Saturday, April 23, 2022

How To Become An Anesthesiologist

You've heard about the great incomes that anesthesiologists make. You long for the legendary lifestyle of working with propofol and volatile anesthetics. So now you're wondering what it takes to become an anesthesiologist. 

You could search through the history of this blog to get all the scintillating details of anesthesiology as a career. Or you can read through this nice little article from Forbes on the process of becoming an anesthesiologist. 

It details the long education process necessary to earn the title, at least a decade of schooling and training after high school. First you have to earn a Bachelor's Degree, which takes at least four years. Then there is another four years of medical school to become a physician. That doesn't include the extra time some students take get another degree like an MPH, PhD, or JD. After that, with any luck you will match into an anesthesiology residency, which is getting harder all the time. There you will spend four more years of anesthesia training to just qualify for taking the anesthesia boards. But that's not the end of the line. Most anesthesia residents now take another year for a fellowship like cardiac, pediatric, or pain medicine. Add it all up and it's a minimum of twelve years to become become board eligible to sit for your certification exams.

Phew. It's not an easy road to earn the moniker of anesthesiologist. If that path is too daunting, Forbes has some alternative choices which involves some anesthesia work. You could become an anesthesia technician, which only takes two years. Or you could be an anesthesia assistant, which requires a bachelor's degree and needs about six years total. Or you could become a CRNA, which takes about seven to ten years. 

While the article in general is fairly accurate, I have a quibble with their assertion that board certification is optional to be an anesthesiologist. That may have been true fifty years ago, but nowadays, no hospital will hire you if you are not at least board eligible working towards certification. I know anesthesiologists a generation older than me who were grandfathered into their positions despite not ever having been board certified, but that generation is quickly retiring or dying off so now almost every anesthesiologist is BE/BC. That is not the same thing as having limited vs lifetime board certification, which is a whole other discussion.

If you're curious about how well trained anesthesiologist are, and why we're not just frustrated surgeon wannabes, take a careful read of Forbes. You'll realize that anesthesiologists are some of the best trained physicians in the country.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Anesthesiology Compensation In 2022

Medscape has released its annual Physician Compensation Report for 2022. The report polled over 13,000 doctors about their salaries and other details about their work. It looks like the pandemic induced reduction in physicians' incomes are over. For the first time in Medscape's survey history, all medical specialties saw increases in compensation during the past year. ENT topped the list with a 13% increase in average annual income.

Anesthesiologists fared well, as usual. This year, anesthesiologists reported an average income of $405,000. That is up significantly from last year when they disclosed an average of $378,000. That is a seven percent improvement over 2021 which was down five percent from 2020 due to Covid shutdowns.

Since 2015, physician salaries have increased an average of 29%. By comparison, inflation in the U.S. over the last five years has been 14.7%. Anesthesiologists didn't fare as well. In 2015, Medscape said anesthesiologists made an average of $358,000. So In the past seven years, anesthesiologists salaries have flatlined, not even keeping up with inflation. Perhaps that's why our specialty doesn't rank in the top ten anymore of the highest paid physicians. And the ASA wants to keep opening more anesthesia residency spots at the same time.

The top five states with the highest physician incomes are: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, and Oregon. If you think you would never live in a rural state even if they have very low cost of living and high salaries, then you're stuck in a bicoastal elitist mentality. Though these states may seem rural, they have very cosmopolitan urban centers too, such as Nashville, Louisville, and St. Louis. Alabama even has nice beaches also. So if you're looking for the biggest bang for your buck, don't overlook this list. 

