Background: Most anesthesiologists will experience at least one perioperative catastrophe over the course of their careers. Very little, however, is known about the emotional impact of these events and their effects on both immediate and long-term ability to provide care. In this study, we examined the incidence of perioperative catastrophes and the impact of these outcomes on American anesthesiologists.
Methods: We sent a self-administered postal survey to 1200 randomly selected members of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Participants were sent an advance letter, up to 2 copies of the survey, up to 2 reminder postcards, and a small cash incentive. Six hundred fifty-nine physicians (56%) completed the survey.
Results: Eighty-four percent of respondents had been involved in at least one unanticipated death or serious injury of a perioperative patient over the course of his/her career. Queried about the emotional impact of a "most memorable" perioperative catastrophe, >70% experienced guilt, anxiety, and reliving of the event with 88% requiring time to recover emotionally from the event and 19% acknowledging having never fully recovered. Twelve percent considered a career change. Sixty-seven percent of respondents believed that their ability to provide patient care was compromised in the first 4 hours subsequent to the event, but only 7% were given time off.
Conclusion: A perioperative catastrophe may have a profound and lasting emotional impact on the anesthesiologist involved and may affect his or her ability to provide patient care in the aftermath of such events.