Anesthesiology is a high-stress career focused on keeping patients safe while under the influence of anesthetic medications. Prior to the 1970s, anesthesia -- rather than surgery -- caused one to two fatalities per 10,000 surgeries each year. Research and the adoption of techniques used to reduce aviation incidents led to at least a 10-fold decrease in anesthesia risks by 2010, according to the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation. To become an anesthesiologist is to enter a profession with a culture of patient safety. Altogether, you’ll spend at least 12 years becoming an anesthesiologist.
Anesthesiologists begin their careers as all physicians must -- with a bachelor’s degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that as long as you meet the medical school prerequisites for chemistry, math, biology and similar courses, your degree can be in any major. Competition for medical schools is fierce; you’ll need high scores on the Medical College Admissions Test, excellent references, leadership ability and other personal qualities to make the grade with the admissions committee. Once you enter medical school, you’ll concentrate on the basics of medicine, such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, medical ethics and medical law. You’ll begin to see patients in your third year, but the focus will be on general medical training rather than anesthesiology.
In residency, your anesthesiology training begins. Although the residency is four years long, the first year consists of training in general medicine, pediatrics or surgery. The remaining three years focus on the practice of anesthesiology. You’ll learn to intubate patients, administer anesthesia and choose the right mix of medications to keep the patient anesthetized for surgery yet recover quickly, all the while staying focused on patient safety. Throughout your training, you will work under the supervision of experienced anesthesiologists. Your training will overlap into critical care medicine, obstetrics and pain management as well as internal medicine, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
Specialty Training and Certification
Although you could begin practicing as an anesthesiologist as soon as you complete your residency and obtain a medical license, you might want to go on for more extensive training in a specialty fellowship. Most fellowships last one year. Anesthesiology subspecialties include pain management, cardiac anesthesiology, pediatric anesthesiology, obstetric anesthesiology and critical care medicine. Other anesthesia subspecialties recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties include hospice and palliative medicine and sleep medicine. Although it is not required for practice, you may also choose to become board-certified in anesthesiology or a subspecialty by passing written and oral examinations.
Job Outlook and Salary
The BLS reports demand for physicians such as anesthesiologists is projected to be 18 percent from 2012 to 2022. Average demand for all professions is projected to be 11 percent for the same period. Anesthesiologists earned an average annual salary of $235,070 in 2013, according to the BLS. However, the salary disparity between private practice -- the work setting of the majority of anesthesiologists -- and hospital employment was considerable, with salaries of $244,780 and $189,920, respectively. Anesthesiologists often work long hours and may need to take emergency calls or work nights, holidays and weekends.