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What is anaesthetics?

anaesthetics tubeThis section will help you to understand more about who anaesthetists are and what they do.

What do anaesthetists do?

Anaesthetists are generally understood as the doctors who 'put you to sleep for surgery'. Certainly this is an important part of their work, but anaesthetists, as highly trained specialists, have a scope of practice which extends beyond anaesthesia for surgery to include pain management and intensive care. Anaesthetists have a medical background to deal with many emergency situations. In these situations they provide vital care of breathing, resuscitation of the heart and lungs and advanced life support.

Managing pain

Not only are anaesthetists the specialists who ensure that you are pain free during and after the time of surgery, but because of their specialist training some are also qualified to care for other sorts of pain. Anaesthetists are the specialists who control your pain during child birth with spinal and epidural anaesthesia and occasionally general anaesthesia.

Anaesthetists also care for patients with acute, chronic and cancer pain. Pain clinics can be found in most hospitals and the anaesthetists there have undergone specialist training in many techniques to try and tackle and relieve these different sorts of pain.


An anaesthetist is a fully trained medical doctor. In fact they form the largest specialty group of doctors in the National Health Service. After qualifying, doctors choose between many specialities for further training. Anaesthetists are doctors who have undergone specialist training in anaesthesia, intensive care medicine and pain management.

The standards of training in the UK are high. The Royal College of Anaesthetists has duties to set the standards of the training programmes and approve the hospitals where the training can take place. For these young doctors training starts as an SHO (Senior House Officer) for at least two years. The trainee SHO achieves a basic level of competence, but is supervised in their work. The degree of supervision depends on their experience. After training as an SHO the trainee has to apply for, and be accepted on a specialist registrar training programme (SpR). This lasts for five years during which the trainee gains further skills and experience. Specialist registrars are also supervised by consultants.

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(Information taken from the Royal College of Anaesthetists)