All posts by ermariano

Congratulations to Our Newest Anesthesiologists

2020 is a unique graduation year for all of our anesthesiology residents and fellows due to COVID-19, but never before has the role of anesthesiologists been more relevant. The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) has prepared this special graduation message so programs can incorporate it into their virtual ceremonies, and it features a very special commencement speaker: Dr. Jerome Adams, the Surgeon General of the United States!

Link to graduation video: https://bit.ly/3eMg5ET

Nearly all of these physicians who are just starting their careers specializing in anesthesiology have completed 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 4 years of internship and residency plus 1 or more years of fellowship training for many. Hopefully this message will help our newest graduates, their families and friends, and their teachers and mentors recognize and commemorate this important milestone in their lives.

Related Posts:

Being a Positive and Authentic Voice

“The key is to not reflexively get defensive, but to treat people on social media as you would treat them in real life.”

Season 2 Episode 33: Being a Positive and Authentic Voice with Dr. Ed Mariano 

Drs. Shillcutt and Mariano get real and talk: 

  • Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic information overload  
  • Discussing hard topics on social media 
  • Being a positive voice for marginalized groups 
  • Being a “Chief Cheerleader”  
  • The key to joy at work 

In this episode of The Brave Enough Show, I had a chance to speak with host Dr. Sasha Shillcutt about a variety of topics including #HeforShe, leadership, and maintaining a positive voice on social media. Enjoy!

Related Posts:

Beyond COVID-19: Stand Up for Veterans Having Surgery

Our Veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to defend our freedoms. Now it is our time to defend them.

Many people, even those who work in the operating room every day, take safe anesthesia care for granted. There has been growing pressure during this pandemic to remove physician supervision of nurse anesthetists with the latest threat coming from within Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare. For our Veterans, our heroes and arguably some of the most medically complex patients, having a physician in charge of anesthesia care at hospitals where anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists work together as a team makes the most sense.

Having a team with members who train differently and have different perspectives can only benefit the patient; anesthesiologists are physicians who draw on their medical training while nurse anesthetists bring valuable nursing experience. If you were a patient having surgery, wouldn’t you want an anesthesiologist directly involved in your care? If the answer is yes, please sign the Safe VA Care petition and let your elected officials know by filling out this contact form.

Continue reading Beyond COVID-19: Stand Up for Veterans Having Surgery

Providing anesthesia is often compared to flying a passenger airplane, and the anesthesia care team model is like having both a pilot and a co-pilot. Who thinks flying has become so safe that we no longer need the pilot? Seconds count in flight, and they count just as much in the operating room when a patient’s life is on the line. 

In 2016, the VA rejected independent practice for nurse anesthetists after careful consideration, but this decision was recently overturned by a memo citing the COVID-19 pandemic. This memo abolishes the anesthesia care team model without giving Veterans a choice. Veterans having surgery may now only get a nurse anesthetist without the option of having an anesthesiologist involved. If they were given the choice, however, I think our Veterans would choose an anesthesiologist or an anesthesia care team instead of a nurse anesthetist alone. We all should. With the COVID-19 pandemic, elective surgeries at the VA have been stopped so there is no shortage of anesthesiologists. Anesthesiologists all over the world have been fighting COVID-19 and have shown what they can do with their specialized medical training in a crisis. Although commonly referred to as “going to sleep,” general anesthesia is more like a complex drug-induced coma that can carry serious risk. If or when a crisis happens during surgery, every patient should have access to an anesthesiologist.

Modern anesthesiologists are physicians but also scientists, educators, and patient safety advocates. Anesthesiologists specialize in relieving anxiety, preventing and treating pain, preventing and managing complications related to surgery, critical care, and improving patient outcomes. The average anesthesiologist spends nearly a decade in postgraduate education after college including medical school and logs 16,000 hours of clinical training to learn to apply the best available evidence in clinical practice. Academic physicians and scientists focused on anesthesiology are responsible for the discovery of newer and safer anesthetics, pain therapies, and technologies that are advancing healthcare throughout the world.

