What is life like as an anaesthetist? The study? The patients? What really happens when you are ‘sleeping’? Under the spotlight this month reveals all with our valued client, Alistair Park, Anaesthetics Registrar. Thanks Alistair for your candid and humorous responses!
Under the spotlight with Alistair Park, Anaesthetics Registrar
1. What was your nickname at school?
2. When did you decide that the medical profession was for you?
I became interested in year 11-12 when I started thinking about the future. It’s a pretty defined path, but with lots of branching options, which appealed to my younger self who had difficulty making decisions.
3. What advice would you give to parents of Year 12 students to help them through their final year of school?
In my unqualified opinion (since I don’t have children, let alone children in year 12) what they need is supported independence. Year 12 is a time when teenagers begin taking on the role of the independent adult, or at least they think they do. Help them by helping transform your relationship into an adult one, with give and take on both sides. They need the freedom to make small mistakes and support not to make big ones.
4. How many years of study and work experience have you undergone so far?
After year 12, I went straight into five years of university at UTas. After medicine, it was a year of internship (provisional registration with the Australian Health Practitioner Agency) then a year as a resident (the first year of full registration with AHPRA). I then worked as an ED (emergency department) registrar (a more experienced doctor working in a service or training role) for one year before being accepted into the Tasmanian Anaesthetics Training Program, where I am now in my third year. So, five years of uni, three years of prevocational work, and now my third year of vocational training, 11 years since year 12.
5. How did you decide that specialising in anaesthetics would be the right career choice?
Specialising in anaesthetics jumped out at me in my second year of medicine. It was the first one listed in the book we were given at a career’s night, and I never made it past the first page.
6. You’ve been part of lots of operations by now, can you tell us what really goes on while a patient is fast asleep, other than the operation of course?!
It’s pretty much what you would expect; a group of professionals going as rapidly and safely about their business as they can. Depending on the team there can be some good jokes and banter which can really help move the day along. Sometimes we play music as well, of all genres and volumes, depending on the mood of the theatre.
7. What motivates you at work?
We meet people on their darkest days, and because of this, we do see a lot of suffering. When I can help to relieve that suffering, even if it’s small things like having a laugh with someone or sharing a smile, it makes me know that I’m in the right place.
8. What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
Just crack on – a common phrase in theatre!
9. Australia seems to have an excellent reputation on the global stage for health care. What other countries have excellent reputations, and why is that?
One of the best things about our health care system is that we have this incredible safety net of Medicare, that means nobody should slip through the cracks. When I see systems like the US, where people can literally live or die depending on if they have the right insurance or money in the bank, it sickens me. I most admire other systems like ours, that help people because they are people, not because they’re rich people or entitled people. For all its faults, the NHS in the UK provides this, and in terms of patient care, it has a good reputation. If only it treated its staff a little more humanely, I might consider working there myself.
10. Ten years from now; where will you be working and what will life be like?
Ten years is too far away! Once I finish my specialist training, in the next 3-4 years, I will likely end up doing casual locum work for a few years since my partner, who is a doctor of the other sort, is searching for postgraduate work all around the world. Since she’s likely to end up somewhere European (her field of research is European Politics), I have grand visions of commuting to Australia for several weeks at a time which will have the great side benefit of boosting my frequent flyer status!
11. Dave Woolford is your Collins SBA financial adviser. Why did you initially seek advice and how helpful has Dave been?
I caught Dave right out of med school. I have a reasonable feel for money issues but knew that just like a keen gym buff who would still go to the doctor if he were injured, I should always seek professional advice. I’m most interested in setting up my finances to reduce the costly mistakes I make. With compound interest, any mistake I make now that loses me money will be magnified many times over the years, and likewise, any benefit will be too. Having a long timeline makes me more enthusiastic about getting things right the first time.
12. What is one thing that readers might not know about anaesthetics that would surprise them?
Other than putting a patient “to sleep” – it’s actually not sleeping, it’s a very different form of unconsciousness that we can’t really explain because there’s no truly good model of consciousness, yet! One of the things we commonly do is give a patient muscle relaxant, that means they won’t move, even at the spinal reflex level, while the surgery is ongoing. This is both for safety and for ease and helps the surgeons do all sorts of techniques that would otherwise be impossible. Don’t worry though; we have tools that can measure whether the patient is still relaxed and drugs that reverse the effect, so the risk of being woken up at the end unable to move is almost zero.