Anaesthesiologists and coffee – do they have anything in common?

Anaesthesiologists and coffee – do they have anything in common?

  • Issue 67

Gabriel M. Gurman

I have no doubt that the above question would be encountered with a big lack of interest, or as an alternative, with a big smile. Of course, physicians, anaesthesiologists among them, drink coffee, more or less in the same amount as other professions, such as nurses, administrators, or physiotherapists.

I cannot but agree with this opinion.

We doctors need coffee for various reasons, some of them true and real, others could be taken as simple anecdotes. The more tired we are (and we are tired too often!), the more we look for a cup of the black liquid, considered to have a strong and positive stimulating effect and having a special place in the so-called the “fatigue management strategy”.

If so, why speak about something that is common knowledge?

Because of the simple fact that a recent serious paper has been published in a very esteemed journal (Brit Med J 2015;351:h6446) under the title: “Black medicine: an observational study of doctors’ coffee purchasing patterns at work”! The authors (Giesinger K, Hamilton DF, Erschbamer M, Jost B, Giesinger JM) accessed data for coffee purchasing in the cafeterias of a big Swiss hospital during 2014. They studied the coffee consumption of medical doctors, grouping them by specialties, sex, and professional hierarchy.

And now, just a simple question: What would our readers consider to be the place of anaesthesiology on the scale of the specialties in regard to coffee drinking habit: the first place, one in the middle, or somewhere toward the end of the list?

The answer would soon come, but first some other interesting data.

The authors found that 85% of all that hospital’s physicians purchased at least one coffee during 2014. Female doctors preferred cappuccino, while male doctors drank more espresso. Senior consultants occupied the first place regarding the amount of coffee ordered. The chiefs of departments came second, followed by junior doctors and registrars.

The discussions section tried to offer some explanations of the above data. For instance, why did older doctors purchase more coffee than the young ones? The authors presented three explanations for this finding: a need to fight age in order to keep up with the younger workforce, the more time they had for socializing, and, last but not least, the fact that senior doctors used to buy coffees for their younger colleagues.

Women prefer cappuccino because this kind of coffee is more suitable when chatting with friends on a sofa (!).

And now about the specialties classifications. Let’s go straight to the figures.

Orthopaedic surgeons occupied the first place among all medical specialists (some 190 cups of coffee per person per year), followed by radiologists (176), and general surgeons (166). And what about us?! Here comes the surprise! We are almost in the last place, with only 39 cups of coffee per person per year!

The explanations of this rather unexpected result are not less interesting.

Orthopaedic surgeons “work hard, play hard, and drink hard” (in spite of the fact that this saying applies to alcoholic drinks and not to coffee). Radiologists spend more time in the cafeterias because they try to escape their dark working environment.

And the anaesthesiologists? Here the authors came up with some very interesting hypotheses. The first one refers to the fact that we are busier than any other medical professions and do not have time to socialize in the hospital cafeterias. For us time means a strict operating schedule, to us time is too short between cases to leave the operating room, and the production pressure acts all the time in all places where medicine generates money (see the editorial).

But this might be not enough to give a viable explanation about the place we occupy on this scale. The authors mentioned a very well-known fact, that operating theatres set up their own coffee machines, thus the anaesthesiologists have much closer access to coffee. And what about surgeons? The next sentence tries to explain the paradox: “General surgeons and orthopedic surgeons also seek additional caffeine boosts in the theatre area, though this does not seem to impair their purchasing habits” in more sociable places.

No doubt, the above study raises a lot of questions, among them the possibility that the results reflect the coffee drinking habits in only one, single hospital, in one single city, in one single country.

But one cannot accept the fact that science could not be limited only to patients, experiments, and epidemiological data. We do not know too much about ourselves. And, maybe, this is a good start for exploring our own professional life and habits. Surprises, be sure, would soon come.