an anesthesiologist as you will either be heavily sedated or under general anesthesia.

Follow this link to see more re. other settings where anesthesiologists work for more detail.

This link from a large community hospital is also insightful. http://www.ontarioanesthesiologists.ca/what-we-do

What is the difference between "anesthetist" and "anesthesiologist"?


The former term is used throughout the world, and particularly in Britain, to designate "one who administers an anaesthetic", and includes both nurses and doctors. In Canada, only trained physicians provide anesthetic services, so the Canadian Anaesthetists' Society adopted the designation "anesthesiologist" to separate physician providers from others.

In the USA an anesthesiologist relates to a physician while the term anesthesia may relate to a nurse providing anesthesia care. In Canada nurses may be part of the anesthesia care team (see below), but are not allowed to provide anesthesia care otherwise.

Can I choose my anesthesiologist?


In most hospitals this is possible, though the multiple duties and assignments shared by the anesthetic staff may make it logistically difficult to have a given member of the staff available on the day of your operation. Please check with your surgeon's office about your local situation.

What is an Anesthesia Care Team?

The anesthesia care team is a group of professionals dedicated to the care of patients before, during and after surgery. Led by the anesthesiologist, this team consists of nurses and respiratory therapists, some of whom have taken additional specialized training (e.g. special programs such as a Masters degree or the Anesthesia Assistant program), and all of whom work together to ensure excellent care that is safe, effective and efficient


Written by:
Martin van der Vyver, (Specialist Anesthetist) MBChB FRCPC

Date created:
October 31, 2010