Why this laid back doctor behaves like a coiled up spring

Tego Profile: Dr Ben Olesnicky

Specialty: Anaesthetist in public and private practice

Medical School: Flinders University of South Australia

Significant other: Wife

Weekend pastime: Being dad’s taxi for his three young daughters

Enjoys: Playing golf and eating out on weekends, particularly at the Otto Italian restaurant in Woolloomooloo

Dr Ben Olesnicky comes across as a laid back doctor who enjoys laughing at life’s ironies with his anaesthetist mates.

Even in the operating theatre he has an air or serenity. But in fact he’s a coiled spring – ready to snap into action at a moment’s notice.

“Things happen in an instant in our profession,” he says. “Most days are like flying a plane in clear weather and it’s quite easy.” But then the surgeon cuts something they shouldn’t have or the patient has a reaction to one of the drugs.

Dr Olesnicky is concerned that three out of ten Australians think anaesthetists are technicians rather than highly educated specialist doctors. It takes a certain type of doctor to be an anaesthetist, he says. Part of that is keeping calm under pressure.

“They say that we are like airline pilots. Our job is 95% in cruise control and 5% very active and highly stressful.”

He says many anaesthetists are introverts. “We like being quite in the corner, but also having a bit of a joke and a chat about things.”

For anaesthetists it can be difficult to build a relationship with patients, or even make eye contact.

That’s one of the reasons he enjoys obstetrics. One of the best parts is putting in the epidural and helping a mother have a good labour and enjoy their childbirth. He also likes observing the excitement of the birth.

Dr Olesnicky works in both private and public practice, mostly on Sydney’s north shore, but also in Dubbo. His private work is typically routine and elective. The more challenging cases are at the public hospital.

That’s where he sees major trauma. “Sometimes the patient’s family is not there. You are not going on a lot of good information to make important decisions.”

All doctors subscribe to the concept of do no harm. And sometimes that means Dr Olesnicky must advise seriously ill patients or their loved ones against having an operation.

“The most challenging thing is having to deal with bad outcomes and having to deal with patients who you know are at high risk. A lot of the time we are the arbiters of whether people get their operation or not. Sometimes it’s a very difficult conversation because you’re dealing with someone’s mum or son or grandma.

“The problem is it’s so hard to predict. There are patients that very likely will not do well out of surgery, but then you hear the magical story of the one in a thousand who did do well.”

It’s best when patients have an advance care directive. Dr Olesnicky relates his experience with a patient, himself a doctor, who arrived in theatre for an operation. “He had a very well designed advance care directive that said if he has little chance of getting back his independent life then don’t do it. It was a huge help.”

Now Dr Olesnicky is inspired to draw up his own directive.

“I’m only 41, so I haven’t really thought about it, but the same thing could happen to me with a trauma.”

One thing Dr Olesnicky doesn’t stress about is medico legal issues or indemnity cover.

“It’s not something you think about very often, until you need it and, thankfully, I have never needed to use it.

“I like the fact that everything is legislated. For a lot of doctors they just stick with the one company forever and ever and they never think about it.”

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