Anesthesia administration by non-physicians such as nurse anesthetists and certified anesthesiologist assistants is supported by the American Society of Anesthesiologists within the physician-led anesthesia care team model. To uphold safe, high-quality physician-led anesthesia care for our nation’s Veterans, please speak up by signing the petition and reaching out to legislators using this contact form. It only takes a minute to stand up for safety, but the consequences of not saying something may be serious and long-lasting.

Related Posts:

Conference Cancelled Due to COVID-19? Host an Online Poster Session!

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual spring meeting season for medical societies never got started. In San Francisco, all events hosting more than 1000 people were prohibited. As a result, the 2020 annual ASRA regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine meeting was cancelled.

However, there were nearly 400 scientific abstract posters submitted to the meeting and posted online. For so many registered attendees, the ASRA meeting was an opportunity to share their latest research and medically challenging cases with their colleagues and solicit feedback.

Continue reading Conference Cancelled Due to COVID-19? Host an Online Poster Session!

There was no way to preserve the complex structure of an ASRA meeting (e.g., workshops, plenary lectures, problem-based learning discussion, networking sessions), but a moderated poster session was feasible using common videoconferencing applications. The Chair of the 2019 ASRA spring meeting, Dr. Raj Gupta, took it to the next level by using StreamYard to simultaneously broadcast the video feed to multiple social media platforms (e.g., Twitter/Periscope, Facebook, YouTube). In addition to accessing the livestream for free, participants could make comments and pose questions to the speakers and moderator through their social media applications.

Dr. Gupta hosted 6 sessions, and these were archived on YouTube for later viewing. As an example, here is one session focused on regional anesthesia abstracts in which I participated:

Although it was disappointing to not have an ASRA spring meeting this year, something good came out of it. The livestreamed poster discussions were an innovative way to showcase the science and educational cases as well as leverage social media to attract a global audience. Since medical conferences may never completely return to pre-COVID normal, embracing technology and incorporating online sessions should be considered by continuing medical education planners going forward.

Related Posts:

PPE Considerations for COVID-19 Airway Management Personnel

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for personnel involved in advanced airway management in cases of known positive or suspected COVID-19 should not replace recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, the additional risk of exposure to healthcare personnel involved in advanced airway management for a disease with airborne transmission must be taken into consideration. Past experiences with variations in PPE during other major respiratory diseases in recent history have been published along with recommendations for the current COVID-19 pandemic. Experts have recommended a higher level of PPE for personnel involved in advanced airway management due to limitations of standard PPE, particularly neck and wrist exposure.

Continue reading PPE Considerations for COVID-19 Airway Management Personnel

Use of an air filtration system, preferably an N95 mask, is recommended by CDC and anesthesia societies and is a minimum requirement for airway management personnel. Proper air filtration is a basic need for healthcare professionals caring for patients with airborne diseases and participating in aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs). N95 fit testing should be prioritized for these healthcare professionals. For airway management personnel who do not successfully fit test or cannot wear an N95 for other reasons, ideally a hooded Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) should serve as the alternative.

Basic features of PPE for airway management personnel are IN ADDITION to CDC recommendations for PPE and airborne, droplet, and contact precautions which may include:

  • Second layer of eye/face protection
  • Neck coverage
  • Second layer of long gloves

This level of PPE is not universally recommended by societies and other organizations. Advanced skills in airway management are a limited resource, and those with these skills require adequate protection. In addition, anesthesiologists are critical medical specialists who can provide perioperative and critical care as well as pain management during a surge in addition to performing endotracheal intubation when needed.

Implementation of these features will vary given the variability of available PPE between institutions and supply shortages worldwide. It is essential to train airway management staff as soon as possible to develop a local PPE protocol that takes into account CDC and special precautions for high-risk procedures like intubation as described above.  Each facility will likely develop its own unique PPE protocol.

