CAREER PATHWAYS

Looking for the perfect job?
Explore our Career Guides!

Read More

How to Become an Anesthesiologist

By Oluwadamilola Osisanya

Published:

Are you dreaming of a career in anesthesiology but are overwhelmed by the seemingly complex path?

Navigating the rigorous training, long hours, and ever-evolving medical landscape can be daunting. Dive into our comprehensive guide on how to become an anesthesiologist and turn your aspirations into a clear, actionable roadmap.

Career Summary

Anesthesiologist Salary

Anesthesiologist Salary

If you are considering a career as an anesthesiologist, it’s important that you get an idea of the potential earnings.

Here are the key salary figures you need to know according to data from Glassdoor:

  • Entry Salary (US$264k)
  • Median Salary (US$351k)
  • Executive Salary (US$486k)

When compared to the general average salary across the United States, which was reported to be $61,900 in 2022, even the lower-paid anesthesiologists receive a very high salary.

What does an Anesthesiologist do?

An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who provides anesthesia to patients undergoing surgical procedures. They are responsible for ensuring that the patient is pain-free during surgery by administering anesthetic drugs and managing vital life functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, throughout the procedure.

Additionally, anesthesiologists are involved in preoperative evaluations to determine the appropriate type and amount of anesthesia, considering the patient’s health and the specifics of the surgery. They also play a crucial role in postoperative pain management and recovery.

Anesthesiologist Career Progression

  • Resident Anesthesiologist: Following medical school, doctors aspiring to specialize in anesthesiology enter a residency program where they receive specialized training in anesthesia administration, patient monitoring, and perioperative care.
  • Junior/Entry-Level Anesthesiologist: After completing your residency, you will begin your career administering anesthesia, monitoring patients during surgery, and providing pain management.
  • Anesthesiologist: With several years of experience, you will take full responsibility for patient care before, during, and after surgical procedures, ensuring safe anesthesia administration.
  • Specialized Anesthesiologist: You can further specialize in areas such as pediatric, cardiovascular, or neuroanesthesia, managing anesthesia in specific types of surgeries and patients.
  • Lead Anesthesiologist: Here, you will be responsible for leading the anesthesiology team during complex surgeries, ensuring all protocols are followed, and managing any crisis during the procedure.
Anesthesiologist Career Progression

Pros:

  • High impact on patient care.
  • Continuous learning opportunities.
  • High compensation.
  • Global demand, which provides opportunities for travel.
  • Diverse specialization options.

Cons:

  • Long and irregular working hours.
  • Emotional toll due to managing critical situations.
  • Potential for litigation due to the high-risk nature of the role.
  • Physical strain from standing for extended periods during surgeries.
  • Disruption of personal life and schedules.

Useful Skills to have as an Anesthesiologist

  • Good understanding of pharmacology and physiology.
  • Mastery in using and interpreting anesthetic equipment.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Swift decision making.
  • Good communication skills.

Popular Anesthesiology Specialties

  • Cardiac Anesthesiology
  • Pediatric Anesthesiology
  • Neuro Anesthesiology
  • Obstetric Anesthesiology
  • Critical Care Anesthesiology
  • Transplant Anesthesiology
  • Trauma Anesthesiology

How to Become an Anesthesiologist

Anesthesiologist 5 Steps to Career

At the heart of this profession lies the dual pillars of education and practical experience. An in-depth education provides the theoretical knowledge required. At the same time, hands-on experience ensures that this knowledge is effectively applied in real-world situations where patient lives often hang in the balance.

Education

The foundation of an anesthesiologist’s expertise lies deeply rooted in their education. Education is the bedrock that ensures both competence and confidence in this critical medical specialty.

Do I need a degree to become an Anesthesiologist?

To become an anesthesiologist, obtaining a medical degree is mandatory.

Here’s the progression in brief:

  • Undergraduate Degree: Begin with a bachelor’s degree, typically in a science-related field, to lay a solid foundation.
  • Medical School: After your undergraduate studies, you must attend medical school to earn your Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree.
  • Residency: Post-medical school, you’ll undergo a residency program in anesthesiology.

Only after completing these steps can you be licensed as an anesthesiologist.

Why is it important to get a degree in Medicine?

For anyone aiming to specialize in anesthesiology, obtaining a degree in medicine is not just a formality—it’s a foundational necessity. This degree equips aspiring anesthesiologists with the crucial knowledge and skills essential for the field and prepares them to fulfill the anesthesiologist job description effectively.

Breaking it down:

  • Professional Requirement:
    • Medical institutions universally mandate a degree as the minimum qualification for an anesthesiologist.
    • It’s the first step to gaining licensing and board certification.
  • In-Depth Knowledge:
    • A degree in medicine offers comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology—the key areas for an anesthesiologist.
    • It exposes various medical conditions, preparing students for real-world scenarios.