There's a lot more information in Medscape's survey than what I have listed here, including one nice aspect of working in anesthesiology that tops all other specialties. Check it out.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Wordle For Doctors

Think Wordle, the word guessing game, is too easy? You think five letter words are boring? Peeved that middle school kids are better at this game than you? MedPage Today has a new distraction for you. They call it Wordosis. First of all, the words in this game require SIX letters. So there's that challenge. Next the words are medically related so not just anyone can play it since medical terminology is an actual class in medical school. That adds a bit of exclusivity to this puzzle. Just don't play while you're supposed to be vigilantly monitoring your patient in the operating room. Good luck.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Medical Schools With The Best Anesthesiology Programs

The recently completed Match Day once again demonstrated how hard it is to get into an anesthesiology residency. Of all the PGY1 spots for anesthesiology, 99.9% of them were filled on Match Day. Out of 1,509 open positions, 1,508 were taken. It's an incredible statistic and shows how extremely competitive it is to get accepted into anesthesiology.

To gain an edge in the residency match, one should attend a medical school that is highly ranked in anesthesiology training. Luckily for us, U.S. News & World Reports made a list for 2022 of the best programs in the country. Get into one of these med schools and graduates will have a leg up in receiving one of the coveted anesthesiology positions.

This list is based on a nebulous combination of factors including quality assessment, student selectivity, undergraduate GPA, MCAT scores, etc. If you're talented enough to ace all these different components, you're on the ROAD to one of the best jobs in America. 

So here are the top medical schools with the best anesthesiology programs as ranked by U.S. News:

1. Harvard University

2. Johns Hopkins University

3. Duke University

4. University of California, San Francisco

5. Columbia University

6. Stanford University

7. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

7. University of Pennsylvania

9. University of California, Los Angeles

9. Washington University in St. Louis

11. Mayo Clinic School of Medicine

12. Vanderbilt University

Other schools that made the list but U.S. News demands money to see their rankings include:

Baylor College of Medicine

Cornell University

Emory University

New York University

Northwestern University

University of Washington

Yale University

While getting into one of these schools is nice, remember that a vast majority of anesthesiologists did not graduate from these elite programs. So if you are not a student in one of these schools, don't fret. Most medical students aren't either but that doesn't mean you can't score a treasured spot in an anesthesiology residency in the future.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Ailee Was Massively Poisoned By The Anesthesiologists"

Ailee Jong, from SF Chronicle

In a 9,200 word article in the San Francisco Chronicle (behind a paywall or free if you have Apple News), the newspaper details the tragic death of two year old Ailee Jong at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, CA. 

In 2019, Ailee started complaining of abdominal pain. Her parents, Tom and Truc-Co Jong quickly took her to a hospital emergency room. The CT scan results were devastating. The little girl had a 12 cm hepatoblastoma in her liver and probable lung mets. 

When they heard the diagnosis, the parents quickly searched for the best possible care for their daughter. Since they live near San Francisco, they naturally gravitated toward Stanford University and University of California, San Francisco. As they looked through the list of doctors that could treat their daughter, they noticed one pediatric oncologist who was affiliated with Stanford Children's Health and also worked at John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, which is only 15 miles from their house in Danville. This would make commuting to the hospital easier than driving 40 miles to Stanford. 

But little did the Jongs know that John Muir had little experience taking care of complex pediatric liver disease. Their pediatric ICU had only been in operation for about a decade and they'd never had a liver resection like Ailee's before. According to Tom Jong, "They did say, in these words: 'We can treat her. She can be cured.'"

When Dr. Alicia Kalamas, medical director of perioperative medicine and an anesthesiologist, found out about this upcoming hepatectomy, she immediately questioned whether the hospital was capable of successfully doing the operation on such a small child. However, Dr. Jeffrey Poage, medical director of pediatric surgical services and a pediatric anesthesiologist, countered that the surgeons were up to the task. When Dr. Kalamas brought her concerns to Dr. Thomas Greely, the vice president of clinical affairs at JMH, she was told that Stanford physicians who had been consulted about the case had assured them the small hospital could handle the operation. She brought the case to Dr. Moussa Yazbeck, the chief of staff at JMH who did not question the procedure. Dr. Kalamas's contract was not renewed in 2021.

