UCSF Sustainability Stories

Spotlight on UCSF LivingGreen Champions:  Dr. Susan Ryan

Dr. RyanThis series is part of our effort to recognize the hard work of UCSF staff and students in our journey to sustainability.  Thank you for your efforts!  This piece focuses on Dr. Susan M. Ryan, a clinical professor of anesthesiology.

Dr. Ryan is bringing questions and solutions for sustainability to anesthesia and the operating room.  She is the co-chair of the new Environmental Task Force for the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).  The Task Force is pulling together anesthesiologists from all over the country to share experiences and information, encourage research and promote education.

According to Alex Lee, anesthesia resident, “Dr. Ryan is a true champion in raising environmental awareness among practitioners in medical field that contributes a surprising amount to the total impact of medical care on the environment.”

Every day, anesthesiologists produce a large amount of medical waste, in the form of endotracheal tubes, syringes, medicine vials, lines, plastic tubing and many other products. In addition, few anesthesiologists are aware that some commonly used inhalational anesthetic gases are actually potent greenhouse gas agents.

Lee explained, “Dr. Ryan has changed awareness and practice in the department of anesthesia, particularly among the residents who make the everyday decisions that most affect the environmental impact of anesthesiology and OR medicine. Dr. Ryan has truly been an effective spokesperson for the environment in a field where these consciousness-raising efforts can have a big effect on the total environmental impact of medical practice.”

Dr. Ryan helped post signs showing wasted anesthesia equipment (endotracheal tubes) with suggestions for decreasing waste.  She also taught small groups of anesthesia residents about other various OR sustainability issues, including reprocessed equipment, recycling options, greenhouse gases and energy efficiency.  Her efforts have helped to reduce the amount of redundant supplies, cut down on waste and reduce the emission of greenhouse-effective inhalational anesthetic gases.
In 2010, Dr. Ryan co-authored an article on environmentally friendlier anesthesia in Anesthesia & Analgesia, a scholarly journal.  According to Dr. Ryan, the choices that anesthesiologists make at a midsize hospital can have the carbon footprint of a small fleet of automobiles.  Last year the Seattle Times highlighted Dr. Ryan’s work.  “Changes people could make in their practice right away could improve the health of the community and the planet,” stressed Dr. Ryan.