Careers in Anesthesiology: Duties, Requirements, and Salary
Many medical careers are among the 10 highest-paying jobs in America, but is a career in anesthesiology worth the long, arduous trek through medical school? It means long years of study and sacrifice, likely followed by years of enormous student debt. Anesthesiology can be a thankless job that demands all of your time and gives little in return.
So why do it?
If you have ever felt the red-hot sear of blinding pain, then you know that in this moment there is only one person you want to see: the anesthesiologist.
Only an anesthesiologist can safely concoct the perfect cocktail of medication to ease the pain. This knowledge doesn’t come easy — it takes years of study and training to earn the right to dispense these drugs.
Here’s everything you need to know about the world of anesthesiologists.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Does an Anesthesiologist Do?
- 2 What Is the Average Annual Income of an Anesthesiologist?
- 3 What Does It Take to Become an Anesthesiologist?
- 4 What Is the Job Outlook of an Anesthesiologist?
- 5 Should You Become an Anesthesiologist?
What Does an Anesthesiologist Do?
An anesthesiologist is most commonly known for acute and chronic pain management through medication, but you will also do so much more.
Anesthesiologists work with surgeons and doctors of all kinds to perform preoperative and intraoperative care; while the other doctors worry about what’s wrong, the anesthesiologist’s focus remains firmly rooted in you and your comfort.
Injured people commonly need anesthesia for surgery and intensive procedures or to eliminate pain during an emergency. Anesthesiologists are also a critical component of the childbirth process, providing obstetric care and anesthesia during labor.
These are some of an anesthesiologist’s key duties:
- Screen patients for surgery.
- Conduct pre-surgery examinations and testing.
- Monitor vitals before, during, and after treatment.
- Administer anesthesia, maintain appropriate levels as needed.
- Supervise recovery and pain management.
Given the high level of detail and attention required for this position, anesthesiologists must demonstrate certain skills. These include elevated levels of reading and writing comprehension combined with strong analytical and problem-solving skills.
As medicine continues to evolve, anesthesiologists have a responsibility to adjust in response, and that begins with continued education. There is a concentrated focus on science, with a strong emphasis placed on clinical research to better treat future patients.
According to the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists (TSA), “Some of the most significant strides in medicine and surgery are directly attributable to anesthesiology’s advances in patient monitoring, improved anesthetic agents and new drug therapy.”
What Is the Average Annual Income of an Anesthesiologist?
Anesthesiology is a lucrative career, generating over six figures annually. The average annual salary of an anesthesiologist is $267,020, but how much you make depends on where you live and where you work.
Private practice generally pays more than public institutions that are bound by red tape. Larger metropolitan areas with a high cost of living such as New York City, Houston, and San Francisco are bound to pay more than rural towns since wages are adjusted to meet inflation and demand.
These are the best-paying states for anesthesiologists in the U.S.:
Compensation specialist Payscale reports variances depending on training and experience:
- Mid-career (5-9 years) — $297,111;
- Experienced (10-19 years) — $308,767;
Ultimately, your salary will depend on your exact employment situation, but you can still expect to make a higher income than many others in the workforce.
What Does It Take to Become an Anesthesiologist?
An anesthesiologist holds enormous responsibility in the operating room because this person has a tremendous task in helping your body endure severe discomfort.
When the body experiences high levels of pain, it can go into shock and turn a routine procedure into a fatal one. Accordingly, just the tiniest bit of the wrong chemical in your pain-fighting cocktail can cause your system to negatively react, and not only could you be aware during your surgery, but your system could shut down, too.
This is why there are such high levels of education and training demanded by anesthesiologists. You cannot afford to make a mistake when, every minute of every day, people’s lives are on the line.
When a patient’s life is in your hands, you need to be practiced and sure, which is why anesthesiologists require a lot of training and experience.
Most anesthesiologists earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year university before moving on to medical school. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required before you can apply to medical school, as are your college transcripts and letters of recommendation.
Medical school takes four years to complete, followed by your internship and residency for an additional three to seven years. Not everyone makes it to medical school, however, with a rigorous acceptance policy weeding out the herd.
Only 41% of medical school applicants earn acceptance, and the challenging coursework, coupled with long hours of dedication and sacrifice, leads many to wonder whether medical school is worth the cost and the trouble at the end of the day.
It is a select few who are able to successfully graduate from medical school. Now with your formal education complete, it’s time for real-world application.
Medical school lays the foundation for on-the-job training, which is where you finally have an opportunity to apply the knowledge you learned in the classroom. The real-life application allows you to hone and perfect the hard skills and soft skills that you will need in the workplace as a licensed anesthesiologist.
In anesthesiology, there is no room for error, so to do your job correctly, it’s imperative that you utilize the correct tools. To become familiar with the resources at your disposal, you will spend an average of four years in a residency where you will undergo formal training in areas such as cardiology and emergency and critical care.
By the time your residency is complete, you should be ready for your licensing exam.
The final step to becoming an anesthesiologist is earning your licenses. To become a licensed doctor, you must first pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
Anesthesiologists must also receive special board certification from the American Board of Anesthesiologists. This includes both a four-year residency program and a dual-part exam.
With both licenses in your pocket, you can now finally embark on your solo career.
What Is the Job Outlook of an Anesthesiologist?
When choosing a career, people tend to be drawn to the jobs they find fun and interesting, ones that will light up their days and pose a challenge. What they sometimes don’t think about is whether that exciting new career will pose a positive job outlook, offering security in the years to come.
Thankfully, with all its demands and investments, medicine remains a growing field for budding doctors. The medical field is far more secure than others in the job sector, with guaranteed growth due to an unwavering public dependence on medical and emergency care.
Job Security and Growth
As an anesthesiologist, you can expect a consistent job market with steady demand.
While anesthesiology demand is not expected to climb as quickly as the demand for surgeons, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there is a 4% job growth expected through 2028.
Your work environment depends on where you work. You are prone to a more hurried, emotionally charged environment if you’re in an emergency room or delivery room. If you elect for a private practice in a general or cosmetic office, you could enjoy a more peaceful atmosphere that instead focuses on more routine, everyday procedures.
The TSA reports a rise in ambulatory surgical centers and doctors’ offices instead of the traditional hospital setting, modernizing the workplace for anesthesiologists and allowing doctors greater flexibility.
Should You Become an Anesthesiologist?
Anesthesiology is versatile enough that you can choose your work environment, whether it is a hospital, gynecologist’s office, or primary care practice. Your salary may fluctuate, but it is certainly far beyond the minimum wage in any state, with most anesthesiologists making at least $250,000 each year.
Like any career in medicine, it takes a ton of time and effort to become an anesthesiologist. However, it is one of the most rewarding careers a person can have, bringing comfort and solace to patients every day.
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This post was updated February 5, 2020. It was originally published February 5, 2020.