What do you want to become?
Alternate Career Titles: Anesthesia Specialist, Anesthetist
Career Overview: Anesthesiologists prescribe and administer anesthesia to patients as needed.
Career Salary Range: $146,310 to $392,890
Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 8
Required Minimum Degree/License: Doctor of Medicine
Become an Anesthesiologist
An Anesthesiologist is responsible for prescribing and administering anesthesia to patients as needed. Typically, anesthesia is administered before, during or after a surgery or other medical procedure. In addition to administering anesthesia, these professionals meet with patients prior to surgeries to monitor their vitals, including the amount of oxygen in their blood, the blood pressure inside the lung vessel, amount of blood the heart is pumping and each breath.
Throughout a surgery Anesthesiology Specialists will continuously monitor their vital signs and the level and depth of anesthesia, making adjustments as needed. They are also responsible for recognizing any potentially life-threatening emergencies and timely intervention to ensure the safety of all patients.
“A career as an Anesthesiologist is both highly demanding and very fulfilling,” Peter Wu, M.D., FASA, CHSE, CPPS, an Anesthesiologist practicing in the Washington D.C.-area, said. “Career satisfaction comes from working in a role that has patient safety and comfort as the primary objectives. The rewards are many including intellectual stimulation, high earning potential and, perhaps most important, spiritual satisfaction that you are helping others.”
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Education & Training
To become a Anesthesiologist, preparation often begins in high school when a learner is encouraged to take advanced science courses. During this time, learners are also encouraged to begin volunteering or working at a hospital or other healthcare setting to gain first-hand experience within the healthcare industry. Next, a learner must enroll in a undergraduate degree program in liberal arts, science for pre-med. During an undergraduate program, which normally takes 4 years to complete, learners who intend on becoming Anesthesiologists should take classes including calculus, chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, physics and more.
“The path to becoming an Anesthesiologist is long and challenging, and requires a 4 year Bachelor’s Degree, followed by 4 years in medical school, followed by at least 4 years of additional training as a resident Physician,” Wu confirmed. “The undergraduate degree can be in any subject, but there are certain courses required to apply to medical school, including 2 years of chemistry, and 1 year each of biology, physics and calculus.”
Upon graduating from a undergraduate program, learners should next take their Medical College Admission Test, and upon receiving their score, apply to medical schools. Typically, medical school programs take an additional 4 years to complete, including 3 years of in-class instruction and 1 year of clinical rotations (anesthesia being one of the rotations). After graduating from medical school, Anesthesiologists must become licensed and certified in anesthesiology and complete a 3-year or longer residency program in one or more of the many settings where anesthesia is administered. These facilities may focus on specific areas within anesthesiology, including pain medicine, research, critical care and education.
“Medical school itself is generally much more challenging than undergraduate school because of the volume and complexity of the material that must be mastered,” Wu explained. “Residency also presents challenges, as a resident typically works at least 50 hours per week, and additional must read and study after a clinical shift has ended.”
Wu added that a Physician of any specialty faces a large number of examinations throughout their entire career. In Anesthesiology, he noted that they include written, oral and practical examinations.
“Career advancement in anesthesiology can come in many forms,” Wu said. “The most common is to do a fellowship, which is 1 or more additional years of training to practice in a subspecialty area of anesthesiology, such as cardiac anesthesiology or pain management.”
Specialty areas of practice within anesthesiology may include critical care medicine, pain management, pediatric anesthesiology, cardiac anesthesiology, obstetric anesthesiology or neuro-anesthesiology. Additionally, when trying to advance in this career in healthcare, networking with other industry professionals, as well as potentially reaching out to career recruiters, can also prove beneficial.
“Anesthesiologists looking to move into hospital administration benefit from Master’s Degrees in fields such as business administration or healthcare administration, and additional certifications are available in the areas of patient safety, medical simulation and coding for billing,” Wu explained. “Preparation for leadership roles include assuming collateral duties within a department, for example as a Division Chief or Safety Officer.”
Experience & Skills
“To do this work requires being good at math and science, but a successful Anesthesiologist must also have excellent people and procedural skills,” Wu explained.
Additionally, to be an effective Anesthesiology Specialist, these professionals should have exceptional judgement, problem solving and complex critical thinking skills, allowing them to make immediate decisions when necessary. Furthermore, these professionals should possess communication skills, organizational skills, time management skills, instructional skills and be dexterous. Along with being dexterous, these professionals must be skillful in the operation and manipulation of the instruments and tools needed to administer anesthesia.
“There is a common misperception that Anesthesiologists don’t need people skills because their patients are always asleep, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Wu expressed. “Anesthesiologists first meet their patients when fully awake, and they must quickly gain the patient’s trust as the Anesthesiologist is about to lead that patient through what is potentially one of the most stressful periods in their entire life.”
