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Unsung Heroes of the Operating Theatre Have Their Day

Embargoed until 12.01am Wednesday October 16, 2013

Unsung Heroes of the Operating Theatre Have Their Day

Around 50 per cent of New Zealanders are not aware that their anaesthetist is a highly trained medical specialist, just like their surgeon. While the “Offspring effect” has raised awareness of the anaesthetist’s role, events such as the death of pop legend Michael Jackson highlight the importance of the skill and training of this profession, according to the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA).

A recent survey by ANZCA showed that 10 per cent of people don’t think anaesthetists are doctors. More than 40 per cent are unsure of the qualifications an anaesthetist holds. This is despite the fact that 96 per cent of all those surveyed have had experience of anaesthesia.

ANZCA President Dr Lindy Roberts said National Anaesthesia Day (Wednesday, October 16) aimed to celebrate “one of the greatest discoveries of modern medicine” and raise awareness of the pivotal role, and the skill, of the anaesthetist in surgery.

“Most people will need the care of an anaesthetist at some stage in their lives – for pain relief during the birth of a baby, for a routine day-stay procedure or for a major operation,” Dr Roberts said.

“Nearly all of today’s operations, especially for the very young, very old or very ill, would not be possible without modern anaesthesia.

“Anaesthetists are highly skilled doctors who have a minimum of 11 years’ training. Our specialist training program alone takes at least five years – and that comes on top of their medical degree at university and other general hospital training after that.

“Anaesthetists stay with you for the whole operation and help take care of you after the surgery is over but many people are not aware of the extent of their role.

“They keep you safe during an operation by monitoring your heart, brain, lungs, airways and other vital functions. They make sure that you don’t feel pain during the operation, keep you still so that the surgeons can do their work, and help manage your pain afterwards.

“All of this work is tailored to each individual’s medical needs. It requires great skill and medical knowledge.”

Dr Roberts said singer Michael Jackson died in 2009 after being given an anaesthetic by someone not trained as an anaesthetist.

“This demonstrates graphically how important their training is.”

Dr Roberts said ANZCA’s research, of 656 people across Australia and New Zealand, showed that almost one-third of people listed television as a key source of information about anaesthesia. This has been dubbed “the Offspring effect” due to the popularity of this series which had an anaesthetist as one of the main characters.

“We want to inform people better about these unsung heroes of the operating theatre so that patients are more comfortable about having surgery.

“The professionalism and care patients receive from anaesthetists in Australia and New Zealand is amongst the best in the world.

“If you or someone close to you is having surgery, you can know that your anaesthetist is there before, during and after your operation, and will help keep you safe and pain-free,” she said.


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