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Anesthesiologist Career Guide

What is an anesthesiologist?

An anesthesiologist is a medical professional who specializes in providing and managing anesthesia for patients undergoing surgical procedures. Their role transcends simply administering anesthesia. These professionals play a crucial role in the preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative care of patients, thus ensuring that the surgical procedure is carried out safely and effectively.

Their importance to a surgical team cannot be underestimated. They help mitigate surgical risks, manage any acute pain caused by the surgery, and monitor vital patient functions throughout the entire surgical process. Their work directly impacts patient safety and the successful outcomes of surgical procedures.

Duties and responsibilities

An anesthesiologist is responsible for various tasks before, during, and after surgeries. Before an operation, they assess the patient’s health and readiness for anesthesia, considering factors such as allergies, medications, and underlying health conditions. They then create an anesthesia plan tailored to the patient’s needs, the type of surgery, and the patient’s responses to anesthesia.

During surgery, these professionals administer anesthesia, continually monitor the patient’s vital signs, and adjust anesthesia levels as required. They track the patient’s pain management, consciousness level, and overall well-being throughout the surgery. After the procedure, the anesthesiologist oversees the patient’s postoperative recovery from anesthesia and manages pain relief. They also tackle any anesthesia-related complications.

Work environment

An anesthesiologist primarily works in hospitals, surgery centers, and maternity wards. Some also practice in dental offices or outpatient care centers. Their work environment is typically sterile, well-lit, and equipped with lab coats, masks, gloves, and specific monitoring devices. They work closely with surgeons, nurses, and other healthcare professionals in high-pressure scenarios where patients’ lives often hang in the balance.

Typical work hours

Anesthesiologists typically work full-time. Their schedules can be irregular because of the unpredictable nature of emergencies and necessary surgeries. They can be on-call outside regular working hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Some professionals also work long shifts, depending on the types and lengths of surgical procedures being performed.

How to become an anesthesiologist

This career guide section outlines how to become an anesthesiologist. Grasping the qualifications for this profession includes extensive education, obtaining licenses, and gaining critical practical experience.

Step 1: Receive a bachelor’s degree

The journey starts with completing a bachelor’s degree, typically in a science-related field. Students often major in biology, physics, or chemistry to build a strong foundational understanding of the human body and its functions. This four-year degree includes critical science coursework like organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physiology.

Step 2: Take the MCAT

After completing their bachelor’s degree, prospective anesthesiologists must sit for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This test assesses critical thinking, problem-solving, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts.

Step 3: Enroll in medical school

Once students pass the MCAT, they should apply and enroll in medical school, which is typically a four-year commitment. The first two years are generally spent in classrooms and labs studying anatomy, biochemistry, and medicine. The last two years involve working with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in various medical specialties.

Step 4: Complete a residency in anesthesiology

Following graduation from medical school, students then undertake a residency in anesthesiology, which lasts about four years. These residency programs involve hands-on training in preoperative evaluation, perioperative management, and acute and chronic pain control.

Step 5: Obtain a license

Every state requires anesthesiologists to be licensed. Licensing requirements can vary by state, but all necessitate passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. Students should study licensing requirements within the state they intend to practice and make sure to meet these demands.

Step 6: Become board certified

While not always necessary, board certification can aid job prospects and credibility. To become board-certified, they must pass the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) examinations. The certification process often involves both written and oral exams to assess knowledge and skills.

Step 7: Gain experience

Lastly, anesthesiologists should aim to gain valuable experience in their field. This could involve working in different settings like hospitals, surgical centers, or outpatient clinics. Securing a fellowship in an area of interest can also provide specialized training and experience.

How much do anesthesiologists make?

Anesthesiologist salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Unique factors impacting compensations include the complexity of medical procedures they are involved in, working hours, and the level of risk associated with their practices.

Highest paying industries

  • Outpatient Care Centers: $390,000
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $380,000
  • Offices of Physicians: $375,000
  • Specialty Hospitals: $370,000
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools: $360,000

Highest paying states

  • Wyoming: $410,000
  • Wisconsin: $400,000
  • Tennessee: $395,000
  • Oregon: $390,000
  • North Dakota: $385,000

Browse anesthesiologist salary data by market

Types of anesthesiologists

This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for anesthesiologists. Below, we explore the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.

General anesthesiologist

A general anesthesiologist tends to work across an array of medical procedures, delivering anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery. Their primary role includes patient evaluation, anesthesia planning, and constant patient monitoring during surgery.

Pediatric anesthesiologist

Specializing in treating infants and children, pediatric anesthesiologists are vital to managing pain, anxiety, and necessary anesthesia in pediatric surgery. They examine intricate aspects of pediatric care involving the physiological differences and medical conditions specific to this age group.

Obstetric anesthesiologist

Dedicated to women’s reproductive health, obstetric anesthesiologists assist in pain management before, during, and after childbirth. Their duties, vital to maternal and fetal health, often encompass consultations with expecting mothers to discuss pain relief options and labor anesthesia plans.