The following videos are being shared for educational purposes only. They represent only one example of applying additional precautions to PPE for airway management personnel, and there will be many others. Creating local videos can help expand training at a facility without depleting available PPE supplies. Remember that each institution or practice will develop its own version of PPE for airway management personnel, and many variations can achieve the same goal.

VIDEO: Enhanced Airway PPE Donning (1:52)

VIDEO: Outer Layer Doffing (1:28)

VIDEO: Inner Layer Doffing (2:21)

VIDEO: COVID-19 Airway Management Simulation (1:44)

For other helpful resources, visit
https://www.edmariano.com/resources/ppe.

Related Posts:

Being Essential in the Post-Normal Era

Traffic is non-existent. Schools are closed. Restaurants are only offering take-out and delivery. Parking lots at strip malls are empty on weekends. Only a limited number of people at a time are allowed inside the grocery store. 

Welcome to the post-normal era since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the scene in Northern California. 

One day we will look back at this time and realize how much it changed everything. Simple things like a handshake or sitting together with a colleague during a lunch break will hopefully never be taken for granted again 

Continue reading Being Essential in the Post-Normal Era

The California Governor has issued a statewide order to shelter in place. It’s only natural that the husband and father parts of me consider staying home like everyone else. 

But I’m not like everyone else, and none of us in healthcare are. We are considered “essential,” which is why we continue to go to work day-and-night while the rest of our society shelters in place in a monumental effort to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19. 

I have always liked this blog by Dr. Kathy Hughes about working at hospitals around the holidays and being essential. Hospitals at that time of the year are actually festive places. It’s different now. There are no holiday potlucks in the ward lounges to bring people together. There is no celebrating. Yet, we all understand that we are needed and share the burden of being essential together. 

Our work as anesthesiologists has changed. We no longer perform elective surgeries in our operating rooms. The weight of our role as specialized physicians has shifted from perioperative and pain medicine to emergency response, critical care, and crisis management. We are at particularly high risk since COVID-19 is a respiratory disease. Every time we are called to perform tracheal intubation in an infected or suspected patient who is coughing and having trouble breathing, we are staring down the barrel of a gun. 

Protecting ourselves is a priority because our expertise is a limited resource. If we get sick, we can’t help others, and we risk spreading COVID-19 to our families. Personal protective equipment or PPE is a necessity, and multiple layers are required by anesthesiologists and other airway management personnel given the high risk procedures we do in these patients. It takes time to put on PPE, but there can be no shortcuts when it comes to safety. SLOW IS SAFE, and we need to remember that there are no more emergency intubations in this post-normal era.

Being essential in the hospital is not limited to just the healthcare professionals of course. The engineers, the technicians, the housekeepers, the cafeteria and food service workers–they are the unsung heroes of the hospital during this pandemic. Without them, our facilities and our healthcare workers would cease to function. Whenever I see them, I thank them for the work they are doing to support us on the front lines of patient care. We share stories of how things used to be and give each other some encouraging words. 

It is surreal to get up, get ready for work, have a cup of coffee as part of my normal morning routine, drive through deserted streets, and walk into the hospital not knowing what the day will bring. We have a job to do, and that calling to help humanity drives us to keep coming to work. We chose medicine, but medicine chose us too.

This blog has also been featured on KevinMD.

Related Posts:

My Trip to Washington: Speaking Out Against Drug Shortages

From left to right: Daniel Teich (Fairview Pharmacy Services), Dr. Peter Adamson (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Senator Susan Collins, me, and Brian Marden (MaineHealth Pharmacy)

On November 5, 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in a Congressional briefing related to drug shortages at the Capitol in Washington, DC. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) opened the session and co-sponsored the MEDS Act with Senator Tina Smith (D-MN). I was one of only two physicians on the panel and tried to represent the voice of clinicians involved in perioperative care and the patients we care for (video). Below are the notes from my presentation.

As a physician specializing in anesthesiology, this ongoing crisis of drug shortages in the United States is frankly terrifying.

Continue reading My Trip to Washington: Speaking Out Against Drug Shortages

Anesthesiology is a unique specialty within medicine. Our patients are the most vulnerable in the hospital. Patients under general anesthesia cannot advocate for themselves and trust us with their lives.

