On October 16, 1846, Boston dentist William T. G. Morton held the first successful public demonstration of ether as a surgical anesthetic. Mass General’s annual Ether Day celebrates hospital employees for their years of service. This year, Salvatore Basta, MD, will be celebrating 40 years with Mass General.

Salvatore Joseph Basta, MD, is the Anesthesia and Day Surgery Director at the Mass General/North Shore Center for Outpatient Care. He received his bachelor’s degree (BA) in organic chemistry from Williams College, and he attended UMass Memorial Medical School in Worcester, MA as a member of the third entering class with only 24 students. He attended a fellowship at St. Vincent’s Hospital in the anesthesia program. He arrived at Mass General in 1977 and began his career.

Dr. Basta has been involved with clinical research with the neuromuscular group throughout his career, and later became interested in operating room administration, efficiency and patient safety. He also was the chair of the anesthesia department at Mass Eye and Ear (MEEI) for five years, where he was involved in remodeling the operating room and perioperative services.

Learn more about how the field of anesthesia has changed during his career.

Why do you like working at Massachusetts General Hospital?

In a general statement, I would say that Mass General tries to live its mission going beyond the phrase "excellence every day." Mass General tries to deliver the very best health care to each patient we serve in the operating rooms (ORs) and clinics here and in the community. We try to advance that care through teaching, research and innovation. I think that the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine (DACCPM) takes that responsibility very seriously. The only way to do that is through the people who work here, and that is true of our department. I have been very fortunate to learn from and work with some of the giants in anesthesia and with mentors who have helped and shaped my career, including the departmental chairs, and clinical and research colleagues. As I look around at the faculty today, that continues. To distill it all down, the people, on all levels, make the institution and the department what it is, and I see that continuing every day.

What is your favorite part of the job?

There are two aspects that keep me going. First, in the short period of time that we have to interact with patients before anesthesia and surgery, I like trying to identify their fears concerning anesthesia and surgery. I try to answer their concerns in a meaningful way and make them aware that a caring and expert team is going to be working for them. Everyone coming to the OR and interventional areas for procedures have varying degrees of anxiety, fears and doubts.

Second, there is a lot good feeling and pride about a job well done for routine-- and especially for difficult-- cases and emergency situations, not only with the good outcomes, but in the work of the team. There is no better feeling. Like a professional athlete when they retire will often tell you, they miss the locker room and the players with whom they shared the battle. I am certain that will be me.

How has anesthesia changed in your career?

Anesthesia has changed unbelievably and continues to change at an ever-increasing pace. Obviously, knowledge, technology and pharmaceuticals have made patient care, for the most part, safer and better, allowing for the ability to care for sicker and sicker patients. But we have evolved on other levels. We are the bell weather specialty by which all other specialties are measured for patient safety, monitoring what we do, testing our results and learning how to make it better. Our specialty has pioneered quality and safety research and learning, and continues to be a leader. We have learned that we can make mistakes but are constantly examining those and developing cognitive aids, systems of teamwork, and coordination of teams and practice to eliminate errors as much as humanly possible. We are learning to use massive amounts of data in the interest of patient’s well-being without being confounded. 

I am also gratified that anesthesiology in the broadest sense has become a cornerstone of the modern hospital in caring for patients on many levels, from OR to outpatient to perioperative surgical homes, to OR management and OR engineering. We solve problems for hospitals, practitioners and ultimately our patients.

Where is the field of anesthesia going?

I think we are not far away from answering on-going, vexing questions about patient care, education and systems of organization. I believe all the "-OMICS" -like proteomics, genomics and such - will, in the next 10 years, I hope, discover knowledge of risk and response to anesthesia in individual patients. I am hopeful that soon we will understand who in our care might be most at risk and susceptible to opioid misuse, abuse and addiction and how to help.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to enter the field of anesthesia?

Come in with an open mind, no preconceptions. Then see where your learning and experiences lead you. Cultivate good mentors. Learn how to be a leader and also a team member. Most of all, respect your patients. Everyone is a sibling, a parent, a child or a friend. Take great care of them.

Learn more about the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Mass General