Dr. Poage was originally supposed to be Ailee's anesthesiologist for the procedure. Less than a week before the operation, he reported a scheduling conflict and two other anesthesiologists were brought in: Drs. Wayne Lee and Romerson Dimla. Dr. Lee finished his fellowship in pediatric anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins in 2017 while Dr. Dimla completed his fellowship at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles in 2019.

On November 12, 2019, Ailee entered the operating room at 7:30 am. By 9:30 am, the anesthesiologists documented that the estimated blood loss was 345 ml, significant for a 24 pound patient with a total blood volume of 800 ml. They noted that they had already transfused four units (1,261 mL) of PRBC and one unit (222 mL) of FFP. 

Ailee's body temperature started to drop, going below 95 F. With all the blood products her potassium level went from 4 in preop to 5.6. At 12:10 pm, she went into severe bradycardia then asystole. They were able to resuscitate Ailee by 12:30 pm. Echocardiogram showed no PE or air embolism. Instead of stopping the surgery, the surgeons continued with the resection.

The anesthesiologists noticed blood emanating from the endotracheal tube, mouth and nose of the patient. Labs at 12:32 pm showed Ailee's potassium had jumped to 8.2, a critically high level. Then 15 minutes later, she had another cardiac arrest. An operating room nurse desperately searched for help and found Dr. Poage, the medical director of pediatric surgical services and "begged him to come to the OR." He threw his anesthesia colleagues under the bus and refused to get involved. 

The surgeons continued with the operation despite the second arrest. She was now bleeding profusedly everywhere and the anesthesiologists kept pumping more PRBC and FFP. By now, the anesthesiologists stopped documenting the amount of blood products they were giving. Ailee's heart stopped again. Several times during the resuscitation, the ETT fell out, requiring the anesthesiologists to reintubate her while chest compressions were taking place.

When the surgical team finally realized the operation was futile, they went to the waiting room to inform the Jongs and asked for permission to stop the resuscitation. The parents refused and demanded to see the little girl in the operating room. They were informed that that was against policy but relented. 

When they walked into the OR, they noticed a stack of bloody towels on the floor three feet high and a nurse doing chest compressions. The room smelled of blood. They said Ailee was unrecognizable. Her head was massively swollen and blood was seeping out of her eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. After almost five hours of CPR, she was declared dead at 5:12 pm. 

The lawsuit the Jongs are bringing against the hospital complained that the anesthesiologists did not transfuse an adequate amount of FFP to allow her body to clot properly, leading to the massive hemorrhage. They also said that too much PRBC was given, leading to the critical hyperkalemia. The lawsuit claimed that "By 12:32 p.m., Alee was massively poisoned by the anesthesiologists."

This story illustrates that there is more to an operation than just the surgeon. It takes an entire ecosystem to successfully perform surgery. John Muir Health was not candid with the Jongs when they assured them that the hospital could do the hepatectomy despite internal warning flags raised by staff. The anesthesiologists, who only recently completed in their pediatric anesthesia fellowships, probably had not done such a complicated case since they finished training. The Jongs were wowed by the hospital's decor and amenities but were not given relevant information about the experience of the hospital and its staff in doing pediatric liver resections. Just a sad case for all involved.

Monday, March 28, 2022

The ASA Wants To Help You Get Into Anesthesia

The president of the ASA, Randall Clark, MD, FASA, praised in his Monday Morning Outreach newsletter the highly successful anesthesia match that just took place. As I previously mentioned, 99.9% of the anesthesia PGY1 residency spots were taken. It is one of the highest fill rate of any medical field. 

It seems that the ASA and Dr. Clark have a problem with that. He noted that thousands of applicants did not get into anesthesia residency. In fact, 59% of anesthesia applicants were left on the sidelines in 2022 when they were denied entry into a training program. Their simple solution is to expand the number of programs and spots available to accommodate the high demand. They plan on having a Workforce Summit meeting in June to discuss this possibility.

