How to Become an Anesthesia Assistant in 5 Steps
Anesthesia assistants help to ensure that patients undergoing surgery or other difficult procedures are adequately sedated for the duration. Find out how to become an anesthesiologist assistant, the education and training required, salary and career information, and more.
What Does an Anesthesiologist Assistant Do?
Anesthesiologist assistants are allied health professionals who help anesthesiologists, a special type of doctor, to apply the anesthesia needed to sedate patients during procedures. Anesthesia is often needed for surgeries, and can be applied locally, near the site of surgery, or to a patient's whole body, rendering them unconscious. Anesthesiologist assistants monitor the patient's vitals and other statistics as they undergo the procedure, and help the anesthesiologist to determine the appropriate amount of anesthetic to use. They function as part of an anesthesia team, led by the anesthesiologist, which can also include anesthesia technicians and nurse anesthetists.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Anesthesiologist Assistant?
Anesthesiologist assistants require a significant amount of education and training before they can begin their careers. Between the time it takes to earn a bachelor's degree and complete a master's degree program, anesthesiologist assistant schooling can last 6 to 7 years. The traditional path for aspiring anesthesiologist assistants is outlined below.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The first step to becoming an anesthesiologist assistant is to complete an undergraduate educational program and earn a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree in almost any field is generally considered acceptable, but graduate schools may require prerequisite coursework in areas like biology, mathematics, chemistry, and physics, so a degree in science is recommended. Degrees in biology, nursing and related fields may have a slight advantage as a result, since much of the prerequisite coursework is included in the degree.
Step 2: Apply for Master's Degree Programs
As you near the end of your time as an undergraduate, you'll want to begin seeking out graduate schools that offer master's degrees for anesthesiologist assistants. While there are very few such programs, all colleges that offer the program are part of the Centralized Application Service for Anesthesiologist Assistants (CASAA), which enables students to submit one application to all schools. As part of the application process, it may be necessary to take entrance exams, such as the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) or the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). Additionally, experiences related to the field, such as shadowing a professional anesthesiologist assistant, may be required, as well as letters of recommendation.
Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree
Once admitted to a master's-level anesthesiologist assistant program, a student will proceed to take courses and progress through the program. Anesthesiologist assistant master's degree programs typically last between two and two-and-a-half years. Courses that one might encounter in an anesthesiologist assistant program include:
- Anatomy for anesthesiologist assistants
- Introduction to anesthesia practice
- Pharmacology in anesthesia practice
- Anesthesia and coexisting diseases
Anesthesiologist assistant programs include a clinical component, primarily in the second year. This clinical coursework takes place at hospitals or other medical facilities, and offers students the opportunity to develop real-world experience before beginning their career.
Step 4: Receive Licensure to Practice Medicine
Now that your anesthesia assistant education is complete, it is possible to apply for a license to practice medicine in your state. While each state's laws governing the licensure of medical personnel vary somewhat, many states require that an applicant obtain certification as an anesthesiologist assistant to be licensed. In other states, an anesthesiologist assistant operates under the license of the anesthesiologist who leads the team. Consult the laws in your state for exact information.
Step 5: Obtain Certification as an Anesthesiologist Assistant
Whether or not certification is required to obtain licensure, it is still highly recommended, as it represents a dedication to the career and may be looked upon positively by potential employers. Certification for anesthesiologist assistants is done through the National Commission for Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants (NCCAA), resulting in the credential Certified Anesthesiologist Assistant, or CAA. To become certified, a candidate must be at least 21 years old, have completed an accredited educational program, and be a licensed professional or a student who will be graduating within 180 days of the examination. The candidate must then pass a certification exam to be recognized and receive the credential.
To keep the CAA credential valid, continuing medical education (CME) is required. 40 hours of CMEs are required every two years. Additionally, a Continuing Demonstration of Qualification (CDQ) exam is required to recertify every six years.
Anesthesiologist Assistant Salary and Career Info
According to Payscale.com, the median annual salary for anesthesiologist assistants is $145,551, based on voluntarily submitted data. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data on anesthesiologist assistants specifically, the data for physician's assistants, the category in which anesthesiologist assistants would reasonably fit, predicts a 31% growth in employment from 2018-2028. This is substantially faster than the national average, with much of the growth driven by the needs of an aging population.