Did You Know You’re Not a Clinician?

  • Sibert, Karen, MD, FASA
| Jun 26, 2011

“Blogs” give us an uncensored look at what some members of the public think of anesthesiologists.

Recently I wrote an op-ed piece that the New York Times headlined “Don’t Quit This Day Job” and published on Sunday, June 12. Whether or not you agree with my argument and conclusions, every anesthesiologist should be concerned about some of the anonymous “blog” responses that appeared on various websites.

The comments disputed that I had any business discussing the practice of medicine at all—because I’m an anesthesiologist.

Clearly, we’re not a popular group. Said one blogger: “Most of their patients are totally unconscious the whole time and they read the newspaper in the operating room, no joke.” Another blogger referred to us as the “Gucci loafer, sports car, nanny-hiring anesthesiologists,” and said that we are “usually the only Porsche owners in the hospital parking lot.” (Looking at the Volvo I drive and how my rescue dog fits well in the back, I wanted to object, but the doctor who wrote those comments probably wouldn’t have been mollified.)

Some writers seemed annoyed by the fact that I work in Los Angeles, apparently extrapolating this information to assume (incorrectly) that I spend leisurely days giving anesthesia to outpatients in cosmetic surgery offices in between spa visits.

One anonymous blogger said that anesthesiology is “already a lifestyle choice type of medicine—largely shift work, and well reimbursed.” Another wrote, “Perhaps the fact that patients of Dr. Karen S. Sibert, an anesthesiologist, are mostly asleep when they are under her care allows her to declare that a full-time schedule of 40 or more hours a week is manageable for a doctor.” Perhaps the most surprising was this barrage: “Dr. Sibert is not a clinician! She puts people to sleep and wakes them up for surgery!”

Really, I was expecting, even hoping for intelligent debate. I wasn’t expecting to be told that I’m not a clinician.

CSA President Ken Pauker and the CSA Committee on Professional and Public Communication (CPPC) have identified a serious need for us to put our “brand” out to the public in a way that will help people understand what we really do. I always agreed with this goal, but understand it better now. Even other doctors don’t comprehend much about the practice of anesthesiology.

So we have a major public relations task ahead of us. Clearly, many people think that that once our patients are asleep, our work is done. They don’t understand the constant monitoring and vigilance that takes place during the maintenance of anesthesia, and how we manage techniques such as one-lung ventilation. They don’t understand that surgical and diagnostic procedures are being done today on patients who are older and sicker than ever, because we make it possible for those patients to come through safely. And they don’t understand that we are under the same governmental and financial pressures as all other doctors.

As anesthesiologists, we need to make ourselves visible to our colleagues in the hospital, and not just with our cars. People do notice what we’re doing on the other side of the ether screen, and whether we look professional as we’re walking into the hospital or look like college students out for a hike. We need to take part on committees, contribute to our hospital newsletters and publications, and make sure hospital administrations and members of the public learn more about how important anesthesiology is to the modern practice of medicine.

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