Background: Evaluating clinical competence among anaesthetists has so far focused mostly on theoretical knowledge and practical skills. According to theory, however, the way anaesthetists understand their own work has also greatly influenced the development of professional competence. The aim of this study was to investigate how anaesthetists understand their work.
Methods: Nineteen Swedish anaesthetists were interviewed. The interviews were open and sought answers to three questions 1) When do you feel you have been successful in your work?; 2) What is difficult or what hinders you in your work?; and 3) What is the core of your professional anaesthesia work? Phenomenographic analysis was performed.
Results: Four ways of understanding the anesthesiologists' professional work were found: 1) Give anaesthesia and control the patient's vital functions; 2) Help the patient, alleviate his/her pain and anxiety; 3) Give service to the whole hospital to facilitate the work of other doctors and nurses, caring for severely ill patients; and 4) Organize and direct the operation ward to make the operations list run smoothly.
Conclusions: This study shows that anaesthetists understand their work in qualitatively different ways, which can be assumed to affect their work actions and also the way their competence develops. This has implications for the education of anaesthetists; it is important to find ways of making anaesthetists in training consciously aware of the different ways their work can be understood, as this will give them better prerequisites for future competence development.