Shadowing an Anesthesiologist (A How-To Guide for Med Students)

Most anesthesiologists, especially those in private practice, love to teach. But don’t be fooled into thinking the job is all about sitting down and chilling all day. Shadowing will tell you otherwise!

This is the definitive guide on shadowing in anesthetics. Here you’ll learn:

  • What it’s like shadowing an anesthesiologist
  • How to find anesthetists to shadow
  • Questions and things to think about when shadowing in anesthetics

Ready to learn more?

What to Expect Shadowing an Anesthesiologist

General things you can expect to see/do:

  • Patient rounds: see how anesthetists interact with their patients before and after medical procedures
  • Patient-anesthetist interactions: see what questions usually come up in an anesthetics-related consult. Learn what the major concerns of patients are.
  • Discuss interactions with the anesthetist: understand why anesthetists interact with their patients in this way and what the challenges are involved. 

Usually you’ll get to see the main things anesthetists do too. Including general anesthesia (putting patients to sleep), local anesthesia (numbing body parts) and sedation. John Hopkins has a good explainer on how anesthetics work and what these types of doctors do.

Depending on what type of anesthetist you get to shadow, you could end up in different types of clinics or wards. Generally you’ll be inside an operating room (OR). This is where anesthetists monitor their patients, keeping an eye on things like heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. 

Here’s a good insight into the “typical day” of an anesthetist doctor…

How to Find Anesthesiologist Shadowing Near Me

The best way to find anesthesiologists to shadow is to jump on Google and run a simple search. From there you can try a cold approach, sending out emails. Target private clinics if possible as these tend to have a better response rate.

A couple of things to consider:

  • You can widen your search by looking up anesthesiology assistants and nurses. Then working with them to gain access to doctors.
  • Look at regional societies. You’ll see individual states generally have their own societies where they list the contacts of several members (California Society of Anesthesiologists for example).
  • Call clinics and hospitals. Check out their websites to see if they have local programs. Ask receptionists or whoever responds to the call if there are shadowing opportunities.
  • Reach out to your network. Ask friends and families if they know any anesthesiologist doctors you can ask. Get on LinkedIn and see if you can connect with people in your area.

These tips are very similar to the ones in my other guide: Shadowing A Psychiatrist.

Note: you could also try and join hospital volunteering programs near you to network with anesthesiologists and other specialists and ask about shadowing directly!

Anesthesiologist Shadowing Program

Depending on where you live and where you have access to, you might get lucky and find anesthesiologist shadowing programs at local hospitals or med schools.

Sometimes these are called observerships too.

To take a look at an example check out the University of Florida’s Department of Anesthesiology page. You’ll see they offer both shadowing and volunteering opportunities. And you don’t have to be a student of the school to experience the program either.

How to Prepare to Shadow An Anesthesiologist

General things you might have to do when preparing to shadow an anesthesiologist include:

  1. Complete privacy/general awareness training. The place you shadow in will usually issue this form.
  2. Get a department-provided ID badge. So you have access to where you’re supposed to be.
  3. Have relevant vaccinations. Ensure you wear the relevant PPE (mask, surgical cap etc) too. Also scrubs (if they’re not issued).
  4. Respect patient requests. Some of them might not wish to be observed by you.

Get Educated

It’s also a good idea to read up a little on the field. Doing so can help impress the staff you’re working with. It’ll also make the experience seem more relevant and interesting too.

Most med students shadowing in anesthetics recommend the following introductory books. Both are easy to read and pretty cheap to buy. Links go to Amazon.

Either of these can make good conversational material when you’re observing!

Some useful websites to scope out the specialty:

  1. American Society of Anesthesiologists
  2. Anesthesia Made Easy
  3. Anesthesia Basics: Lecturio (check out my Lecturio review)

What Is It Like Shadowing An Anesthesiologist?

As anesthesia is the practice of both medicine and nursing you might find it more “hands-on” than other specialties. 

A common misconception people have observing it is that they expect the doctor to do all the work. This isn’t usually the case! Most of the time it’s the nurse anesthetists (CRNA’s) that’ll do the intubations, control the drugs and monitor etc.

Don’t judge any medical specialism on shadowing alone. It takes a clinical rotation to really get to grips with the job. 

Questions to Ask An Anesthesiologist When Shadowing

Definitely feel comfortable asking doctors questions in the operating room but wait until patients are under anesthesia. You don’t want to run the risk of upsetting them. Talking while a patient is still conscious might cause them to think you and the doctor are superior or rude.

Here are some good questions to ask:

  1. What did they look for in a residency when they were applying? What was residency like?
  2. What do they wish they would have known before starting med school or residency or even in looking for their first attending job?
  3. If they didn’t choose anesthesia, what other specialties would they have considered?
  4. How do they see anesthesia changing in the next 10 years?

Tips on Shadowing An Anesthetist

When it comes to securing a shadowing an opportunity and having a date in mind, here are a few last things to think about:

  • Be professional but have fun. Talk to doctors, nurses and PA’s and ask them about their experiences. Get their contact info and keep in touch if possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about things other than medicine. Anesthetists are generally an open bunch. They like talking about hobbies etc!
  • Treat the shadowing as a chance to learn more about anesthesia. Ask yourself if it’s something you find interesting. 
  • Make sure you get a chair to sit down. Don’t steal those of the staff!
  • Don’t touch anything. Ventilation equipment, drugs and syringes etc are all important objects. You shouldn’t be coming into contact with them without direct supervision.
  • Use the time while patients are sedated to learn or ask questions of other health workers in a clinic or hospital. Anesthetics is great for this!

Summary

Shadowing in anesthetics can be a very cool experience. Use the time to think about whether the specialism is a good fit for you (hint: it has some of the best vacation time). 

Would you still like it if you’re the supervising doctor for four rooms in a hospital? 

The reality of shadowing is very different to the actual working role of a physician!

Image Credit – @pawel_czerwinski at Unsplash