A medical degree doesn’t just open doors—it ensures that anesthesiologists are adequately prepared, theoretically and practically, to handle the intricate responsibilities of their role. Without this foundational knowledge, stepping into the specialized field of anesthesiology would be akin to building a house on shaky ground.

How long does it take to get a degree in Medicine?

Embarking on the journey to fulfill the anesthesiologist job description requires an extensive educational commitment. This includes undergraduate studies, medical school, and specialized training.

  • Undergraduate Degree: Typically 4 years – A bachelor’s degree, often in a science-related field.
  • Medical School: Approximately 4 years – Rigorous coursework and clinical rotations to attain a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
  • Residency: An additional 3-7 years, depending on specialization – For aspiring anesthesiologists, this is when they receive specialized training in anesthesiology.

An individual looking to become an anesthesiologist will spend at least 11-15 years in education and training post-high school. This time commitment ensures that anesthesiologists are well-prepared to handle the complexities of their vital role in patient care.

How much does it cost to study Medicine at university?

When pursuing a career as an anesthesiologist, one of the primary concerns is the cost of medical education. Understanding the expenses involved is crucial.

Tuition Costs:

Many students alleviate costs through scholarships, grants, or loans. It’s advisable to research financial aid options early on.

Can I Become an Anesthesiologist Through Online Education?

When exploring how to become an anesthesiologist, one might wonder about the feasibility of online education on this path.

Here’s a straightforward analysis:

  • Pre-Medical Courses: Many universities now offer online courses or hybrid models for undergraduate studies. You can complete pre-medical course requirements online, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. However, lab components typically require in-person attendance.
  • Medical School: As of now, becoming a doctor, including an anesthesiologist, requires hands-on training. Medical schools do not offer full degrees online. While some theoretical courses or lectures might transition to online formats, especially in extenuating circumstances (like global pandemics), clinical rotations, hands-on practice, and patient interactions are paramount and must be done in person.
  • Residency: An anesthesiology residency is mandatory after medical school, typically lasting four years. This involves practical, hands-on training in hospitals and clinics. An online approach isn’t feasible due to the critical nature of the specialty, requiring direct patient care, surgeries, and procedures.
  • Continued Medical Education (CME): Once you’re a practicing anesthesiologist, online platforms exist for continued medical education. These allow professionals to stay updated with the latest in the field without always attending in-person seminars.

While some preparatory or continuous learning elements can be pursued online, the core training to become an anesthesiologist remains grounded in hands-on, in-person experiences. Online components can supplement but not replace the essential clinical training required in this medical specialty.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become an Anesthesiologist?

While becoming an anesthesiologist requires formal medical school training and residency, there are dedicated web resources specifically designed for anesthesiologists or those in the field of anesthesiology to enhance their knowledge and skills.

Here are some of them:

  • OpenAnesthesia™: Sponsored by the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS), this resource offers monthly updated content, including podcasts, videos, and articles aimed at anesthesiology education.
  • Anesthesia Abstracts: It offers abstracts from published anesthesia journals, making it easier for practitioners to stay updated with the latest research. The platform summarizes key articles and provides commentary on their significance in the field.
  • Society for Pediatric Anesthesia (SPA) Education Center: If pediatric anesthesia is your interest, SPA offers a variety of educational materials, including videos, lectures, and patient case studies focused on anesthetic care for children.
  • The Anesthesia Guide: A resource for students and practicing anesthesiologists, this site provides practical guidance, case studies, and insights into real-world anesthetic practice.

Remember, while these resources are valuable for continued education or gaining insights into the field, you must ensure that any online resource or course is accredited and recognized by relevant medical boards or institutions.

Practical Experience

For an anesthesiologist whose role is crucial in surgeries and pain management, hands-on experience is indispensable. It helps bridge the gap between academic learning and real-world challenges, ensuring the anesthesiologist is fully prepared to handle complex situations confidently and professionally.

A Day in the Life of an Anesthesiologist | Video by Antonio J. Webb, M.D.

What are Internship Opportunities for an Anesthesiologist?

Internship opportunities for aspiring anesthesiologists are typically termed “residencies” in the medical field. These residencies provide hands-on clinical training after completing medical school.

Here are some of the most relevant residency opportunities for anesthesiologists:

  • General Anesthesiology Residency Programs: These are the primary training programs that introduce medical graduates to the field of anesthesiology. They cover perioperative care, pain management, and critical care. Most programs last four years.

