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Anesthesiologist: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for anesthesiologists. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you.

What is an Anesthesiologist?

Anesthesiologists are essential to all surgeries that require a patient to be put under anesthetics. These doctors must monitor the vital signs of patients while administering the drugs necessary to keep a patient sedated and safe for surgery. They might also supervise the administration of the anesthesia by nurse anesthetists. Anesthesiologists must have excellent communication skills when working closely with surgeons or other doctors. The following chart gives you an overview about entering a career as an anesthesiologist.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Training Required 1-year internship, 3- to 4-year residency, followed by optional 1-year fellowship
Key Responsibilities Determine, prepare and administer proper anesthesia for each patient; monitor patient during procedure and respond to changes in status; provide for post-operative or daily pain-management; record dosage and type of medication used in patient records
Licensure and/or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification in anesthesiology is available
Job Growth (2018-2028) 4%* (for all anesthesiologists)
Median Salary (2019) $291,930** (for anesthesiologists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Does an Anesthesiologist Do?

Anesthesiologists are responsible for the care and safety of patients who are under anesthesia or coming out of anesthesia. In addition, they supervise the work of anesthesiology assistants on their team. Other duties include evaluating patients before surgery, conferring with surgeons, planning the type and quantity of anesthesia and managing any complications from anesthesia.

Where Could I Work?

Medical clinics, outpatient surgical centers, dental offices, pain management clinics, and hospital surgical units, labor and delivery units and critical and intensive care units are your potential employers. Teaching and research provide other employment options. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were about 31,060 employed anesthesiologists as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov). The BLS expected employment of anesthesiologists to grow 4% from 2018-2028.

What Education Do I Need?

You will have to complete four years of undergraduate studies and at least eight years of post-graduate studies to become an anesthesiologist. Relevant undergraduate majors include pre-medicine, biology or chemistry. The eight years of post-graduate study include four years of medical school, one year of an anesthesiology internship and at least three years of a residency. It is also common to complete a 4-year residency. In addition, if you're interested in practicing a specialty, you can participate in a 1-year fellowship.

Residency programs in the first year have you accumulate experience performing basic anesthesia under supervision. In the second year, you begin working in a broad range of anesthesia sub-specialties. These might include cardiovascular, obstetric, critical care, and neuroanesthesia. The third year brings you in contact with complex cases and further exploration of your preferred specialties. Some programs have a research-intensive academic track in the third year if you would rather teach or conduct research.

Fellowship programs provide an intensive immersion in a single sub-specialty. You are expected to develop deep intuitive and technical knowledge of the human physique associated with it and will work with the most complex anesthesia cases. Pediatric, cardiothoracic, trauma, and obstetric anesthesiology are some of the areas where medical schools offer fellowships.

How Do I Become Certified?

After completing your internship and residency you may gain certification from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) by passing a certification exam. As of January 2017, the ABA and the ABPS exams are both composed of an oral section and a written section. The written section of both exams consists of 200 multiple-choice questions.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Careers similar to an anesthesiologist include nurse anesthetist and physician assistant, both of which require a master's degree. Nurse anesthetists consult with patients on their pain levels and allergies before surgery, and often administer anesthesia during surgery and emergency situations. Physician assistants are trained to perform basic procedures like resetting bones and administering inoculations, though they are not doctors and therefore do not perform surgery or other advanced medical procedures.