Anesthesiology is the study and practice of administering sedation and/or anesthesia to a living creature for the purpose of blocking pain. There are anesthesiologists who practice on animals and those who treat humans. Anesthesiology is, to many people, a rather mysterious and even spooky field of medicine. Who knows what actually happens to a person when they are "put under"? Indeed, it could be said that anesthesiology is the branch of medicine that comes the closest to causing clinical death and resurrection on the operating table.
An anesthesiologist specializes in the field after undergoing the usual medical school education and residency. Most doctors have general training in anesthesiology, but like all medical specialties, additional study and a residency in that field is required for certification. The main goal of anesthesiology is to prevent a patient from feeling pain. Thus, an anesthesiologist may also be involved in a patient's pain management after surgery. He or she will also often recommend the best method of anesthesia, depending on the procedure, since not every method is suited for every procedure on every patient.
Numerous medications are available for the anesthesiologist to select from, and part of the anesthesiology training is knowing which medication suits which patient for any given procedure. Age, height, weight and general health are all factors. For example, the patient may be an elderly woman with a broken hip. Depending on her general health, and what procedure the surgeon will perform, the anesthesiologist will determine whether she needs general or total anesthesia, or if an epidural can be given to block the pain. Since the elderly often do not tolerate general anesthesia very well, the anesthesiologist may determine that an epidural will block the pain from the surgery, but still maintain the patient's consciousness.
Anesthesiology is critical in every surgical procedure, but especially in complex surgeries such as open heart. The heart may need to be completely stopped, and this is the anesthesiologist's job. He or she will often have a particular set of nurses and technicians who work with only that doctor during the surgery, and monitor the patient's vital statistics.
A good anesthesiologist will also visit the patient before and after surgery. This helps him or her determine what methods of anesthesia to use, and also allows the doctor to observe how well the patient tolerated the anesthesia. This could be crucial knowledge for further treatment and other surgical procedures. Spooky or not, anesthesiology is a necessary branch of medicine.