However, the following subspecialties usually require an additional year of training after a general anesthesiology residency:

  • Pediatric Anesthesiology Residency: A subspecialty focusing on the anesthetic care of children and infants.
  • Cardiac Anesthesiology Residency: This subspecialty focuses on patients undergoing cardiac surgery.
  • Neuroanesthesiology Residency: Concentrates on anesthesia care for neurosurgical procedures.
  • Obstetric Anesthesiology Residency: Focuses on providing anesthesia for labor and delivery.
  • Critical Care Anesthesiology Residency: This subspecialty centers on managing critically ill patients, often in an ICU.
  • Pain Management Residency: Addresses both acute and chronic pain management.
  • Regional Anesthesiology and Acute Pain Medicine Residency: Focuses on regional anesthesia techniques and acute postoperative pain management.

Prospective anesthesiologists typically apply to these residency programs during their final year of medical school through a centralized application system, such as the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) in the United States.

While these are structured, formal training programs, there might also be research or clinical internship opportunities in anesthesiology departments of large teaching hospitals.

Such roles would be more informal and supplement traditional medical education, offering students a chance to gain additional exposure to the field. But as one hones these skills, keeping an eye on the anesthesiologist job outlook is beneficial to grasp the future potential of this profession.

What Skills Will I Learn as an Anesthesiologist?

Becoming an anesthesiologist involves gaining a wide array of skills that span both the medical and interpersonal domains. Here’s a comprehensive overview:

Clinical and Technical Skills
  • Patient Assessment: Ability to perform preoperative evaluations to determine the health status of patients and identify potential anesthesia risks.
  • Anesthetic Administration: Skills in safely administering general anesthesia, regional anesthesia (like spinal, epidural, or nerve blocks), and sedation.
  • Airway Management: Proficiency in techniques like intubation, using laryngeal mask airways, and managing difficult airways.
  • Hemodynamic Monitoring: Monitoring and interpreting vital signs, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen saturation, using various monitors and equipment.
  • Pharmacology Knowledge: Understanding the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of various drugs, including anesthetic agents, analgesics, muscle relaxants, and emergency medications.
  • Critical Care Skills: Managing critically ill patients, including those with multi-organ dysfunction.
  • Pain Management: Treating acute postoperative and chronic pain conditions with medications, interventions, and alternative techniques.
  • Fluid and Electrolyte Management: Administering intravenous fluids and medications and balancing electrolytes during surgeries.
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): Performing advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) during emergencies.
Interpersonal and Soft Skills
  • Communication: Effective dialogue with patients, families, surgeons, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to relay crucial information about anesthetic plans, risks, and postoperative care.
  • Empathy and Compassion: Providing care with an understanding of patients’ anxieties and fears regarding surgery and anesthesia.
  • Decision-making: Making swift and informed choices, especially in emergency situations or when a patient’s condition changes suddenly.
  • Teamwork: Collaborating efficiently with surgical teams, nurses, and other medical professionals.
  • Attention to Detail: Ensuring accurate drug administration, monitoring, and patient assessment.
  • Stress Management: Handling high-pressure situations, such as emergencies or complications, with calm and composure.
  • Continuous Learning: Staying updated with the latest research, techniques, and advancements in the field of anesthesiology.
  • Ethical Judgment: Providing care that aligns with medical ethics and putting the patient’s safety and well-being first.

These skills are cultivated and refined over years of medical school, residency, and often fellowship training. An anesthesiologist’s role is multifaceted, requiring them to be both a clinician and an advocate for their patients.

What is the Work-Life Balance of an Anesthesiologist?

Anesthesiologists often face a demanding work-life balance due to the critical nature of their responsibilities in patient care. The role involves providing anesthesia during surgeries, responding to emergencies, and ensuring postoperative pain management, which can lead to irregular and long hours.

Typically, anesthesiologists might be on-call, meaning they must be available to address emergent surgeries or complications, even during odd hours. Being on-call can disrupt personal time, weekends, and holidays. Furthermore, the high stakes of the job, with patient lives often in the balance, can lead to stress and prolonged periods of intense focus.

However, some roles within anesthesiology offer a more predictable schedule, such as working in outpatient surgical centers where procedures are scheduled, and there’s seldom a need for overnight or weekend work. Moreover, some anesthesiologists may focus on chronic pain management in a clinical setting, which can have more consistent hours.

What’s the Career Outlook for Anesthesiologists?

The career outlook for anesthesiologists in the United States is robust due to the indispensable nature of their role in surgeries, pain management, and critical care. As the population ages and medical advancements continue, the demand for professionals who can safely administer anesthesia and manage pain becomes even more significant.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of physicians and surgeons, which includes anesthesiologists, is projected to grow 3% from 2022 to 2032, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

With an increase in surgeries resulting from broader access to healthcare and an aging population prone to conditions requiring surgical interventions, anesthesiologists will be in continuous demand. Furthermore, as medical procedures evolve and become more complex, the expertise of anesthesiologists will be crucial to ensuring patient safety and care.