I am dubious about this idea. Anesthesia residencies have already greatly expanded in the last five years. In 2018 there were only 1,253 PGY1 spots available. This year, there were over 1,500. Other highly competitive residencies are not expanding at the rate that they could. Orthopedic surgery has grown from 742 in 2018 to 845 today. ENT from 316 to 361. Diagnostic radiology PGY2 from 944 to 997. Any of these specialties could easily have more residents if they choose to. Yet I don't hear orthopedic surgeons wringing their hands worrying about not having enough of their own graduating every year. Instead, they relish the exclusivity of their field, to the point of being a national scandal

The ASA's plan to flood the market with anesthesiologists is only good for the ASA. It helps them fight off the encroachment of CRNA's with a legion of anesthesiologists desperately looking for a good job. It also fills their coffers with the millions of dollars in annual dues, conference fees, and CME paid by members each year. Is the ASA really looking after their own, or just stuffing its treasury on the backs of hard working anesthesiologists?

An Anesthesiologist's Perspective On The Oscars Slap

Jerome Adams, MD, ASA member and former US Surgeon General, gives his views about the infamous slapping of Chris Rock by Will Smith at the Academy Awards last night. He uses the incident to highlight the need for mental health maintenance in all people, even the rich and famous. But he also points out that nobody should make fun of another person's medical condition, especially if the condition can't be hidden from view. 

What I first considered a clearcut case of unprovoked physical assault witnessed by millions of people has turned into a much more nuanced debate about mental health, personal privacy, and sensitivity to health issues. I guess that's why I'm not a deep thinker like Dr. Adams.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Terror In The MRI

RaDonda Vaught, former nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has been found guilty of negligent homicide in the death of Charlene Murphey, a 75 year old patient under her care. Back in 2017, Ms. Murphy was admitted to the hospital for a stroke. The patient was supposed to get an MRI scan and was anxious, which is not uncommon in patients undergoing an MRI. Ms. Vaught, as her nurse, went to the drug cabinet to fetch some versed, an anxiolytic. Instead, she took out vecuronium, a paralytic agent. She injected the muscle relaxant into Ms. Murphey, how much is unknown, and left the patient to get scanned. By the time the scan was completed and Ms. Vaught returned, her patient was braindead.

As an anesthesiologist, this drug mixup is very perplexing. Versed comes in liquid form. Vecuronium, on the other hand, comes in a powder. It has to be dissolved in a liquid before it can be administered to a patient. How the two drugs got mixed up is incomprehensible. As an ICU nurse, Ms. Vaught surely has given versed in the past to her patients. She may also have given vecuronium to intubated patients to help them ventilate more easily. She should be familiar with both drugs. The two are nothing alike. This mistake isn't even like the heparin debacle a few years ago in Los Angeles, where the children of Hollywood celebrities were overdosed due to a high concentration solution being injected instead of the standard concentration. Versed and vecuronium are packaged completely differently and don't look ANYTHING alike. 

The responses from the medical community have been predictably defensive and disappointing. Some tried to blame the drug dispensing machine, which got the first few letters of the medications mixed up and gave her the wrong one. The American Nurses Association issued a statement lamenting that, "The nursing profession is extremely short-staffed, strained, and feeling immense pressure. This ruling will have a long-lasting negative impact on the profession." Excuse me? The ANA is worried that there won't be enough nurses because of the criminal actions of one of their own? You know what? Right now there are real shortages of police officers all over the country. Should we have let Derek Chauvin go free because finding him guilty might cause other officers to quit? 

Let me picture for you the gruesome ending of Ms. Charlene Murphey that fully justifies Ms. Vaught's verdict. Imagine you're going to get an MRI done. The test usually takes at least 30 minutes, frequently longer. You're stuck inside this long narrow tube with barely any room to move your body. There are loud strange noises reverberating in the machine throughout the entire procedure. Not surprisingly, many patients ask for a sedative to make them feel a little more relaxed during the exam. 

