Growth Trends for Related Jobs
Extra-Long Schooling, Extra-High Earnings
Sometimes it's tough to understand why certain occupations pay so well, such as acting, playing football or basketball or being a CEO of a large company. But you're probably not surprised that anesthesiologists are the highest paid of all physicians.
Not only do they go to school several years longer than most other physicians―who already spend many years learning their profession―anesthesiologists are responsible for patient safety at a time when they are most vulnerable. They keep people alive, pain-free and comfortable, so other physicians and nurses can do their jobs. When mothers become anesthesiologists, they are taking on a reliable and lucrative career.
Anesthesiologists don't just pop into the operating room and work their magic in time for surgery; instead, their responsibilities begin well in advance. By talking with a patient's other physicians and surgeons, as well as reviewing the patient's health history, current state of health and any concerns, the anesthesiologist decides what type of anesthesia and combinations of medications she will administer to that patient.
First, is local anesthesia appropriate? If one localized part of the body is being operated on, such as an arm or a leg, or a Caesarean birth, it may be possible to anesthetize just that area. The patient can remain conscious or be placed in a semi-conscious state.
Other times, general anesthesia may be the better alternative. This is when patients are placed in a state of “controlled unconsciousness.” They appear to “sleep” through the entire surgery, unaware of the procedures they're undergoing nor the health care team taking care of them. Yet, the anesthesiologist remains very aware of all of the patient's vital signs and adjusts his medications accordingly. She may, at times, delegate some of the responsibilities to anesthesiology assistants or nurses on the anesthesia care team, but as the physician anesthesiologist, she remains responsible throughout the surgery.
When the surgery is finished and the patient is brought into the recovery area, the anesthesiologist adjusts his medications so that he will awaken, and remain with the patient to ensure the transition goes well. She may administer medications to ease post-op pain at this time, too.
In emergency situations, the anesthesiologist will need to make these decisions quickly. She may also need to be involved in resuscitation efforts, blood transfusions and respiratory therapy.
To become an anesthesiologist, as with other types of physicians, you must pursue a four-year college program that typically follows a pre-med track with many science and math courses and earn a bachelor's degree. Like other potential physicians, you then apply to medical school, where you study another four years, taking courses in human anatomy as well as learning how to diagnose patients and about general patient care.
You'll spend the first two years mostly in the classroom and the last two years in clinic and hospital settings putting what you've learned into practice with patients, under the supervision of experienced physicians. You'll graduate with a degree of medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.).
If you choose anesthesiology as your specialty, you'll go on to complete a four-year anesthesiology residency, which is among the longest of physician residencies. Like working with kids? Maybe you'll decide after that to specialize in pediatric anesthesiology. If so, you'll spend a fifth, fellowship year learning the specifics of administering anesthesia to the youngest patients, who are smaller, weigh less, and aren't as mature as adults mentally or emotionally. It's also possible to become certified in a sub-specialty such as critical care or pain medication. Doing either would require additional study and passing a certification test.
As a group, anesthesiologists earn the highest salaries of all physicians. While physicians of all types earned a median salary over $208,000 in 2019, anesthesiologists earned an average salary of $261,730 in 2019. A median salary is the midpoint, at which half earn more and half earn less.
Anesthesiologists work in hospitals and outpatient clinics where surgery is performed. Typically, they are in sterile operating rooms and stand for a large portion of their workday.
Years of Experience
By the time anesthesiologists finish medical school and their residencies, they have already had several years of experience. In the last two years of medical school, they spend most of their time working with patients under the supervision of qualified physicians, getting experience diagnosing and treating patients while they rotate through stints in general practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, family practice, surgery and others. Then, in their anesthesia residency years, they undergo a sort of on-the-job training program, progressing to work in surgery while supervised by an experienced physician anesthesiologist until they are competent to work unsupervised.
In 2020, anesthesiology residents received an average salary of $63,300. In their first year of residency they were paid $57,100 and received increases in each subsequent year. By the sixth year, residents earned average salaries of $68,500.
Job Growth Trend
From 2016 to 2026, the demand for anesthesiologists is expected to grow 15 percent. As the population ages and baby boomers become senior citizens, their health problems will increase. Some will require surgery, and with that, the skills of a well-trained anesthesiologist.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physicians and Surgeons
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Highest Paying Occupations
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Occupation Finder: Anesthesiologists
- American Society of Anesthesiologists: Anesthesiology as a Career
- Medscape: Residents Salary and Debt Report
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for work.chron.com, workingmother.com, classroom.synonym.com and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.