We do not know what the next drug shortage will be or how long it will last. This week it is prefilled syringes of lidocaine, a life-saving emergency medication we give in case of a dangerous heart rhythm. Two weeks ago it was phenylephrine, a routine medication we use to increase blood pressure when it goes down after inducing anesthesia.

Last year, we had complete shortages of common injectable opioids and local anesthetics used for numbing injections. This directly affected surgical patients in terms of anesthesia and pain management. For 3 months in 2018, we did not have the local anesthetic indicated for spinal anesthesia. We know this is the safest anesthetic for patients having certain surgeries. During this shortage, we used an alternative anesthetic in order to continue providing spinal anesthesia, but our patients experienced more side effects. The reasons for this shortage were complex and involved a limited number of manufacturers and quality issues.

Thankfully, the shortage of spinal local anesthetic ended. We do not know when or if the rest of our current drug shortages will end. All we know for sure is that there will be another one.

The predictably unpredictable cycle of drug shortages puts physicians in an impossible position. Medicine is a calling, and we physicians have sworn an oath to support the well-being of our community and humanity in general.

Not having access to the right drugs at the right time for every patient and being forced to use less acceptable alternatives, if any exist at all, represents a form of moral injury. Moral injury “is being unable to provide high-quality care and healing in the context of health care” and is now recognized as a contributor to the epidemic of physician burnout.

Listen to my interview with Paul Costello on SoundCloud.

Related Posts:

More Reasons for Doctors to Tweet

This press release came out during the annual scientific meeting of the New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists based on my talk, “The Role of Social Media in Modern Medicine.” While in New Zealand, I was interviewed on Newstalk ZB by host Andrew Dickens and Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan.

Doctors need to be active on social media and other communication platforms to offset the noise of the anti-science movement according to a visiting professor of anaesthesiology, Dr. Ed Mariano from Stanford University in the US.

Continue reading More Reasons for Doctors to Tweet

Dr. Mariano is speaking at the New Zealand Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting in Queenstown this week on the role of social media and medicine. He says, there has been a growing anti-science movement and physicians have a moral imperative to stand up for science and evidence-based treatments.

“Surveys show that physicians are one of the most trusted professions in the eyes of the public. Yet most people in the world today get their information, including health information, from the internet. We have to be there to offset the noise,” he says. “We can’t ignore where our patients get their information, and we can join the conversation.”

Dr. Mariano, who is one of the top 10 anaesthetists on Twitter, says social media also offers a way for doctors to keep up-to-date with the latest research and new treatments. For example he cites the exponential growth of regional anaesthesia. Regional anaesthesia allows procedures to be done without the patient being unconscious and can provide targeted pain relief.

“We have more tools at our disposal. New blocks are being performed and described every month and it’s hard to keep up with the literature. Social media allows you to be part of a learning community made up of people who have similar interests and it can curate information for you,” he says.

Dr. Mariano says it works the other way too. He says he’s created great collaborations through social media. “As well as learning things, I’ve had interesting conversations on Twitter that have developed into projects. As an academic physician, I’ve found the use of social media has been invaluable. Engaging in social media gives physicians a worldwide community of colleagues who can help curate the vast and ever-growing amount of information available today.”

Related Posts:

My Top Ten Articles for #RAUK20

I have the honor of being the next Bruce Scott Lecturer for the 2020 Regional Anaesthesia United Kingdom (RA-UK) meeting in Sheffield on May 18 and 19, 2020.

As part of the preparation for what will be a fantastic conference filled with the latest education in regional anesthesia, point-of-care ultrasound, acute pain management, and social media for medical education, Dr. Amit Pawa has started a thread on Twitter featuring my “Top Ten” published articles.

I hope to see you at #RAUK20! You can access the thread and check out the list of articles by clicking the tweet below:

Related Posts:

Finding My Way: How Not Planning Ahead Can Still Lead to Career Success

In this interview with BagMask.com, I discuss my personal career journey: a mix of opportunities, hard work, good timing, and a lot of luck!

