How To Become an Anesthesiologist in 7 Steps (Plus Salary)

Updated August 8, 2022

Anesthesiologists play an important role in the surgery process and are responsible for administering anesthesia and monitoring vital signs throughout a medical procedure. Becoming an anesthesiologist requires several years of education and training.

In this article, we discuss what an anesthesiologist does, the average salary of an anesthesiologist and the steps to take to pursue this career path.

What is an anesthesiologist?

An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the medical field of anesthesiology. The anesthetics that an anesthesiologist uses vary greatly from mild numbing agents to general anesthesia. An anesthesiologist may hold a Doctor Osteopathic Medicine (DO) or a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. These medical professionals have been specially trained to use anesthesia on patients before and during various medical procedures and surgeries. Anesthesiologists work as a team with other medical professionals including doctors, surgeons, surgical technologists and nurses.

Anesthesiologists must be extensively trained in not only anesthetics but also pharmacology, physiology and other areas that directly relate to administering anesthesia to patients and monitoring them throughout surgery. They must know how to monitor a patient's blood pressure, airways and respiration rates, as well as their pulmonary and cardiovascular health throughout a medical procedure. Should any of these areas falter, an anesthesiologist must know how to resuscitate the patient or use other means to ensure the patient is returned to health.

Related: Learn About Being a Doctor

What does an anesthesiologist do?

Anesthesiologists play a vital role before, during and after a surgical procedure. Duties may include:

Before surgery

Anesthesiologists work with patients before surgery to ensure they can tolerate anesthesia. They review the patient's medical history and answer any questions about the anesthetic process related to the medical procedure. They will then administer the anesthesia before the surgery and begin monitoring the patient's vital signs.

During surgery

An anesthesiologist monitors a patient throughout the surgery to manage pain and keep vital signs in check. They will also manage any chronic medical conditions that a patient may have, such as asthma or diabetes, throughout the surgery. If a problem arises during the medical procedure, the anesthesiologist will oversee the management of this as well.

After surgery

Once the surgery is complete, the anesthesiologist will monitor a patient's recovery from the anesthetic effects and inform the medical team when a patient can go home or be moved within the hospital. They may also help to create a plan to manage a patient's pain once they are discharged.

While many anesthesiologists work in a surgical setting, some choose to specialize in the treatment and management of chronic pain. In this case, an anesthesiologist may treat patients suffering from fibromyalgia, migraines or other chronic conditions that cause pain regularly.

Read more: Learn About Being an Anesthesiologist

Average salary of an anesthesiologist

The average salary of an anesthesiologist in the United States is $230,440 per year. Several factors can salary, including location, training, experience and employer.

Related: 12 Health Care Jobs That Pay Well

How to become an anesthesiologist

There are several steps to becoming an anesthesiologist. To become an anesthesiologist, you typically need to:

1. Get a bachelor's degree

Aspiring anesthesiologists must first obtain a bachelor's degree before they can begin medical training. Most individuals choose to get a bachelor's degree in the field of biology, natural sciences or a related concentration. To be a successful medical school candidate, students must perform exceptionally well in undergraduate school. The American Medical Association (AMA) states that students with a GPA that range from 3.5 to 4.0 will be the most likely to be accepted into medical school programs.

2. Study and pass the MCAT

Students typically begin studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) before graduating from an undergrad program. This test is required to be admitted to medical school. Individuals must receive a passing score in all areas of the MCAT, with higher scores giving students a better chance of getting into more medical schools.

3. Graduate from medical school

Aspiring anesthesiologists must complete a four-year medical school program. This program covers the major areas of medicine and prepares students for a residency and career in anesthetics.

4. Take and pass the USMLE

While in medical school, students should begin preparing to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This exam is required by all states to obtain medical licensure. Students can take the first two parts of this exam while still in medical school but must complete the third portion of the USMLE after obtaining their MD or DO degree.

5. Complete a residency program

Once students have completed their medical school program, they will then spend another four years completing a medical residency program. The first year of the residency will focus on a variety of hospital-based rotations while the last three years will be specific to anesthesia training. Students can choose from several subspecialties to participate in when completing their residency program.

6. Become state-licensed

Once aspiring anesthesiologists have completed the residency program, they can then apply to become licensed in the state where they will practice. Licensure is given through the state medical board and is only awarded to individuals who have completed all of the above steps.

7. Get board certified

While voluntary, many anesthesiologists choose to become board certified to improve their chances of employment. Board certification is offered through both the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) and the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA). Anesthesiologists must apply and take an exam to become board certified.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to become an anesthesiologist?

Most paths to becoming an anesthesiologist take around 12 years to complete. This includes four years of an undergraduate program, four years of medical school and four years in a residency. There are some programs that allow students to complete their undergraduate studies and medical schooling in six years, which would shorten the time it takes to become an anesthesiologist.

What are the work conditions for anesthesiologists?

Most anesthesiologists work in a medical facility or hospital and participate in both inpatient and outpatient surgeries. They spend an equal amount of time with patients before and after surgery as well as in operating rooms and post-op rooms.

How many hours a week do anesthesiologists work?

Many anesthesiologists work more than 40 hours a week. Some anesthesiologists may work up to 12-hour shifts and be on call 24/7. The place of work largely determines how many hours anesthesiologists will work each week.

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