Preventing Pain: The Science of Anesthesiology

Dr. Sara Cheng
University of Colorado Hospital - Anschutz
Science Discovery Teen Cafe


At the November café for Science Discovery Teen Café in Boulder we learned about anesthesiology. We heard from anesthesiologist, Dr. Sara Cheng, who works as part of a private practice in the Boulder-Denver area.

She and her colleagues, Drs. Filip Trojanowski and Bridget Bailey, demonstrated various techniques for anesthetizing a patient, and explained how and why anesthesia is so important in the medical field. She opened the café with a metaphorical icebreaker in which each of us were doctors and we had balloons as patients. We were given tasks to do while taking care of our “patients,”  and if the balloon touched the ground or ceiling, the patient died. Throughout the activity, the difficulty  of these tasks was increased, as we were required to high five one another and count by threes, all while Dr. Cheng ran around waving her hands in our faces in an effort to distract us. This activity demonstrated just how difficult anesthesia is. As Dr. Cheng explained, it’s not just clicking a button and leaving the room, anesthesiologists have to know which drug(s) to give, how much, and when, and more often than not are required to combine various drugs to form a finished treatment plan. We then moved into a lecture format, and Dr. Cheng briefly explained what exactly anesthesia entails (see above).

Hands on Activity

The majority of the café was spent at three stations. One station was dedicated to intubation, a process in which a physician places an endotracheal tube into the patient’s airway in order to hook them up to a ventilator, a machine that facilitates breathing, and in many cases even breathes for the patient, and was run by Dr. Trojanowski. Students were able to try their hand at intubation, and many of us discovered that it’s not a very easy or simple process; doctors must ensure that the tube makes it down the correct pathway, so as to avoid pumping air into a patient’s stomach.

The second station was dedicated to IVs, which allow medication to be administered intravenously. Dr. Cheng provided a plethora of fake arms and catheters for us to practice with, and, again, we discovered that it’s not as easy as doctors may make it seem.

The third station was dedicated to ultrasound, an imaging technique used by doctors in which high-frequency sound waves are transferred into the body and reflected back to form an image, and was run by Dr. Bailey. Students were invited to try their hand at giving each other ultrasounds, and were taught to recognize bones (which are white due to high reflectivity) and arteries (which are black, due to low reflectivity). All three of these stations allowed students to get hands-on experience and learning about the medical field, and, not to mention, break down a lot of the stereotypes associated with anesthesia as a profession.