Why You Should Consider a Career in Anesthesiology
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How to Become an Anesthesiologist

By Laura Horwitz
Published on March 10, 2010.

Job Duties

An anesthesiologist is a type of physician who specializes in relieving pain and caring for surgical patients. In this career, you would evaluate and treat patients, just like all other physicians, but you would also be directly responsible for monitoring a patient's vital signs during surgery including body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. Anesthesiologists also do work outside of the operating room, such as providing pain relief to a woman during labor and delivery, to a patient in intensive care, or to someone in chronic pain. They typically discuss these treatments and procedures with other physicians to determine what would work best.

Job Skills

To be an anesthesiologist, you must be emotionally stable and have the skill to make important decisions competently yet quickly. You also need an excellent bedside manner, strong self-motivation, and the desire to help other people. And you need the mental and physical stamina necessary to survive long hours in an operating room, not to mention to get through medical school.


In 2008, the average anesthesiologist earned an annual salary of $197,570. A self-employed anesthesiologist could have an even higher income than one earning a regular salary, although being self-employed means you have to pay for your own health insurance and retirement fund. Earnings also vary widely depending on where you work, your professional reputation, skills, experience, and even personality. For instance, an anesthesiologist working in the office of a physician averages $206,010, while one working at a general hospital averages $166,420. Location also plays a role in salary, since anesthesiologists in Kentucky average $217,160, compared to anesthesiologists in Maine who average $164,450.

Training and Education

Physicians specializing in anesthesiology must first earn a high school diploma, complete a four-year undergraduate program, a four-year program in medical school, and then 3 to 8 years of residency.

During your undergraduate study, coursework typically includes:

  • Biology
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Organic and inorganic chemistry
  • Physics
  • Social science

It can also be worthwhile to volunteer at a local hospital or clinic to gain some experience. Most students who apply to medical school have at least a bachelor's degree, and some have an advanced degree as well. Competition to get into medical school is intense.

Once in medical school, your first two years may cover basic subjects like anatomy, medical ethics, microbiology, pharmacology, and pathology. Then during your second two years, you often spend more time working in a hospital or clinic, albeit closely supervised by a licensed physician. After completing medical school, you then begin further paid, on-the-job training, better known as a medical residency. Most residents work at hospitals for 2 to 6 years.

Finally, after all your schooling and training, you can apply for your medical license, which is mandatory in all states. To qualify, you must graduate from an accredited medical school, pass a licensing exam, and complete 1 to 7 years of graduate medical education.

To become an anesthesiologist, you also need board certification in that specialty. To get that, you must take a final exam either immediately after your residency or after 1 to 2 years of practice.


633,000 physicians and surgeons worked in the U.S. as of 2006 and 5.2 percent of those were anesthesiologists. Out of all physicians and surgeons as a whole, 15 percent were self-employed, 50 percent worked in an office-based practice, and 18 percent worked in hospitals. The rest worked for federal, state, or local governments, in outpatient care centers, or at colleges, universities, and professional schools.

Job Outlook

Between 2006 and 2016, employment of anesthesiologists is expected to increase by 14 percent, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Most of this increase comes from the expansion of the health care industry, along with the growing demands that stem from an ever-increasing and aging population. You should find the best job prospects in rural and low-income areas, since less physicians practice in those areas.

About the Author
Laura Horwitz has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for five years in both London and the U.S.
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