How Can I Become a Cardiothoracic Anesthesiologist?

Research what it takes to become a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist. Learn about education and licensing requirements, job outlook and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Anesthesia Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Cardiothoracic Anesthesiologist?

A cardiothoracic anesthesiologist is a physician who specializes in the administration of anesthesia during cardiovascular procedures, such as open-heart surgeries. Before the procedure takes place, they meet with patients to ask about medical history and current medications so they can develop a feasible plan for anesthesia administration. They also allow patients to ask questions about anesthesia and counsel them in order to reduce anxiety. During the cardiac operation, they carefully monitor the patient's medical condition and alter the dosage of anesthesia if necessary. Finally, after the procedure, they may follow up with the patient and provide pain management strategies for the recovery period, including prescription medications.

The following table presents an overview of this career:

Education Required Bachelor's degree & medical school degree, residency program in anesthesiology (post-medical school)
Education Field of Study Chemistry, biology, anatomy & physics (undergraduate courses) to prepare for medical school, residency program in anesthesiology
Key Responsibilities Administer anesthesia, monitor patient vital signs & equipment
Licensure State license to practice medicine, board certification in advanced perioperative transesophageal echocardiography
Job Growth (2014-24) 14% (for physicians & surgeons)*
Average Salary (2015) $258,100 (for all anesthesiologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Cardiothoracic Anesthesiologist?

Anesthesiologists are physicians who administer anesthesia to patients before, during and after surgical procedures. Cardiothoracic anesthesiology is a sub-specialty of anesthesiology that focuses on the care of patients who are undergoing cardiothoracic surgery. As a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist, you would monitor a patient's blood pressure and heart rhythm during procedures such as open-heart surgery or a lung transplant. You also would monitor any equipment used to replicate the functions of the heart and lungs as they're being repaired.

What Would I Need to Study?

To become a cardiac anesthesiologist, you'll need to complete four years of undergraduate school and four years of medical school. During your undergraduate education, you should plan to complete classes in chemistry, biology, anatomy and physics to prepare you for medical school.

In a 4-year med school program, you'll likely spend the first two years examining topics like anatomy and physiology, medical ethics, pathology and pharmacology through a series of lectures and labs. In the final two years of your program, you'll complete rotations in a hospital or other medical facility, which will allow you to explore a number of specialties, including anesthesiology.

What Path Would I Follow After Medical School?

After graduating from medical school, you'll need to earn state licensure to practice medicine. If you're seeking a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), you'll have to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. If you hope to become a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.), you'll take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam.

With your license in hand, you'll need to enroll in a residency program in anesthesiology, which might last 3-4 years. Through seminars and clinical rotations, you'll be introduced to various specialties in anesthesiology, including cardiothoracic. You'll then move on to a fellowship program, which will be specific to cardiothoracic anesthesiology. Most programs require you to attend lectures and research training, in addition to providing direct patient care under the supervision of a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist. Once you've completed your fellowship program, you might choose to test for board certification in advanced perioperative transesophageal echocardiography through the National Board of Echocardiography.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to focus your career on anesthesia administration, you could become a general anesthesiologist or choose a different focus area, such as pediatric anesthesiology or critical care anesthesiology. For one of these specializations, you would need to complete a one-year fellowship in the field. You could also consider a job as a certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA). Instead of a medical degree and a residency, this job requires a master's degree in nursing, as well as state licensure. Alternatively, if you would rather direct your career toward heart health, you could choose a cardiology fellowship after finishing your medical residency.

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