Cardiothoracic anesthesiologist

Cardiothoracic anesthesiologists are specialized in managing anesthesia in complex heart and lung surgeries. Their intensive training equips them with nuanced skills crucial in monitoring and regulating patient vital signs during these high-risk procedures.


Focused on providing anesthesia for neurological surgeries, neuroanesthesiologists handle sensitive procedures on the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. This specialization demands a deep understanding of neurological physiology and the potential impact of anesthetics on these systems.

Critical care anesthesiologist

Involving both treatment and management, critical care anesthesiologists are equipped to handle patients in intensive care units (ICUs). Their scope of work involves assessing serious illness and injuries, directing resuscitation, and managing acute and chronic pain.

Top skills for anesthesiologists

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as an anesthesiologist. The profession demands expertise in caring for patients under anesthesia during surgical, obstetrical, and other medical procedures.

Medical knowledge

These professionals must deeply understand medical science, including specialized knowledge in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and pharmacology. This allows efficient identification and management of patient’s medical conditions during anesthesia procedures.

Interpersonal and communication skills

Effectively conveying critical information to the entire surgical team, patients, and their families is vital. Listening skills are also essential, as they must be able to thoroughly understand patient histories, complications during procedures, and the concerns of other medical staff.

Patience and problem-solving abilities

Dealing with complex medical cases requires a certain level of patience and a high level of problem-solving ability. Often, quick, critical decisions must be made to resolve emergent situations and prevent potential complications.

Detail orientation

Being meticulous and paying close attention to all aspects of a patient’s health and well-being is paramount in this role. This accurate focus is needed for appropriate anesthetic planning and execution and to avoid medical oversights that can lead to serious adverse outcomes.

Physical and emotional stamina

The profession involves long periods of concentration and standing, requiring good physical stamina. Emotional resilience is also crucial, as this field can often be high-stress and may involve dealing with life-and-death situations.

Anesthesiologist career path options

The traditional professional progression usually involves moving from a resident to an attending anesthesiologist in a hospital or surgical center. Some individuals choose to take on additional responsibilities, such as becoming a medical director for an anesthesia department or clinic. This managerial role involves coordinating with other anesthesiologists, communicating with hospital administrators, and ensuring the clinic operates smoothly.

A meaningful next step might be to become a pediatrics or obstetrics anesthesiology specialist, requiring additional training and certification but providing the opportunity to focus on specific patient groups. An alternative could be exploring opportunities in the academic world, teaching and conducting research at universities and medical schools. These roles often involve both clinical and educational responsibilities, offering a balanced career progression.

For those interested in the administrative side of medicine, a career shift into hospital administration or medical consultancy could be considered. These choices offer opportunities to tap into business skills and shape the broader healthcare environment. Such positions require a good understanding of budgets, healthcare policy, and management techniques.

Lastly, some anesthesiologists might opt for a non-traditional route and venture into med-tech start-ups, pharmaceutical research, or policy-making at local, state, or federal levels to leverage their in-depth knowledge of patient care and the medical field. Regardless of the path chosen, the opportunities for career progression are vast and varied.

Over the years, the role and prominence of anesthesiologists have significantly evolved due to strides in medical technology and shifts in healthcare dynamics. Recent advances have seen anesthesiology transition from primarily a surgical service to a specialization providing comprehensive patient care. The field is no longer confined to the operating room, with roles expanding into preoperative assessment and postoperative pain management alongside a growing involvement in critical care and palliative medicine. Due to this expanded list of responsibilities, these medical professionals have adapted to embrace a broader skill set, including perioperative consultation, comprehensive medical assessments, and complex decision-making.

With new technological tools and digital advancements, they can better monitor patient metrics and analyze complex data in real-time. The introduction of advanced software applications in anesthesia management has significantly boosted patient safety and enhanced clinical outcomes. Simultaneously, this reliance on technology requires anesthesiologists to stay up-to-date on the latest advancements and familiarize themselves with new equipment.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicians and surgeons, including anesthesiologists, can anticipate a job growth rate of 3% through 2032. This rate approximates the average across all occupations. However, the actual growth for anesthesiologists may be affected by a multitude of factors, such as changes in healthcare legislation, advancements in technology, and shifts in the demographic landscape. One key driver for demand is the aging population, which tends to require more surgical procedures, subsequently requiring more anesthetic services.

Anesthesiologist career tips

Understand the surgical process in detail

Knowing the entirety of surgical procedures, including preoperative, intra-operative, and postoperative phases, is essential. Knowing the different steps and potential challenges allows you to prepare adequate anesthetic plans. Familiarize yourself with various surgical procedures, their durations, and common complications.

Master different anesthesia techniques

Possessing a diverse skill set in anesthesia techniques greatly enhances your capabilities. The methods vary from general anesthesia to regional and local anesthesia. By mastering a variety of techniques, you can offer the most appropriate type of anesthesia based on the specific needs of your patients.

