I attended a colleague’s wedding in 2013. Not surprisingly, I was assigned to sit at the far back table with the other coworkers and their spouses. I will never forget meeting the physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. After we introduced ourselves and our specialties, in a very polite way, he chuckled and responded with “well, I don’t think our paths will cross that much in the future.” At the time I agreed. After all, why would a PM&R physician ever need to work with an anesthesiologist? Ironically, four years later, I am collaborating with researchers in PM&R.
The unfortunate reality facing our specialty is that despite developing safe anesthetics and superior monitoring devices, changing patient demographics are resulting in a very unhealthy population. The obesity epidemic, the aging population, and the predicted rise in cancer will ignite an increase in surgical procedures over the next decade. As we continue to evolve into perioperative physicians, it is critical that we also emerge as perioperative researchers. We need not only to contribute, but to lead interdisciplinary collaborations with the goal to optimize our patients prior to surgery, ensure a safe intraoperative course, and provide innovative postoperative care in order to improve surgical outcomes.
Of course accomplishing this goal is no easy task and requires contribution from multiple departments. However, this concept of interdisciplinary collaboration or “team science” has surged in the last decade. This is primarily due to the launch of the NIH Interdisciplinary Research Consortia in 2007. This effort is to promote such collaborations not only to alter the academic research culture, but to stimulate new ways of approaching biomedical problems by formulating teams that include basic science, clinical research, as well as the social sciences. The majority of researchers participate in multidisciplinary collaboration, a sequential process where researchers work independently in their own discipline-specific perspective. On the other hand, interdisciplinary collaboration requires a joint effort by multiple specialties to address a common research problem.
While the changing patient demographics can seem daunting, even frightening to the anesthesiologist in the operating room, this is an opportunity for young investigators in our specialty to take charge, form research teams with other departments, and make an impact in the perioperative management and overall outcomes of our patients. As for future weddings, I look forward to the day when an anesthesiologist and a PM&R physician are not merely sharing the bread basket, but discussing the common ground shared by their two specialties.