Intro for Anaesthetic Undergraduate Students

The student was standing on their tip-toes, peering over the drapes. They had barely looked at the ventilator, so engrossed were they in the surgery. 

“So, are you here for anaesthesia, or for surgery?” our registrar asked. 

The student turned. “Well… I am on my anaesthesia rotation, technically… but I’m actually interested in surgery.”

Ten points for honesty. Zero for learning.

Dear medical students* on your anaesthesia rotation: 

I like you, I do. But you are not on this rotation to discover whether or not you like anaesthesia (or anaesthetists) – that would be an added bonus. Medical students rotate through anaesthesia because there are skills that our department is best suited to teach you, and where you will have the opportunity to actually practise them.

Here’s how to do well during your anaesthesia rotation – and how to benefit from it. 

Do not sit yourself down and scroll on your phone.

This tells us that you are uninterested. Teaching takes effort and energy, especially while we are doping a patient. Nobody will make an effort to teach you if you immediately exclude yourself. 

Ask how you can help – and then do it.

Ask the anaesthetists you are working with to show you how to draw up, and dilute, drugs. Ask them to show you how they chart vitals, and offer to help with that. Ask to place IVs. If you don’t yet know how to place an IV, ask them to demonstrate.

Remember that your clinical rotations are for learning clinical skills.

You are not in theatre to learn biochemistry. As much as asking questions is important for learning, I am not able to answer technical academic questions while I am doping a patient. Ask me why I used a specific drug for a specific patient – not for its molecular weight.

No matter your “actual” interests, your anaesthesia rotation is an opportunity to fine-tune your history-taking, doing a focussed physical examination, and sharpening your resuscitation skills.

You can learn how to be fast when handling drugs, and you can practise venous access, intubations, and spinals – all important skills for your internship and community service, no matter where you find yourself.  

I hope you enjoy your anaesthetic experience, but even if you don’t, I promise it will also come to an end. Whichever it is, identify what you need to learn, and then learn it.

*As always, my posts are specifically oriented towards the South African medical training model, but will hopefully bear some international relevance too.

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