BagMask: Looking back when you took your first job after residency. Did you envision yourself where you are today having published over 150 articles, giving presentations all over the country, and taking on different leadership roles?

Dr. Mariano: Oh there’s no way. I went into it for all the reasons that you would think that someone would want to pursue a career in medicine. I felt like it was a calling. Now I can’t picture myself doing anything else but being a physician.

Continue reading Finding My Way: How Not Planning Ahead Can Still Lead to Career Success

When I matched for residency, it was an interesting time for anesthesiology as a specialty because it wasn’t super competitive. I believe that had it to do with a miscalculation in terms of what the demand for anesthesia services would be in the future. But as I finished my residency in 2003, I knew I was going to do a subspecialty fellowship in pediatric anesthesiology, but I was also very interested in a regional anesthesia fellowship. At the time there were very few regional anesthesia fellowship programs, but I was convinced that acute pain and regional anesthesia in kids was a great path forward as a specialty. There was an opportunity to fill a need by providing better non-opioid pain management for children.

I really thought when I finished that I would be a purely clinical anesthesiologist but I got the bug for research. I feel like it was a little bit late in my career. Up to this point, I had successfully avoided research all throughout undergrad, all throughout medical school and almost all of my residency. I didn’t participate in my first research study until the very end of my residency.

Then as a fellow I had a chance to work on a couple of different projects and write case reports. That was a turning point. I discovered this was an interesting way to share information. And I thought, well if I’m going to start my career somewhere, I should start out in academics or at least just give it a shot.

One of my mentors from residency had given me some good advice. He told me you can do anything for five years. You can choose private practice or choose academics. There’s really no wrong answer but you should decide every five years whether you stay or go and it should always be an active decision. You shouldn’t just passively stay anywhere. You want to make sure that you’re on the right track in terms of your career, that you’re still being challenged and you’re still enjoying what you do.

My chair at the time, Dr. Ron Pearl, helped me find my first job at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). They were looking for a pediatric-trained anesthesiologist to help cover pediatric call. UCSD has the Regional Burn Center for the area and provides care for kids and adults. They were looking for a pediatric-trained anesthesiologist who felt comfortable with acute pain and could provide anesthesia services for those patients when they needed dressing changes on the ward or in the operating room for debridement and skin grafts.

In addition, they had high-risk OB and a NICU with some challenging premature neonates who sometimes would need emergency surgery. They also wanted coverage for a hand surgeon with a mixed adult and pediatric practice who worked in the outpatient surgery center. I was told right off the bat that about a quarter of my clinical time would be spent doing pediatrics and then the other seventy-five percent would be taking care of adults.

So I was mainly trying to focus on taking good care of patients. That’s the reason why I was attracted to medicine and felt this is where I am supposed to be. Over the course of my career I’ve just tried to find where the need is and address it. I think in anesthesiology one of the things that maybe self-selects us to the specialty is we are very good at filling gaps and fixing problems. Where I’ve ended up is very much a result of trying to figure out where the gaps are and how to fill them.

BagMask: I think it’s very interesting to talk about filling needs and filling gaps. Sometimes we identify these gaps on our own. Other times we are asked to help fill a need in an area in which we do not have much expertise or maybe never thought about being involved in before. How did you identify those needs and gaps? And why get involved in projects?

Dr. Mariano: I think that’s just one of those challenging questions when you’re trying to pass the answers onto others. I’ve found myself more recently in the role of mentor and coach for various other people that I’ve had a chance to interact with sometimes at the same institution or afar. And I don’t have great answers for it only because I feel like I’m still learning even 15 years outside of residency.

I can say things what worked for me early on in my career were being open-minded and looking at potential opportunities as just that – opportunities – and not as necessarily more work. And I’ll share a couple examples that both revolve around my first job.

