An anesthesiologist is a doctor who gives a patient medication to not feel pain when they are undergoing surgery or a procedure. However, these specialist physicians play a much wider role than just putting people to sleep for surgery.
From newborns to elderly, anesthesiologists take care of every age group. The Pulse sat down with Dr. Lisa Pillo, Anesthesiologist at North York General Hospital (NYGH) to learn more about her role.
“Everyone approaches interactions with patients and colleagues with kindness, it is truly the best thing about working at North York General and makes coming to work a happy experience, says Dr. Pillo. “The patients feel it too – they often tell me that they have never encountered such a friendly hospital!”
Dr. Pillo explains how labour and delivery is especially exciting – “watching a family welcome their new baby is a very special experience and I’m glad I’m able to provide women with pain relief during labour and caesarian or vaginal delivery,” adds Dr. Pillo.
At NYGH we are proud to have 13 female anesthesiologists as part of our team.
“Women in medicine, and women in general, have had a long and tough road to become established in a male-dominated world, says Dr. Pillo. “I am eternally indebted to the women who came before me to blaze the trail into anesthesiology.”
When you come to North York General Hospital for surgery, you can count on a highly trained team of health care professionals dedicated to providing you with safe, effective and patient-centered care from preadmission to discharge.
Like Dr. Pillo, anesthesiologists are also involved in a range of other medical procedures, which include carrying out assessments of maternal health, dealing with emergency situations, and giving advice about pain management.
“Becoming an anesthesiologist is a pretty long journey,” says Dr. Pillo. After attending the University of Toronto (U of T) for an undergraduate degree in Life Sciences, Dr. Pillo went to medical school at Queen’s University in Kingston. At the end of medical school, Dr. Pillo completed a five-year residency at U of T and shortly thereafter began working at NYGH.
Dr. Pillo didn’t stop there, she also received a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Quality, Risk and Safety through Queen’s University.
Every step of the way
Anesthesiologists are perioperative (time period of a patients surgical procedure) specialist physicians. They are involved in preoperative risk assessment and planning through the hospital’s pre-anesthetic clinic as well as assessing patients prior to every surgery. The role of the anesthesiologist is to be the expert at the interplay between the patient, their medical diseases, the surgery and the anesthetic itself.
“We are the watchers – our vigilance and anticipation keep people safe and comfortable while undergoing surgery,” explains Dr. Pillo. “Each anesthetic involves careful planning.”
Factors that are considered include the patient’s medical history, the type of surgery and the anticipated level of pain after surgery. These, together with many other elements, lead an anesthesiologist to devise a unique plan for each patient’s anesthetic care. This can include pre-operative optimization, intraoperative anesthetic techniques and postoperative pain and symptom management. Anesthesiologists continue to be involved in the few days after surgery to help alleviate pain through a variety of pharmacologic and procedural techniques.
“Sometimes the patient doesn’t even realize how much care, thought and effort went into their anesthetic but the internal satisfaction of having everything turn out for the best is so gratifying,” says Dr. Pillo.
Unlike other physicians, oftentimes the anesthesiologist only meets their patients a few minutes before administering their anesthetic and there is a limited time to gain their trust.
“I treat this as one of my most important responsibilities – the patient needs to know that I am always there while they are under anesthetic and that my whole job is to keep them safe, asleep and comfortable,” says Dr. Pillo.
Understandably patients often feel nervous before undergoing anesthesia. Acknowledging that it’s normal to be scared, offering a warm blanket, and explaining to them what will happen are a few of the techniques Dr. Pillo uses for connecting and calming her patients.
“Other times we talk about what they will dream about while they are sleeping – a nice vacation, what they would like to eat later, after we make them fast prior to surgery of course,” laughs Dr. Pillo. “As they are drifting off to sleep I usually tell them that before they know it, it will be over and they will be in the recovery room.”
When Dr. Pillo isn't at North York General, you are likely to catch her spending quality time with her husband and two daughters.
There are many sub-specialties within anesthesiology and most require more specialized training after residency. Some common anesthesiology sub-specialties include:
- Obstetrical anesthesia – specializing in anesthetic care of maternal health during pregnancy and delivery
- Regional anesthesia – extra training to gain skills and knowledge for advanced pain relief techniques and procedures
- Chronic pain – formal program that enables an anesthesiologist to become an expert in diagnosis, treatment and management of chronic pain conditions. Often includes medical and interventional techniques
- Paediatric anesthesiology – specialty in caring for neonates, infants and children requiring anesthesia for surgery or other procedures
- Surgical subspecialty anesthesiology – some types of surgery require specialized knowledge and unique anesthesia techniques. Anesthesia subspecialties for certain surgical types include: Cardiac, Neurosurgery, Thoracic Surgery and many more
- Intensive care medicine – Anesthesiologists can also specialize in care of critically ill patients