Research shows that nurse anesthetists deliver care that is about as safe and high quality as physician anesthesiologists. But I still recommend that every patient ask one question before being put to sleep by a nurse anesthetist:
“Is there a doctor anesthesiologist nearby, just in case there’s an emergency during my surgery?”
In most hospitals and many free-standing surgery centers, the answer will be, “Of course, we wouldn’t dream of putting patients to sleep without an anesthesiologist supervising the anesthetists.” But in other facilities the answer will be, “No, we don’t think it’s necessary.”
And that “no” should give you pause. Because there’s only one reason NOT to have the anesthesiologist there: to save money for the surgery center by taking a safety shortcut.
Anesthesiologists have MD degrees and broad training in all aspects of medicine. They also spend a lot more years learning anesthesia than nurses who come up through a “CRNA” program (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist). It costs about six times as much to train an anesthesiologist as an anesthetist, and the anesthesiologists accordingly get paid about twice the salary of nurse anesthetists.
If something goes wrong during surgery — and luckily that’s rare nowadays, thanks to improvements in anesthesia technology over the last thirty years – it’s best to have an anesthesiologist nearby.
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