The Art of Anesthesia

Nancy Marie Brown
March 01, 1994

While Helen Baghdoyan terms anesthesia an art, Kirk Shelley thinks of it as "a procedurally based specialty," something "not too dissimilar to teaching a pilot to fly an airplane."

Accordingly, Shelley and his colleagues in Penn State's College of Medicine have developed what could be called a flight-simulator for anesthesiologists.

"The traditional method of training anesthesia residents," says Shelley, an assistant professor of anesthesia and medicine at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, "is through an apprentice-master arrangement." Watched by a certified anesthesiologist, the student first puts his or her book-learning into practice "in the operating room," says Shelley, "directly caring for patients.

"The first time the resident does anything is on an actual patient."

The student, notes W. Bosseau Murray, associate professor of anesthesia and director of the anesthesia simulation laboratory, is "understandably overwhelmed by hundreds of machines and data, and the education process can't take place."

In the "Simulation Development and Cognitive Laboratory," on the 'other hand, the task is broken down into modules concentrating on the lung and pulmonary system, for example, or on the heart and cardiovascular system. The simulator shows the effects of various medications, creating "life-like patient readouts on the monitors," says Shelley. The training programs are interactive, covering different operating procedures and potential situations, from common ones to those, such as equipment failure, that "might occur once in a physician's career," Shelley says.

Kirk Shelley, M.D., Ph.D., is assistant professor of anesthesia and medicine; W. Bosseau Murray, M.B. Ch.B., is associate professor of anesthesia and director of the simulation development and cognitive science laboratory, College of Medicine, The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Box 850, Hershey, PA 17033; 717-531-5439. Collaborating with them are Duane Hughes, Ph.D.; Rick Marboe, Ph.D.; and Mike Roekle, Ph.D., of the Applied Research Laboratory, University Park. Reported by Steven I. Benowitz.

Last Updated March 01, 1994