Anesthesiologist Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of an Anesthesiologist?

Anesthesiologists have diverse job opportunities that span various healthcare settings and specialties. Their extensive training and expertise in anesthesia and perioperative medicine make them valuable assets in numerous areas.

Here are some of the primary job opportunities for an anesthesiologist:

  • Hospital-Based Anesthesiologist: Working in hospitals, especially surgical suites, to administer anesthesia for surgeries. They also might be involved in resuscitative efforts in emergencies.
  • Outpatient Surgery Centers: With increasing procedures being performed outside the traditional hospital setting, anesthesiologists often work in ambulatory or outpatient surgical centers.
  • Pain Management Clinics: Specializing in managing chronic pain, these anesthesiologists diagnose, treat, and manage patients with long-term pain conditions using medications, interventions, and therapies.
  • Research: Some anesthesiologists work in academic or clinical research, exploring new techniques, drugs, or technologies in anesthesia or pain management.
  • Teaching and Academia: Many anesthesiologists take on roles in medical schools, teaching the next generation of doctors and anesthesiologists.
  • Private Practice: Some anesthesiologists choose to form or join private anesthesia groups that contract with hospitals and surgical centers.
  • Administrative and Leadership Roles: With experience, anesthesiologists can move into administrative roles, such as department chairs or other leadership positions in hospitals or healthcare organizations.
  • Medical Consulting: Anesthesiologists can work as consultants for pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, or health policy organizations.
  • Global Health and Humanitarian Work: Some anesthesiologists choose to work with global health organizations or charities, providing care in underserved areas or during humanitarian crises.

These opportunities allow anesthesiologists to choose career paths that align with their clinical, academic, research-based, or administrative interests. Alongside these diverse opportunities, the anesthesiologist job outlook remains promising, reflecting the continuous demand and significance of this role in healthcare.

What Type of Companies Hire an Anesthesiologist?

Anesthesiologists are primarily associated with the healthcare sector, and various institutions and companies seek their expertise.

Here’s a breakdown of the types of companies and organizations that typically hire anesthesiologists:

Hospitals

  • General Hospitals
  • Pediatric Hospitals
  • Specialty Hospitals (e.g., cardiac, orthopedic)
  • University or Academic Hospitals

Surgery Centers

  • Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs)
  • Outpatient Surgical Clinics

Medical Groups and Clinics

  • Anesthesiology Group Practices
  • Multi-Specialty Medical Groups
  • Pain Management Clinics

Academic Institutions

  • Medical Schools (for teaching and research roles)
  • Universities with health science programs

Research Institutions

  • Clinical Research Organizations (CROs)
  • Pharmaceutical Companies (for drug research and trials)

Government and Military

  • Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals
  • Military Hospitals and Medical Centers
  • Public Health Departments

Non-Profit and Humanitarian Organizations

  • International Medical Corps
  • Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières)

Medical Consulting Firms

  • Firms that offer consulting services to healthcare facilities, pharmaceutical companies, or medical device manufacturers.

Health Insurance Companies

  • For roles related to policy formulation, claims assessment, or medical reviews.

Medical Device and Equipment Manufacturers

  • Companies that produce anesthesia-related equipment might hire anesthesiologists for consultancy, training, or product development roles.

Telemedicine Providers

  • With the rise of telehealth, some platforms offer consultations related to pain management or pre-anesthetic evaluations.

Healthcare Administrative Companies

  • Organizations that manage hospitals or clinics’ business aspects ensure that medical standards are maintained.

While many anesthesiologists work in clinical roles, their expertise can also be valuable in research, policy development, education, and various aspects of healthcare management.

Should I become an Anesthesiologist?

Becoming an anesthesiologist is a significant and life-altering choice, demanding years of rigorous training, dedication, and an enduring commitment to patient care. As detailed throughout this article, the path to becoming an anesthesiologist is multifaceted, bringing its challenges but also immense rewards.

Your decision should weigh the key points discussed, including the educational requirements, skills to be acquired, job opportunities, and potential earnings. Beyond these, it’s crucial to introspect on your personal interests and intrinsic skills.

Are you prepared for the responsibilities of ensuring patient safety during critical moments? Does the prospect of being at the forefront of surgical teams excite you? These are pivotal questions to consider.

Furthermore, think about your long-term goals. The role offers both financial rewards and professional satisfaction, but it also comes with demands on your time and emotional strength. Are these aligned with your vision for the future?

Ultimately, the decision to become an anesthesiologist should be a carefully considered one, taking into account not only the practical aspects but also your passion, dedication, and long-term aspirations in the field of medicine.

Careers Related to Anesthesiologist


Oluwadamilola Osisanya

About the Author

Read more articles by Oluwadamilola Osisanya