What is an anaesthetist?

By Ryan Mccann
Monday, 07 January, 2013





Only 50 per cent of people are aware anaesthetists are doctors, and nearly one in 10 don’t think they are doctors at all with another 41 per cent unsure, according to a survey conducted for the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA).


This is despite the fact that 96 per cent of those surveyed have had some experience of general anaesthesia (personally or through a close family member). Of those aware anaesthetists are doctors, 41 per cent know they are doctors with the same training/qualifications as other specialists.
Between April and May this year (2013), Acuity Research & Insights conducted a benchmark quantitative research study into the community’s understanding of, and attitudes toward, anaesthetists and anaesthesia.
anasOneAn online survey was completed by 656 people in Australia and New Zealand aged 18 years or over who had heard of anaesthesia. Interestingly, 14 (2 per cent of the 670 potential participants) did not qualify because they had not heard of anaesthesia. The sample was weighted to represent key age and geographical demographics.
Those surveyed appeared split over whether they felt informed or not about anaesthesia with the key source of information coming from personal (72 per cent), family and/or the experiences of friends (50 per cent).
Three in 10 people listed TV shows as a key source of information, perhaps reflecting the popularity of the drama Offspring about the life of an obstetrician and her anaesthetist partner. The next highest source of information is the internet (17 per cent).
Those who feel well informed about anaesthesia are significantly more likely to list personal experience (84 per cent) and knowing  someone in the profession (23 per cent) as information sources. Those who don’t feel well informed are significantly more likely to list TV (36 per cent) as a source.
Just over three in 10 (31 per cent) have concerns about undergoing anaesthesia/sedation with the key concerns being negativeanasTwo side effects (27 per cent) and death or not waking up (24 per cent). When prompted, four in 10 are concerned about waking up, with 14 per cent very concerned about this prospect.
More than four in 10 (45 per cent) perceived undergoing anaesthetic or sedation as a moderate to high risk procedure.
A strong majority know that being elderly (83 per cent) and overweight (81 per cent) are two factors that significantly increase risk, with 74 per cent citing illegal drugs and 72 per cent smoking as risks.
Not surprisingly, those who had undergone a general anaesthetic in the last five years (26 per cent) and those who feel well informed about anaesthesia (27 per cent) are significantly less likely to have concerns, compared to those who had never had an anaesthetic (50 per cent) or who didn’t feel well informed about anaesthesia (36 per cent).
anasThreeThere is significant scope to widen community appreciation of the roles of anaesthetists beyond operating theatres. Of those surveyed, 76 per cent are aware of anaesthetists’ roles in labour and childbirth with 57 per cent aware of the role played in intensive care units. Forty per cent are aware of the role anaesthetists play in arranging pain relief following surgery while 39 per cent are aware of the anaesthetist’s role in resuscitation.
Those surveyed were also asked about research, with one in four (26 per cent) saying they would consider donating to ANZCA’s medical research. Many more (72 per cent) thought the government should increase its funding of medical research into anaesthesia, pain medicine and intensive care medicine.

Pain Medicine


The survey was largely anaesthesia-related although eight questions related to pain medicine.
While 45 per cent of those surveyed are aware that pain medicine is a specialty, New Zealanders (58 per cent) are significantly anasFourmore likely than Australians (43 per cent) to know of pain medicine as a medical specialty, while those aged 60 years-plus (58 per cent) are significantly more aware, especially compared to those aged under 40 years (37 per cent).
Most of those surveyed (55 per cent) are unaware or unsure if pain medicine is a medical specialty and a small minority of those surveyed (13 per cent) reported personal experience (either themselves or close family) with a pain physician or pain clinic in the past five years.
While still at minority levels, those aged 60 years or more (20 per cent) are significantly more likely to have had some level of personal experience with a pain physician or pain clinic in the last five years.
While only a small sample size (32), there is room to improve satisfaction with pain clinics – particularly in terms of length of time until appointments are available with 30 per cent saying this aspect was “terrible” or “not very good”.


Anaesthesia and the Community


An online survey of 656 people in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year found:NAD Poster A4 sm



  • Almost all (96 per cent) reported having had some experience of general anaesthetic – either personally or through a close family member.



  • Only 50 per cent are aware all anaesthetists are doctors (of these, 41 per cent know they are doctors with the same training/qualifications as other specialists).

  • Nearly one in 10 (9 per cent) think anaesthetists are not doctors and another 41 per cent are unsure.

  • 50 per cent felt informed/50 per cent didn’t feel informed about anaesthesia.

  • Just over three in 10 (31 per cent) said they would have concerns about undergoing anaesthesia/sedation.

  • 30 per cent reported medical shows TV as a source of information (personal experience - 72 per cent, family and friends - 50 per cent).

  • Four in 10 (45 per cent) perceived going under anaesthesia/sedation as a moderate to high-risk procedure (six in 10 low/almost no risk).

  • A strong majority felt being elderly (83 per cent) and overweight (81 per cent) were two factors that significantly increased risk (74 per cent - illegal drugs, 72 per cent - smoking).

  • Four in 10 (43 per cent) are concerned about waking up (14 per cent very concerned).




National Anaesthesia Day was launched on Wednesday October 16, 2013 by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA), the anniversary of the day in 1846 that ether anaesthetic was first demonstrated in Boston, Massachusetts.
The College ran a media and public awareness campaign on the day with the support of many hospitals across Australia and New Zealand. Our aim was to reach the general public and improve awareness of the role anaesthetists play in patients’ preparation for surgery, their wellbeing during surgery and their recovery, reinforcing the message that anaesthesia is safe and that anaesthetists are highly skilled medical specialists.
In early October ANZCA sent a National Anaesthesia Day kit to private and public hospitals as well as clinics around Australia and New Zealand. Kits contained resources to help promote the important role of anaesthetists. They included specially-designed posters for display, National Anaesthesia Day balloons to draw attention to the poster or other displays and general information about National Anaesthesia Day including more information about the survey and how to access patient information sheets for distribution. National Anaesthesia day will be held again on October 16, 2014.
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