I started working in outpatient surgery and at the time that was not an attractive assignment for some of the other new hires on faculty. I think they wanted to take on the more challenging and difficult cases. What was interesting about my early experience was I working in outpatient surgery three or four times a week. As I worked with the same two hand surgeons, the same sports surgeon, and the same foot and ankle surgeon on a regular basis, we developed a really good relationship.

I always enjoyed regional anesthesia as a trainee. To be honest I didn’t think that regional anesthesia was a career choice, but when I started taking care of a lot of these patients at the outpatient surgery center I discovered how it could play a vital role. The surgeons and I would have discussions centered around the plan for surgery, the expected timeframe for pain, how often the patients would have to stay overnight for pain management, or how often patients historically would come back to the ER. We began planning our days the day before and go over the list together. I would propose plans in terms of regional anesthesia for each of the cases when it was indicated. I would also propose not using it when I didn’t think it was indicated.

Then I would call all the patients the day before and explain the anesthetic plan for their surgery. When I would see them the next day, I would introduce myself “I am Dr. Mariano, I spoke to you last night. Do you have any questions about what we’re going to do for you today?” There was no negative impact on efficiency despite integrating regional anesthesia into routine patient care. One of the interesting studies we did together actually showed that efficiency improved with the use of regional anesthesia, at least within the context of that model.

This change in how we approached each case had many positive outcomes. It improved patient care. It filled the need of the surgeons who wanted an efficient OR and to provide a good experience for their patients. And for me, it made me appreciate the importance of the relationship between anesthesiologists and surgeons. That’s really core to our specialty and even today, as anesthesiology grows into perioperative medicine, we should never give up taking care of patients in the operating room because that’s where the trusting relationship begins.

The other example I want to share is when I was working in outpatient surgery, a new chair of surgery started at UCSD. As part of his recruitment package he was promised a two-day breakout session to revamp the perioperative process. A consulting practice separated us into different groups and we broke up all the different steps from the decision to have surgery through convalescence. Following the event, the chair called and asked me if I would lead one of the work groups to revamp the preoperative evaluation clinic.

So I originally was hired to do peds. At this point I was doing mostly regional anesthesia and outpatient surgery in adults. I had even been asked by the residency director if I would teach the residents regional anesthesia, because they didn’t have a rotation set up yet. Now I was being asked if I would be willing to redesign the pre-op clinic.

So clearly this was not something that I thought was going to be in my future. But for some reason I thought it would be a good experience for me because I had never been part of a process improvement project. I told him up front that I didn’t see myself at the end of this as being the director of the clinic, but I’d be willing to head up the work group. What made this really interesting was each group had a champion that was one of the C-suite executives and mine was the hospital CEO.

Less than a year on faculty, I was having these very regular monthly or sometimes semi-monthly interactions with the CEO of the hospital. He was unique in many ways, and he was extremely down to earth. I would see him walking around on the two different campuses of UCSD serving up food in the cafeteria or sometimes walking on the wards. That was really eye-opening for me, especially as a new faculty member having gone through all of my residency and fellowship training with never having interacted with a C-suite executive.

To be able to have that interaction was invaluable. It created a level of confidence and comfort to approach administration and share innovations within healthcare and the operating room environment that were anesthesia-driven. “Here are some things that are new and we’re the only ones that are doing this in San Diego County.” Those kinds of initiatives were really of interest to our administration.

I always assumed that someone was letting them know what we were doing. However, what that whole experience taught me was that they don’t always know what’s going on and they should want to know. So, when you find receptive executives like that keep them informed and they can provide great support.

That really made a big difference for me early in my career in ways that I’ll never even know. It helped me in terms of establishing my own system of practice for anesthesiology, regional anesthesia and acute pain medicine.

BagMask: There are two things from that I think are very important to mention. One is just the power of yes and being open to new ideas. You never know where it’s going to lead. It could be the opportunity to meet new people or be invited to work on new projects. Second, you shared how you assumed the work you were doing was being passed along to the C-Suite. But that great work is not always being passed along. I think this revelation ties in great with a presentation you recently gave.

You talked about “The Biggest Threats to Anesthesia” and you listed three items: Loss of Identity. Fear of Technology. Resistance to change.

