Anyone who has had major surgery may be surprised to learn that being "put to sleep" involves more than a shot of pentothal. Thanks to general anesthesia, people simply cannot remember much after they reach the operating room.
But from the moment surgery begins, the anesthesiologist is constantly busy with tasks that can mean the difference between life and death. He or she must frequently adjust the balance of various drugs used to begin, maintain, and reverse anesthesia; typically, 7 to 10 agents are needed to achieve the desired effects.
The anesthesiologist also regulates basic life functions, such as breathing and heart rate, which unconscious patients are unable to do on their own. And the anesthesiologist watches for medical problems that may arise. In preparation for all of this, anesthesiologists have at least eight years of medical education, with intensive training in giving anesthesia and in caring for anesthetized patients. Nurse anesthetists - registered nurses who have had additional training and certification in anesthesiology - also may anesthetize patients under the supervision of an anesthesiologist or the surgeon.