Ms. Murphey asked her nurse for something to calm her down. Ms. Vaught decided to get versed, which is a fairly standard sedative for this procedure. Inexplicably, she grabbed vecuronium instead. Without ever reading the label on the drug vial, she dissolves it in a solution and injects the drug into Ms. Vaught. 

The patient, fully trusting of her nurse, then goes into the scanner. Vecuronium is not a fast acting paralytic agent. It can take a few minutes for it to fully kick in. By then, her nurse would have been out of the room so they can proceed with the scan. When the patient realizes something is amiss and she is having great difficulty breathing, it's too late. There is nobody around. The only people nearby are the staff in the control room where they can see the patient at all times. But all they can tell is that Ms. Murphey was laying there quietly, not disrupting their scan. 

The patient obviously was not being monitored or else the staff would have noticed her vital signs kick into overdrive as the body realizes it can't breathe. There was no monitoring to detect when here oxygen saturating started drifting lower. The patient, fully conscious because she has been paralyzed without any sedation at all, is locked in and has zero ability to communicate. As her brain screams for help, her body is helpless to escape this situation. Finally, after several minutes of agony, Ms. Murphey would have gone into cardiac arrest and brain death from the lack of oxygen, with a room full of people just on the other side of a large window unwittingly watching her die.

This is the worst nightmare for anesthesiologists, to have a patient awake under the knife. But at least we're still providing ventilation so the patient isn't suffocating. Ms. Murphey was left all alone to die because her trusted nurse didn't do something as basic and routine as read the drug label before she killed her. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Anesthesiology Is Still One Of The Most Competitive Residencies

Match Day 2022 has come and gone. Parsing through the latest data from NRMP, it's astonishing how competitive anesthesiology residency has become. Even with an ever increasing number of residency positions, medical students hoping to get into anesthesiology have their work cut out for them.

This year, there were 1,509 PGY1 anesthesiology spots available across 165 residency programs. That is up from 1,460 last year and only 1,253 as recently as 2018. The incredible part is that, even with so many more positions, only a single one did not get filled. That's a match rate of 99.9%! That's the most competitive residency of any large specialty with more than 1,000 spots available. In fact, of all residencies with more than 500 spots available, only orthopedic surgery is more competitive, with all their PGY1 positions filled.

There were a total of 2,691 applicants for those anesthesiology residencies. Of those, 1,489 were MD Seniors. Another 505 were DO Seniors. The number of MD Seniors who matched were 1,054 or 69.8% of all who matched. DO Seniors were successful in 263 instances, or 17.4%. 

Anesthesiology has become more popular over time as more medical students decided they want to get on the ROAD to riches. In 2022, anesthesiology was chosen by 5.7% of all MD Seniors. This is up from 5.6% last year. In 2018, only 4.9% of MD Seniors chose anesthesiology. 

Congratulations to all the students who are now going to be anesthesiologists. You've successfully come through the gantlet of medical school and match day. Your future is brighter than ever and I can't wait to meet our new class soon.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

What Do Anesthesiologists Do?

I love this op-ed from MedPage Today. Written by Amy Pearson, MD, she goes over the daily activities that anesthesiologists confront every day and the misconceptions that the general public, and frankly many doctors, have about our specialty.

Dr. Pearson explains some of the myths about being an anesthesiologists such as:

Anesthesiologists sit around all day. She points out that she and her colleagues burn about 3000 calories per day working their usual daily routine in the hospital. In fact, many times we hardly have any opportunity to even go to the bathroom

Anesthesiologists answer to "anesthesia." It's true anesthesiologists hate to be called by that term. We're people with names just like every other member of the operating team. We graduated from medical school and anesthesiology residency. We deserve the same respect given to the person operating on the other side of the ether screen.

Anesthesiology is mostly boring work with occasional scary moments. We have years of training to make sure we are taking the best care possible of our patients. We make it look easy because we spent thousands of hours in residency learning this craft. That doesn't mean it is easy

Anesthesiologists get blamed for everything.

In truth, despite its many shortcomings, anesthesiology is one of the best jobs in America