The impact of the physician-scientists in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine extends well beyond the bedside. They are the innovators pioneering new discoveries that lead to more effective treatments, interventions, medications, and, overall, approaches to patient care.
Matthew O’Brien’s professional journey began almost 20 years ago at Massachusetts General Hospital and has evolved within the institution since then.
As the manager of anesthesia supply and technical support in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Matt serves as the direct supervisor of the anesthesia technician group, provides support to the rest of the anesthesia staff and manages the purchasing of critical patient care supplies. He is a member of the department’s clinical operations team, proactively anticipating the impact that operational changes will have on the staff and ensuring the well-being of the team as they are implemented.
“The Department of Anesthesia took a chance on me when I first arrived and then provided me with opportunities to facilitate my personal and professional growth,” he says. “I’ve received more support and opportunity than I can put into words.”
Matt describes the unique journey that brought him to where he is today, his experience as one of the first cardiac anesthesia technicians at Mass General and his advice to those who wish to pursue a career in health care.
Many people may not know the role of the anesthesia technician. Can you describe it through the lens of your own experience?
The field of anesthesia technician is a great starting point for someone who has an interest in patient care, and desires to understand the ins and outs of the hospital environment. The anesthesia technicians provide all kinds of support to providers — they lend an extra set of hands during procedures, stock equipment and supplies, and ensure the environment of care is clean and safe. Technicians are the hands and feet of the team outside of the operating room (OR), responding to calls and performing tasks while the doctors and CRNAs care for patients. Mass General trains people who wish to become technicians directly on-site and supports them in acquiring certification.
What has been your path to get to where you are today in your career?
My academic background is not the typical one for the field. I studied theology and, as a student, had the goal of becoming a hospital chaplain. My reasons for coming to Mass General were twofold — the first being that I needed full-time employment while I studied, the second being that I wanted exposure to a clinical environment to understand what it was like to interact with patients and caregivers.
As I prepared to enter a chaplaincy residency, I realized that my passion was not limited to providing spiritual support for patients and staff; it had evolved into wanting to dedicate myself to creating as safe, efficient and person-based an environment as possible for patients, caregivers and staff.
Did your theology studies help prepare you for the work you are doing today in any way?
My theology studies have benefited me enormously, especially by equipping me with the skills to help people navigate difficult circumstances. I believe that everything has meaning, even the difficult things. This has been a useful mindset, especially working in the Emergency Department during the COVID-19 pandemic when I was managing young people, many of whom were students who were witnessing serious and intense things. I felt well-prepared to be there for them. I was never afraid to go to work; I was honored to be alongside my staff, all of whom impressed and inspired me every day.
What has it been like for you to return to the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine after so many years?
It feels like I have come home. My first role at Mass General was as an anesthesia technician. I grew up in the OR. Residents that I knew at the time are now attendings and many of the technicians who taught me everything I know are still working in the department.
What stands out to you from your time as an anesthesia technician?
I was fortunate enough to become one of the first cardiac anesthesia technicians at Mass General. There was a group of five of us who pioneered this specialization. This gave me an invaluable opportunity to go deeper into my role, build one-on-one relationships with the physicians and participate in the care journey from beginning to end.
That group has now more than doubled in size and has expanded beyond cardiac, as techs now directly support the care of complex patients throughout the OR.
What advice would you give to someone else with similar aspirations?
My advice is straightforward — be open to the opportunities that life gives you and be attentive to your own experience. You understand yourself and your path forward through action. Look for mentors and teachers along the way who will accompany you on your journey. In my nearly 20 years at Mass General, I have benefitted from relationships with physicians, nurses, technicians and administrative colleagues who were personally interested in me. I am forever grateful for them.
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