This column was written on behalf of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and was first published by KevinMD on December 22, 2013.
When you need anesthesia for surgery or a diagnostic procedure, of course you want to know who’ll be giving you anesthesia. If you live in Texas, Florida, the District of Columbia, or 14 other states, you may be lucky enough to have an anesthesia team taking care of you that includes a physician anesthesiologist and an anesthesiologist assistant, or “AA”. If you live in many other states–including my own state of California–care from an AA isn’t yet an option.
Many Americans have never heard of anesthesiologist assistants. Even many physicians are unaware that the profession exists. But for more than 45 years, AAs have worked alongside physician anesthesiologists in exactly the same way that physician assistants (PAs) work with a surgeon, internist, or pediatrician–using teamwork to deliver the best possible medical care to their patients.
Today, there are more than 1400 certified AAs in the U.S. Why are they limited to practicing only in certain states? It’s a complicated question. The answer involves the fierce opposition of nurse anesthetists to the very existence of the AA profession, our complex American system of state licensure, and the economics of healthcare.