Keep up-to-date with medical advancements

The world of medicine is constantly evolving with new discoveries, drugs, and techniques. Staying informed about new developments is key in anesthesia practice. This commitment requires a dedication to continuous learning and seeking out opportunities to expand your knowledge.

  • Attending professional conferences, symposiums, and webinars
  • Participating in workshops and training courses
  • Reading medical journals and online resources

Pursue additional certifications

Acquiring additional certifications beyond basic medical qualifications can enhance your professional standing. Areas of specialty within anesthesiology, such as pediatric anesthesiology, cardiac anesthesiology, or pain management, might require additional certifications. Always look for opportunities to pursue accredited certification programs that validate your proficiency.

Build a professional network

Networking can immensely benefit your career. Professional networks help to widen your knowledge, garner new insights, and even open up opportunities. It also allows you to share your experiences, learn from peers, and stay connected with the latest trends.

  • American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)
  • Society of Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists (SCA)
  • American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA)
  • American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (AAAA)
  • International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS)

Where the anesthesiologist jobs are

Top employers

  • Mayo Clinic
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Johns Hopkins Hospital
  • UCLA Medical Center

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Minnesota
  • Florida
  • Texas

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • HealthcareSource
  • Medzilla


What skills does an anesthesiologist need to possess?

An anesthesiologist should be detail-oriented and possess strong problem-solving skills to efficiently handle complex situations that may arise during surgeries. They must be excellent communicators, as they are responsible for discussing medical procedures with patients and their families, as well as collaborating with the medical team. A high level of physical stamina is important due to the often long and irregular hours surgeons work. Lastly, they need to be comfortable with high-stress situations and have the capacity for calm decision-making even under pressure.

What is the role of an anesthesiologist in a surgical team?

An anesthesiologist is a vital member of a surgical team. They are responsible for the safety and well-being of patients before, during, and after surgery. Their main tasks include administering anesthesia, monitoring vital signs throughout the operation, adjusting anesthesia levels as needed, and providing pain management post-surgery. In many cases, they are responsible for stabilizing and managing the patient’s critical life functions – heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing – throughout surgery.

How does an anesthesiologist prepare for surgery?

Before surgery, an anesthesiologist first reviews the patient’s medical condition and history to plan the best anesthesia strategy. This can include a physical examination and ordering necessary tests. They consider factors such as the type of surgery, the patient’s physical condition, and any potential allergies. They then discuss their plan with the patient and their family, answering questions and addressing concerns. On the day of surgery, they administer the anesthesia and monitor the patient throughout the procedure to adjust the anesthesia level as needed.

What is the work environment like for an anesthesiologist?

An anesthesiologist typically works in an operating room in a hospital, surgical center, or doctor’s office. They work as part of a larger surgical team that includes surgeons, surgical assistants, and nurses. They may have to work in a high-stress environment because surgery can often involve significant risks. The job also requires long hours on their feet and, often, availability for emergencies, which could result in irregular hours.

What advanced training does an anesthesiologist need?

After earning a bachelor’s degree, an aspiring anesthesiologist must complete medical school, which typically takes four years. This is followed by a 3-4 year residency in anesthesiology. Some may choose to specialize further after their residency, such as focusing on pediatric anesthesiology, and the additional training for these sub-specialties can take 1-2 years. In total, including undergraduate education, it can take about 12-16 years to become a fully trained anesthesiologist.

What are the different types of anesthesia an anesthesiologist may administer?

An anesthesiologist may administer different types of anesthesia depending on the needs of the procedure and the patient. These include local anesthesia, which numbs a small part of the body; regional anesthesia, which blocks pain in an area of the body, such as an arm or the lower half of the body; and general anesthesia, which makes the patient unconscious and unable to feel pain during surgery. Within these categories, they can also use different techniques and drugs according to the specific surgical procedure requirements and the patient’s condition.

What is the role of an anesthesiologist in pain management?

In addition to their role in surgical procedures, anesthesiologists often play a crucial part in managing and treating chronic pain. They have in-depth knowledge of medications and techniques to relieve pain, and they often formulate individualized treatment plans for patients suffering from chronic pain. These can include nerve blocks, medication management, and guiding patients toward physical therapy or psychological counseling, if necessary.

How do anesthesiologists handle emergencies during surgery?

Anesthesiologists are trained to expertly handle emergencies that may arise during surgical procedures. They continuously monitor the patient’s vital signs and adjust anesthesia dosage as needed. In case of severe complications, they might need to immediately modify the anesthesia plan, administer life-saving medications, or provide emergency airway management. They also lead the medical team in advanced life support protocols if a patient has a critical health crisis during surgery.

What post-operative responsibilities does an anesthesiologist have?

After surgery, anesthesiologists continue to monitor patients as they recover from the effects of anesthesia. They assess the patient’s level of consciousness, pain, and general physical condition. They also provide pain management, which may include administering medications to control postoperative pain. These professionals often work closely with the surgical team to inform them about the patient’s condition and any potential complications. If a patient has severe pain or reacts adversely to the anesthesia, they will intervene and adjust the treatment plan accordingly.