Celebrating the past, charting the future: Anesthesia Technology celebrates 50 years at the QEII

Denny Mombourquette, Anesthesia Technician at the QEII Health Sciences Centre
Denny Mombourquette, Anesthesia Technician at the QEII Health Sciences Centre

If you or a loved one has undergone surgery at the QEII, chances are you’ve been cared for by an anesthesia technician and haven’t even known it. That’s because anesthesia technology is a relatively new field compared to other professions within the hospital. This year marks a huge milestone for this small group of health care providers as they prepare to celebrate 50 years of service. And there’s a lot to celebrate.

Ask any anesthesiologist and they will tell you anesthesia technicians are an integral and indispensable part of the operating room (OR) team. And their role is growing at a rapid pace. The main responsibilities of anesthesia technicians are to ensure the function of anesthesia equipment before, during and after surgical procedures. They also help to administer proper doses of medication and act as an assistant to the anesthetist during cases where airways may be comprised or difficult. Anesthesia technology is quickly becoming a well sought-after choice for young career-seeking professionals.

Anesthesia Technologist Denny Mombourquette speaks to the rewards. “In 32 years it’s been a rewarding job to be part of the OR team and to assist the anesthesiologist in any situation. It’s not only about technical tasks but talking to the patient, holding their hand, looking into their eyes and whispering a prayer under my mask as they fall asleep. Patients have commented that we as a team flow like were doing a dance - all in tune knowing what our next steps will be.”

The story of Anesthesia Technology at the QEII started 50 years ago. The Centennial Building extension of the VG Hospital had just opened. Dr. Carl Stoddard, who was the chief of Anesthesia at the time, was very involved in the planning and development of a new and innovative operating suite, designed to carry the new hospital into the future. In order to do this, Dr. Stoddard saw a huge need to expand the Department of Anesthesia to include dedicated and highly trained support staff. There were six anesthesia technicians subsequently hired in 1967 (Ruby Burry, Vera Bonnell, Vera Baxter, Debbie Boutilier, Barb Potter and Bonnie Cameron). Sharon Leahy would join the department in the Fall of 1967. Both Ruby Burry and Sharon Leahy remained with the department until their retirement, serving as supervisors for most of their careers. In the beginning, their duties were basic. But as technology advanced, new techniques were introduced. Resources grew, and so did the Anesthesia Technicians' role.

In 1979, Dan Cashen was hired as the Chief Anesthesia Technologist. At the time, there were 18 different occupations operating at the VG Hospital without formal training programs. Anesthesia Technology was one of them. It took a few years, but in 1985 Cashen developed the very first Anesthesia Technology curriculum. Today, there are close to 30 anesthesia technicians dedicated to the VG and Halifax Infirmary sites of the QEII. The training program is no longer run by the hospital, but continues to be taught by Cashen at Maritime Business College.
While much has changed in 50 years of anesthesia technicians, one thing remains constant – an unwavering focus on the patient.

Congratulations, Anesthesia Technology, on 50 years of service!