Christopher J. Peterson, M.D., chairs the Department of Anesthesia at Lancaster General Hospital. We asked Dr. Peterson about his department’s priorities, his approach to managing stress and his many hobbies.
What is your background?
Christopher J. Peterson, M.D.
I was born in Boston. My mother, who is from Ireland, wanted to be a doctor. Not many women were doctors at the time, so she went to nursing school instead. I was always good at science and math, so medicine was a natural career path. After I graduated from Penn State College of Medicine, I stayed on in Hershey for two years of research in pediatric cardiac anesthesia, residency and three years on the faculty. When I joined Anesthesia Associates of Lancaster in 1993, it was a big change for me. It was hard to give up the intellectual stimulation of research, but I gained a better sense of work-life balance.
How did you choose anesthesia as a specialty?
When I was a student rounding on pediatrics, there was a patient with an airway problem. The anesthesiologist asked if I wanted to come down to the OR, but I wasn’t allowed to go because I was a student. Every time I saw a crazy situation, it seemed like the anesthesiologists remained calm and knew exactly what they were doing. I knew I wanted to be the person who was calm when bad things were happening. That was the day I chose anesthesia.
How did you get into a leadership role?
Taking on leadership roles has been a great way for me to learn new things and have new experiences. It stimulates a different side of my brain, and it’s very fulfilling at this point in my career. When I first came to Lancaster, I served as Chief of the Division of Pediatric Anesthesia. I also served as medical director for the Physicians’ Surgery Center, and on the executive committee and later as vice president for Anesthesia Associates. I became Chair of Anesthesia in March. LG Health does an amazing job of investing in the development of its chairs and physician leaders. When I came into this position, there were so many people to ask for advice and to help guide me.
What are some of the Department of Anesthesia’s current priorities?
Anesthesia has always been engaged around quality and safety. We are using Lean Management techniques, including huddles, to align our department’s goals with the goals of the hospital. We’re working with the surgeons and perioperative team to improve efficiency and reduce costs in the OR. We’re also focused on staff retention and doing what we can to help reduce burnout. Our Perioperative Surgical Home program
helps prepare patients for surgery and mitigate factors associated with poor outcomes. Ultimately we believe this will be really important in reducing 30-day readmissions. Also, we now provide anesthesia for the new mechanical thrombectomy stroke protocol. This is a great team effort between Radiology and Anesthesia.
What are some of the strengths of your department?
We have a large department that has grown exponentially since I came here. Anesthesia can be an intense and stressful specialty, but we have a good balance between work and time off here. Our department has a great sense of community. We really support each other, and people step up to help. We welcome interaction with all of the specialties. We’re all here to improve quality of care for our patients.
How do you manage the stress of your work?
In my early 40s, I became interested in mindfulness and meditation. I find that this really helps me with stress reduction, personal growth and improving interactions with others. It has made me a better doctor. I am now an ordained Zen priest, and I lead Franklin & Marshall College’s Buddhism and meditation group
, which meets Wednesday evenings.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I love to cook, especially making guacamole. I like spicy food, so most of my dishes are heavily seasoned. At parties, I’m known for my tequila and mezcal drinks. I like music. I have a bunch of guitars, but I don’t really play them much anymore. I stay active with yoga, swimming, snowboarding and fly-fishing. I have a lot of hobbies -- probably too many.