A career in anaesthesia
Anaesthetists are qualified specialist doctors who administer different types of anaesthetic to make a patient unconscious and pain free during an operation or procedure. This involves the use of a complex range of drugs and highly technical equipment to monitor the patient’s condition throughout an operation. The anaesthetist is responsible for pain management after surgery and assessment of a patient’s medical condition prior to surgery to ensure they are fit to undergo surgery.
There are also veterinary anaesthetists, who specialise in animal anaesthesia, and academic and research employment opportunities for anaesthetists through the Medical Schools at Auckland and Otago universities.
Anaesthetists train for five years to obtain their medical degree and registration and a further five to seven years working as a registrar in a hospital, gaining practical experience and completing postgraduate exams before qualifying as a specialist anaesthetist. Specialist training includes management of all types of anaesthesia, a wide knowledge of general medical conditions, intensive care, trauma management and resuscitation, and the treatment of pain.
Completion of specialist training and examinations enables vocational registration as a specialist anaesthetist.
Entry to a specialist training programme is based on suitability as an anaesthetist. About 45 trainees per year are employed in major secondary and tertiary hospitals in New Zealand.
Anaesthetists are supported in their role in the operating theatre by anaesthetic technicians, nurses and perfusionists (trained health professionals who operate heart-lung machines during surgeries that require heart-lung bypass).
All anaesthetists who work in public hospitals are employed by District Health Boards. Employment at private hospitals is undertaken after an individual anaesthetist has been granted a ‘right to practise’ at the institution and employment is typically on a casual basis and under an independent employment contract (not as a salaried employee).
GPs or rural hospital doctors with additional training in anaesthesia may also work under the supervision of a qualified specialist anaesthetist.
Salaries for full-time qualified specialists vary between $115,000 and $190,000 depending on seniority and frequency of on-call or emergency cover, as well as other factors (2009). Salaries for anaesthetists in training vary between $87,500 and $116,000, depending on the same factors (2009).
Employment at private hospitals is generally on a sessional basis and not under salaried contract. Anaesthetists working in private practice may earn more than an equivalent public hospital practice.
Assistants to the anaesthetist/Anaesthetic assistants
In all operating rooms or other areas where an anaesthetic is given, either as a regional anaesthetic such as an epidural or an arm block, or a general anaesthetic or sedation, the NZSA strongly supports the presence of a trained anaesthesia technician.
Anaesthetic technicians work in the operating room with the anaesthetist and their role is to prepare and maintain equipment for an anaesthetic and to assist the anaesthetist in providing safe anaesthetic.
An anaesthetic technician undergoes a two to three year (depending on an individual’s entry qualifications) hospital-based training course with distance learning from the Auckland University of Technology which provides the academic component of this diploma or graduate certificate course.
To become an anaesthetic technician you need to complete the Diploma in Applied Science (Anaesthetic Technology). This three year extramural course is available through the Auckland University of Technology.
More information is on the New Zealand Anaesthesia Technicians’ Society website.