Interview with a ...
What do you do?
I am a pediatric anesthesiologist who works at a major medical center. I have special training to take care of children during a procedure, like surgery or a CT (computed tomography) scan. I’m responsible for keeping them safe while they’re sedated and with managing their pain afterward.
Describe a typical day.
My days vary, but I usually anticipate starting around 7 a.m. by checking my OR (operating room) assignment. I’ll either have 1 large case that takes all day or up to 14 smaller cases.
After I check assignments, I go see my first, or only, patient in pre-op (preoperative assessment). Then, I’ll take the patient to the OR for the procedure. I administer the anesthesia and prepare the patient for surgery. I stay with him or her for the entire procedure, monitoring throughout, and continue to administer medicine as needed. Then, I either allow the patient to wake up on his or her own or transfer the patient to the ICU (intensive care unit) for further treatment.
When I finish with one patient, I see the next one, and continue through all the cases. My assignment for the day usually finishes between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
How did you become interested in medicine?
I really liked math and science in school, and growing up in a small town, medicine was one of the most obvious ways to have a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Was anesthesiology your first choice for a medical career?
I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing. I thought I would have a family practice and be a small-town doctor.
But in my third year of medical school, I was on surgical rotation and got called in for an emergency in the middle of the night. I wasn’t that interested in what the surgeons were doing, but I found myself watching the anesthesiologist. And that’s when I realized anesthesiology was really interesting to me.
How does pediatric anesthesiology differ from other subspecialties?
In pediatric anesthesiology, many of our patients aren’t able to communicate because they’re so young. But we still have to make them feel secure and safe, even when they may not understand what’s happening to them. We have to reassure their parents and families, too.
Was your premed background in the sciences?
I got a degree in chemistry with a minor in biology. But I went to a small liberal arts college and had to take nonscience subjects, too. Having a liberal arts background is very helpful in medical school because it makes you well rounded. And any class that exposes you to the arts, to languages, to topics that enrich your understanding—you may not realize at the time that you’re ever going to use it, but you will.
Looking back, I wish I would’ve taken business classes. Not only because a lot of work in the medical field is rooted in business decisions and accounting, but also for what you need to do in your personal life, like investments or setting up a retirement fund.
What other education and training prepared you for this career?
It’s 4 years of med school, followed by 1 year of an internship in medicine, surgery, or pediatrics; I chose pediatrics. Then, it’s 3 years in an anesthesiology residency, where you rotate through all the subspecialties and general OR, including ICU and pain clinics. After that, you can go into general practice or a subspecialty; I chose to do a 1-year subspecialty fellowship in pediatrics. It took a total of 9 years on top of the bachelor’s degree.
Talk about some of the skills anesthesiologists need that people might not consider.
For starters, you need interpersonal skills. A lot of people think we just deal with patients who are under anesthesia, so we don’t talk to them at all. But we have intense, important conversations with our patients and their families before surgery, and a lot of times we don’t have relationships with them already, the way their primary care doctor or specialist does. So we have to build a rapport in a short amount of time to explain what will happen, answer any questions, and ease their fears.
You also need an ability to think quickly and to make decisions quickly.
And for a lot of the procedures we do, like creating airways and drawing blood, you need good dexterity and hand–eye coordination. On a related note, this is a very physical job. We’re moving patients, we’re moving equipment, and we’re on our feet in the OR. It’s not a desk job.
What do you like best about your work?
I like seeing the kids every day. I like being able to have a career that is math- and science-oriented but that allows me to interact and play with children. There aren’t too many jobs where you can have a skipping contest down the hallway or sing songs to kids as they drift off to sleep, but those are both part of what I get to do.
What’s the worst thing about your job?
Taking care of the really sick kids: the ones you think aren’t going to make it, or the ones who are suffering and you can’t make them better.
What career advice do you have for aspiring anesthesiologists?
For anyone, not just would-be doctors or anesthesiologists, I have two pieces of advice. First, when choosing a career, you’ve got to find something that you love. Nobody else can tell you what that is, and you can’t go into it for the money, for the prestige, or for some other perceived benefit. You spend more time working in your career than you spend with your family, so you have to make sure you really like doing it.
Second, it’s good to have goals, but don’t let goal-setting interfere with seeing other opportunities along the way. I never thought I’d be doing the job I have today, but here I am. And I love it.
What are your future career plans?
I sometimes wonder if I want to go into hospital administration, or maybe a teaching program where I work with anesthesiology residents. But I like what I do so much right now that I can’t imagine doing anything else.
If I were going to make a change, I might do fewer nights, weekends, or long shifts. But I still want to get up every day, go to the OR, and take care of kids.
Kathleen Green, "Pediatric anesthesiologist," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2017.