The thing that really stood out in my mind was the solution to Loss of Identity. It was “Establish a Brand”. I thought that was very powerful. Can you tell us about loss of identity and establishing brand and why it’s important to us?

Dr. Mariano: I think that this applies to healthcare professionals in general, but I do think specifically in terms of anesthesia professionals that there is a growing threat in becoming more and more anonymous. If you look at the trends in healthcare like these mega-mergers, you have pharmacy companies and insurance companies that are merging. You have private investment companies and traditional healthcare providers merging to form fairly innovative corporations centered around health and healthcare.

I think within the anesthesia community what we’re seeing is the growth of very large organizations that have the potential advantage of having strong contracting positions with hospitals which provides a level of job security for many individuals who practice anesthesia. But at the same time, I think that as we start to see more and more productivity-based incentives, and the corporatization of medicine and anesthesia practice, it doesn’t take a lot to think that much of what we do may become very much like making widgets.

You can imagine what a factory floor looks like and you know how each product is expected to look the same and how the individuals contribute to the various parts that go into forming that widget. They are basically nameless faceless producers that have very little identity.

That obviously is a dramatic extreme to some extent. But I do think that it’s a threat to me for a few reasons. I think that from a larger specialty perspective there’s the potential to discount the value that anesthesia services, perioperative medicine, and pain services can bring to the overall patient experience as well as the heavy influence that we can have on patient outcomes.

For the individual I worry because once a calling becomes a job, then I think that really leads down the road to what oftentimes is mistakenly called burnout. But I would probably categorize that into a loss of identity versus burnout, because I do think that they’re different. And what I mean by that is burnout, at least in the sense of overworking, is a problem that can be helped by self-care and by taking a well-timed vacation. Because to me burnout, or the product of overwork, still means intrinsically that you enjoy your work and that you still feel the calling.

The loss of identity is a bigger problem because for the healthcare professionals there’s a loss of a love for the profession and that’s really hard to recover from. There’s not enough time off or yoga that you can do to make you fall in love with your profession again.

So I think that the less value attributed to your work, to your contributions and to patient health and well-being are contributing factors that eat away at identity. I don’t think that all is lost. We must recognize the problems and then look for opportunities to reverse or prevent the loss of identity.

BagMask: One of the things I love that you said is it’s a problem when our calling becomes a job. There are two articles that you wrote four years apart that I believe really talked to your “Calling”. The first one you wrote was “What I Love about Being an Anesthesiologist” written in 2014. And then you followed it up in 2018 with, “Why I still love being an Anesthesiologist”. A couple of things, why did you think it was important to write this out, and how has it changed over the years for you?

Dr. Mariano: I appreciate your bringing those up. “What I Love about Being an Anesthesiologist” I wrote after ASA. Growing up, I didn’t necessarily know that I was going to be a physician. I remember taking my first job as a dishwasher because when you’re 16 and you just get your driver’s license, you have no experience and there aren’t that many other jobs that you’re qualified for.

The dishwashing job was at a senior assisted living facility and, after about a year of just washing dishes in the kitchen, I also started serving the residents either in the dining hall or delivering food to their apartments within the facility. I remember thinking that at some point when I finally figured out what I was going to do with my life, the concept of service would have to be part of my career. This is where I feel a job in health professions differs from a lot of other jobs.

I’m not saying that “job” itself is a negative term but it’s different. I think the difference between a job and a vocation, or a calling is there is always give and take. At the same time that you receive satisfaction, income and whatever it happens to be from the work that you produce, you also give something of yourself. And I think that’s the difference. When you’re in the health profession you intrinsically give something of yourself and that is part of the reward or at least that’s the investment that you put in that helps deliver a reward.

The role of the anesthesiologist is very unique within medicine. There are a lot of aspects to anesthesiology that many people don’t consider necessarily the role of a physician, but that’s actually what makes it so appealing to me. As an anesthesiologist I provide the most personalized form of medicine or, to phrase it another way, the most direct patient care.

