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Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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What is an anaesthetist?

Anaesthetists are specialist doctors who are responsible for providing anaesthesia to patients for operations and procedures. In addition anaesthetists have a range of practice which extends beyond anaesthesia for surgery to include pain management and intensive care.

Anaesthetists form the largest specialty group of doctors in NHS hospitals. They are doctors who have chosen after qualifying to undertake postgraduate specialist training of at least seven years in anaesthesia, intensive care medicine and pain management.

Most consultant anaesthetists have developed subspecialist interests in a particular area of surgical practice, or in pain management or critical care. In the Trust there are also a number of anaesthetists in training who are supervised by consultants. The standards of training in the UK are high and exacting.

Anaesthesia for surgery

Our work involves meeting with the patient and surgical team in order to plan what sort of anaesthetic is most appropriate. This may happen on the day of surgery for straightforward operations, or in an anaesthetic pre-assessment clinic for more complex surgery. Routine checks and preparations are then made for the specific patients on that day's operating list.

In theatre, the anaesthetist administers the anaesthetic tailored to the individual patient and remains with them throughout the operation, monitoring and treating as necessary the effects of the anaesthetic and the surgery. This may involve simple monitoring of the heart, blood pressure and oxygen levels, right through to provision of advanced organ support in complex cases. We also plan and implement the pain relief strategy to ensure that patients are comfortable immediately following the operation.

After the operation or procedure the anaesthetist remains responsible for the patient in the recovery area until the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off enough for the patient to return to their ward. Where complex types of pain relief are used on the ward the anaesthetists in the pain service may continue to review and care for such patients until the need for pain relief is over.

Other roles of the anaesthetist

As part of their training, all anaesthetists also undergo specialist training in intensive care medicine. As a result, most of the doctors in intensive care medicine are anaesthetists and are also involved in resuscitation teams and training.

Some anaesthetists also choose to specialise in caring for specific sorts of pain including pain in childbirth and long-term (or chronic) pain problems.

You are likely to come across anaesthetists in other areas too. Some procedures such as imaging, scanning, endoscopy and dental treatment require the help of the anaesthetist to ensure that you are pain free and you may be given a general anaesthetic during these procedures.

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