When adjectives obfuscate

A few years ago, at the misguided recommendation of a public relations consultant, many of us in America started referring to ourselves as “physician anesthesiologists”. That was a silly move. The term is cumbersome and does not flow trippingly on the tongue. It is also redundant. You don’t hear our colleagues referring to themselves as “physician cardiologists” or “physician urologists”.

There was never any need of an adjective to modify “anesthesiologist”.

Anesthesiology is a medical specialty, practiced by physicians who have completed residency training in anesthesiology. To become board-certified, we undergo a rigorous examination program conducted by the American Board of Anesthesiology.

In England, comparably trained physicians are called “anaesthetists”. In England, they also refer to their subway system as “the underground”, and to the hood of the car as the “bonnet”. It’s confusing, but we muddle through.

The term “nurse anesthesiologist” is an oxymoron.

I’m all done with the term “physician anesthesiologist”. I am the immediate past president of the California Society of Anesthesiologists, and a 30+ year member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. I am a physician who is immensely proud to practice anesthesiology. My patients know I am a physician because I make it clear to them when I introduce myself and give them my business card.

Dr. Virginia Apgar was an anesthesiologist. It is an honor to follow in her footsteps, even if most of us will never match her achievements. That is all.



Well said. The term “nurse anesthesiologist” is not only an oxymoron, it’s an attempt to confuse patients.



I just don’t understand the need of others to try and confuse patients. Also proud to be an anesthesiologist and teach everyone, anything I know


Peter Lucas

I’ve long used the terms: “anesthesia doctor”, and “anesthesia nurse”. It is plain language that aligns with other areas of health care: ICU doctor, ICU nurse. ER Doctor, ER nurse, etc. In this nomenclature, nurses with PhD’s are still nurses.

I find it more interesting to consider these questions: Who cares about this whole issue besides ourselves (and the anesthesia nurses, of course). We know that patients should care. But do they? If they don’t care, can we make them care? If the patients concern about MD vs. RN anesthesia provider is minimal, how can we possibly win this battle?


Dear Dr. Lucas,

I am 100% convinced that patients DO care. It’s all about how the information is presented. How many people do we think would actually say, “I want the best care possible. No physician!” In an ICU setting, a physician is responsible for the care of multiple patients, working in conjunction with highly skilled nurses. This model doesn’t strike anyone as odd. Nurse practitioners in ICUs still have physician backup. Why is the operating room considered so different? At UCLA, we work collaboratively with a wonderful team of nurse anesthetists as well as residents and fellows, but there is still no question that the ultimate responsibility for each case I’m involved with rests with me.

Best, and thank you for reading and commenting!

Karen Sibert


Pamela O'Steen, CAA

Well said Dr. Sibert! I always enjoy your writings!




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