Wu added that communication skills are also vital as the Anesthesiologist always works in a team, which may include Surgeons, Nurses and Technicians, that work in the operating room and other settings. He noted that being able to talk to people and form relationships is critical to being a successful Anesthesiologist.
Qualities which make a strong Anesthesiologist include being detail oriented, organized and methodological. These characteristics help to ensure that there is no room for error when administering anesthesia to patients. Also, being able to work as a team with other healthcare professionals is needed, as administering anesthesia is often done before, during or after a surgery another practitioner is performing. Anesthesiology Specialists should also remain open minded to continuously furthering their education as new technologies and advancements improve how anesthesia can be administered.
“An anesthesiologist should be good with people, good at math and science and able to make rational decisions quickly in stressful situations,” Wu added.
Most Anesthesiologists are employed full-time, and tend to work more “normal” (9 am to 5 pm) hours. This is because most surgeries are scheduled in outpatient care settings, however those employed by emergency care facilities may still be required to work evenings, nights, weekends and holidays, as well as being on-call as needed. However, the scope of work in this career in healthcare can be high-stress, extremely tedious and require a great deal of concentration and alertness.
“Hours in this career range from full-time, meaning 60 hours per week or more, including overnights and weekends in large tertiary care hospital settings, to part-time, lower stress positions in ambulatory surgery centers,” Wu explained. “There is no typical day for me. My day could start at 6 am or 10 pm depending on my shift.”
Furthermore, Anesthesiology Specialists must always be prepared for a potential crisis to arise in emergency care where their services are needed. In these circumstances, Anesthesiologists must be able to remain calm and focused on their necessary responsibilities.
Anesthesiologists are greatly needed throughout the field of healthcare, and because of this, the occupation is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026. Industries with the highest level of employment in this occupation are the offices of Physicians, hospitals, outpatient care centers, postsecondary education settings and the offices of other health practitioners. The state with the highest employment level in this occupation is Texas, followed by California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
“Because of the demand for anesthesia services in the US, there are many different kinds of anesthesiology positions,” Wu explained. “After completing the required training to become an Anesthesiologist, there are several websites and recruiters that can help you find the best position for you. One popular one is at gaswork.com.”
A career as an Anesthesiologist can be extremely lucrative! As of 2016, the average wage for Anesthesiologists was $269,600. While the lowest 10 percent of employees within this occupation were recorded to have earned less than $146,310, the highest 10 percent of professionals earned more than $392,890. Additionally, the highest paying employers of Anesthesiologists are the offices of Dentists, outpatient care centers, the offices of Physicians, specialty hospitals and the offices of other health practitioners. Top paying states within this occupation include West Virginia, Oregon, Oklahoma, North Carolina and New Hampshire.
“Earning potential in this career is excellent, for now,” Wu said. “There is a growing demand for anesthesia services, and the average age of an anesthesiologist in the United States is in the late 40’s to early 50’s. I say ‘for now,’ because there is a lot pressure to reduce healthcare costs, and decision makers will be looking at ways to reduce the total cost of anesthesia care.”
He added that reducing the total cost of anesthesia care includes shifting services to Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (“CRNAs”) and Anesthesiology Assistants (“AAs”), as well as lowering Physician compensation. Wu explained that no one can predict the future of Anesthesiologists’ salaries in future with certainty, because there are so many contributing factors.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is an organization designed to raise the standards of practice of anesthesiology and to improve patient care through education, the scientific association of physicians and research.
The American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA) is an organization focused of the subspecialty medical societies in anesthesiology. The goal of the ASRA is to be the leader in regional anesthesia and acute and chronic pain medicine through innovations in education and research. ASRA plans to accomplish this mission by addressing the clinical and professional educational needs of physicians and scientists, ensuring excellence in patient care, investigating the scientific basis of the specialty and utilizing regional anesthesia and pain medicine.
- Determine if you are willing to commit to the many years of schooling to become a Physician
- Shadow a working Physician
- Complete an undergraduate degree program striving to obtain the best, most competitive grades possible
- Research and apply to top medical school programs
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Peter Wu, M.D., FASA, CHSE, CPP
Practice: Fairfax Anesthesiology Associates, a division of Mednax, Inc.
Location: Inova Fairfax Medical Campus, Falls Church, VA
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Find an Anesthesiologist to shadow for at least one day at work. You absolutely need to make first-person observations of what the career actually involves.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“They think that this career is going to be easier than many other medical specialties, but that’s not true. You have to learn a lot of science, and there are many procedural skills with a steep learning curve. Communication skills are critical, as well as the ability to act quickly and decisively in emergency situations.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Am I choosing this specialty for the right reasons?”
Why did you choose to become an Anesthesiologist?
“I had a strong interest in cardiovascular physiology, which was my area of research in medical school. I like doing procedures, I like dealing with emergencies and I like taking care of patients with acute, life-threatening illnesses. I would not have been happy being a Physician that sees patients in the office. I really like the work in the hospital.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
*Credentialing organizations: American Board of Anesthesiology