When I’m taking care of a patient who is under general anesthesia, that person can’t speak for him or herself or can’t act for him or herself. That kind of responsibility is very different than every other physician role that I can think of in the hospital. The fact that we have to administer our own medications. We have to establish intravenous access for our patients in order to even treat them in the first place and to provide anesthesia. The fact that all the procedures that are required for our patient are done by us and then are used by us in the practice of anesthesia care.

I think it is important that as an anesthesiologist you must, by nature, learn how to work within a team because we are team. One of the powerful moments for me in every surgery is when we do a pre-surgical time out. It’s when you go through the checklist and then everyone introduces themselves to each other and everyone knows that you are all here for this one person.

I sometimes think that moment is understated. As anesthesiologists, our medical specialty exists only to make sure patients are safe and that they have a positive experience and outcome after having surgery and invasive procedures. That has to be something that each anesthesiologist has to consider and take with him or herself every time they bring a patient into the operating room.

I think because it’s a very cerebral profession in many ways, it’s hard for someone on the outside to see what an anesthesiologist is doing. So much of what we do is internal processing of information and anticipating outcomes. As anesthesia professionals, we should try to explain and share with people our thought process and our plan to achieve a safe outcome.

The time that we have to establish trust with patients and their caregivers before we bring patients to the operating room is very brief. The more patients understand what we think about and how important we take our responsibility gives them the confidence they are in good hands and promotes us as a profession. That’s why I wrote that initial article and then the follow-up one came about after attending a party with my wife.

It was the usual cocktail party conversation and the question came up of what do you do and what’s that like. It got me thinking about not only how much I still enjoy and love being an anesthesiologist, but how much more I enjoy it now.

My career has taken a lot of different directions, but I’ve always tried to follow a “One Degree of Separation Rule”. When I’m at the bedside taking care of a patient or I’m in the operating room, that is zero degrees of separation. Everything that I do will be for the patient and to improve that patient’s outcome and experience.

But when I’m doing research, teaching in the classroom, presenting at a conference, or sitting in an administrative meeting, that is “One Degree of Separation” from a patient. When I answer a research question, I can share that knowledge and someone else can then use that information to help his or her patients. When I’m teaching our fellows or residents or presenting at a national conference, they will go out and hopefully use that information to take better care of their patients.

And when I sit in an administrative meeting, it’s not unusual for me to be the only person there that has actually laid a hand on a patient within the last several years. Those are times when I feel like I’m representing not just the clinicians but I’m representing our own patients. What I say and contribute in those meetings helps create informed policies that will make it easier for our colleagues to take better care of their patients.

It is those aspects of my job that have kept me not just excited about it, but still in love with it and excited about looking forward to the future.

BagMask: I have one last question for you. What is your hope for all the anesthesia providers during this time with so many changes in health care?

Dr. Mariano: My hope for all anesthesia professionals is that they take to heart the importance of what they do. They have to recognize their importance, because as anesthesia practices continue to grow and performance metrics continue to develop, there’s an over emphasis on productivity. As these trends continue, I really want anesthesia professionals to continue to understand their own value.

I want them to look for the opportunities to take one more step. As an example, you are taking great care of your patients and you’ve assessed a patient who has a history of postoperative nausea attributed to every type of opioid they have taken in the past. You develop and carry out an opioid-free anesthesia plan or you provide the appropriate interventions to prevent postoperative nausea and vomiting and that patient ends up doing really well.

Take the next step. The next step is let your surgeon know. Let your bosses know. Let your director of perioperative services know. What you’ve provided is exactly what everyone is trying to achieve when they talk about personalized medical care. And you’ve done that. Sometimes we don’t recognize it, but this is a huge opportunity. We do have a tendency to be anonymous, but we should highlight positives that are associated with our practice. The more attention that is brought to the good work that we’re doing not only helps promote our specialty, but more importantly helps us as individuals in terms of enjoying our career, feeling satisfied and always finding a reason to love practicing anesthesia.

Related Posts: