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Member Spotlight: Dr. Lois Connolly on What Makes a Great Anesthesiologist, Outrunning COVID, and the Dangers of "Time Creep"

Member Spotlight: @Lois Connolly, MD, FASA

Nominated by:  @Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, FASA

Reason for Nomination: "She created and leads a highly successful AA training program!"

(Is there an ASA member you'd like to nominate for a Spotlight? Tell us here.)

Looks like you’ve made the “America’s Top Physicians” list quite a few years running! What qualities do you consider essential to being an excellent doctor?
Pay the $100! All kidding aside… Qualifications being assumed and nurtured with lifelong learning, the qualities essential to being an excellent doctor mirror those of excellent leaders:

  1. Be humble: You will not know all the answers so be okay with “phone a friend” and ask for help.
  2. Be curious: Be curious about your patients and the journey that brought them to you. Be curious to investigate new ways to help your patients find a mutually acceptable path.
  3. Have compassion: Take time to care even though your day may be overwhelming. It is okay to slow down and listen.
  4. Have respect, integrity, and honesty: Do not be judgmental and try to recognize your biases and address them.
  5. Show up, step up, and engage your team: Use the entire perioperative team’s expertise to assist in care of your patient.
  6. Hone your communication skills by listening with intent. Treat your patients and your team the way you wish to be treated.

What got you interested in developing training programs for anesthesiology assistants, and why do you think it’s important to cultivate that particular role on the care team?

Throughout my career, I have led teams in idea implementation and project development. The Master of Science in Anesthesia (MSA) program (Anesthesiologist Assistant training) was posed by the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) as part of a strategic plan to expand the medical school and graduate school into a Health Science University. The MSA program at MCW is the 11th such training program in the US and the first Allied Health Program at MCW.

The timing of this came shortly after my presidency of the Wisconsin Society of Anesthesiologists, during which I testified before the state Senate Health Committee on behalf of licensing of Certified Anesthesiologist Assistants (CAAs) in the state of Wisconsin. At the time only about 20 CAAs practiced in the state of Wisconsin under the Medical Practice Act of Delegatory Authority.

Since I had not worked with CAAs, I quickly learned about the profession and the education track leading into the Masters program. The students may hold aspirations for medical school and all hold the science prerequisites. Many students work in research labs or in other hospital jobs. For many reasons, the students seek alternatives to medical school and want to train and work in a medical allied health field. The testimony was eye opening to me! I witnessed targeted and stark bias against the CAA profession.

Many myths were generated and needed to be dispelled. CAAs were and still are marginalized in our anesthesia society as an alternative anesthesia care provider who works in an anesthesiologist led medical direction model. Many factors, including social justice, led me to embrace developing the MSA program and integrating the CAAs into our care team model. Cultivating diversity, inclusion and collaboration are essential to a healthy and robust functioning anesthesia team. Every part of the anesthesia care team brings value and different insight which better patient care.

Every medical specialty has a reputation for attracting a certain “type.” How do you think anesthesiologists are typically characterized, and do you think it’s a fair assessment? (Feel free to stick up for your fellow physicians here.)

This is a very interesting question! Being the optimist that I am and as I feel so fortunate to have chosen academic anesthesiology as my career, I do see some characteristics that bond us as a specialty. Anesthesiologists embrace internal medicine and critical care of patients with their innate capabilities of technical skills and dexterity. Anesthesiologists are data driven leaders who notice minute changes in patterns and act upon the data that’s constantly feeding their decisions. Anesthesiologists are creative thinkers, problem solvers, builders and inventors. Many anesthesiologists hold patents. Anesthesiologists are the patient advocate throughout the perioperative care and will work to address medical issues that may slow down procedural care.

My surgeons believe a best anesthesiologist is affable, available and agreeable. It is usually when one of these traits is missing that discord arises. So displaying the 3 “A”s with excellent communication and social skills make anesthesiologists leaders in patient care in the perioperative arena.

If you could change just one thing about your job, what would it be?

I do not think of my career as a “job”. That noted, as a “job”, the only thing I would change is the number of patient care hours expected of an anesthesiologist. Time off of clinical care must be allowed for creative discernment, wellness activity and spiritual renewal.

I have noted a time creep occurring, more patient care hours are now expected and is out of sync with the expectations of society. Many full-time anesthesiologists work between 50-80 hours per week. These time issues disproportionally disadvantage women anesthesiologists who need to balance career and family. As for my career, I am fortunate that I am able to fulfill most of my values.

Self-care is so important – especially now. How do you unwind when things get stressful?

Self-care is paramount! Without nurturing wellness in healthcare providers, there will be no one to take care of patients or family. First, self-awareness of a need for “time out” is essential. I have incorporated a few activities on a daily basis: daily spiritual reflections, mindfulness practices and meditation. I have always thrived on solo physical activity – road biking, yoga.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, I realized I was harboring anticipatory grief. I headed out to our state and local parks and immersed myself into the beauty of nature – watching the plants bloom and fade with each season, listening to the birds and the frogs in the pond, feeling the cold and warmth of the weather on my skin. This led me to picking up my newest stress reliever, trail running. Another great stress reliever for me is humor. Having a smile or a laugh often allows me to put things into perspective.

I am a firm believer in restorative sleep. Sleep always allows me to better problem solve and provides me with an open mind.

Is there anything we didn’t ask you about that you wish we had?

Yes - "Who am I?"! I am a mother of two, a wife, a sister, a friend, a companion, a grandmother of three beautiful children, an idealist, an optimist, an advocate, a physician, an academic anesthesiologist, a tenured professor, a new trail runner, a thought leader and a people leader.

Dr. Lois Connolly is a Professor of Anesthesiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, WI. She is also Wisconsin Director on the ASA Board of Directors and ASA Chair of the Section of Professional Standards.

(Is there an ASA member you'd like to nominate for a Spotlight? Tell us here.


ASA Community Blog is published as a benefit for ASA members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributing writers only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of ASA.