When we think of the medical profession, most of our minds turn to doctors and nurses.
For some, it’s the cartoon image of a doctor with a can lid reflector on their forehead, dispensing sage advice and medical wisdom.
For others, it’s the television portrayals on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, E.R. or General Hospital.
Some people think of specialized doctors for cosmetic surgery, trauma surgery or pediatricians.
Few of us find our minds turning to one of the most necessary, important and respected medical fields of all; the anesthesiologist.
The anesthesiologist is a doctor unlike any other.
They don’t dispense general wisdom.
They don’t poke and prod at your joints or look into your ears.
What they do is perhaps more important.
An anesthesiologist is responsible for you during surgery in a number of ways.
Any time you need an area numbed for dental work, an anesthesiologist is there, knowing right where the nerves are and how much medicine to use for the desired effect.
Any time you’re under the knife for invasive procedures, an anesthesiologist is there, administering the proper doses of the right chemicals to put you to sleep for the length of your surgery.
You wake up after the procedure, safe in their hands.
What is an Anesthesiologist?
At the most basic, an anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who is trained in the use of anesthetics. For the most part, they are trained in the common types of anesthesia.
- General anesthesia, or putting people to sleep for the duration of an operation
- Sedation, or putting a patient into a calm state where they are awake but calm and unaware of trauma or surgery
- Regional or local anesthesia, or numbing up certain specific areas, such as part of the jaw during dental work
Some anesthesiologists specialize in one form or another. Some will choose to focus on children, learning how the preteen human body differs in reactions to anesthetics.
All anesthesiologist must learn the common anesthetics and how people react to them, as well as any medical interactions or allergies that may occur and how to deal with them.
An anesthesiologist has a life in their hands each time they administer an anesthetic.
Because of this, it takes an extensive amount of training and knowledge to become an anesthesiologist, from college onwards.
It is a stressful and rewarding position for medical students to aspire towards.
What does an Anesthesiologist do?
The typical anesthesiologist has put over a decade of their life into learning and mastering their craft.
They are first responders in surgical situations when a life is threatened.
At the barest minimum, an anesthesiologist is the one who puts you to sleep before a surgery and wakes you up afterwards.
However, they also play major roles throughout the whole process.
The anesthesiologist is the one who performs the preoperative assessment of a patient prior to surgery.
They learn a great deal about your medical history in order to know which drugs to use, how much of them to use and how to administer them.
They are also present after a surgery is complete, to deal with any complications of the procedure.
If you experience pain after a surgery, the anesthesiologist is the one administering painkillers.
For those with cancer and ongoing illnesses, the anesthesiologist is the one helping with ongoing pain and other symptoms.
If any complications occur, they are the one immediately present to help diagnose and treat these issues.
Every patient is unique, and every anesthetic plan is tailored specifically for the patient and the surgery they are about to undergo.
What Equipment does an Anesthesiologists Use?
Anesthesia may seem like little more than a needle or a gas mask, but there is much more to it than that.
For local anesthetics, the anesthesiologist must know how to use needles properly.
This includes proper sterilization procedures and detailed anatomical knowledge to ensure successful injections, be it in a nerve in the mouth or a major vein in the arm.
General anesthesia is often administered by gas as well.
The anesthesia machine is a complicated breathing apparatus that mixes the desired medicine at the desired levels with an amount of breathable air that will keep you alive.
Anesthesiologists must know how to use this machine.
The anesthesiologist must also know how to use minor tools of the trade, such as suction wands for removing mucus and saliva from the mouth and airways, or various tools for viewing the airways and assisting in breathing.
Some anesthetic procedures require delicate operations on the spine, such as lumbar punctures and epidurals.
These require special tools and procedures, which the anesthesiologist must be intimately familiar with.
If the anesthesiologist makes a mistake during a procedure, it can risk a life, so they must be very well trained.
Where do Anesthesiologists Work?
For the first few years of their field training, an anesthesiologist will work alongside a senior in the field, wherever their practice may be.
Once they are licensed and capable of choosing their own practice, the field opens up dramatically.
Here are some examples of where an anesthesiologist may find work.
- A hospital, assisting with surgery or in an emergency room trauma center
- A health clinic, administering anesthetics for those with chronic illnesses or general health problems and simple procedures
- The private sector, where they can establish their own relationships with various hospitals or clinics, administering their skills and experience on call
- In pediatrics, where they can focus on assisting children with the many complications that come from birthing complications or early childhood injuries and illnesses
Experienced anesthesiologists can choose virtually any position they like, as their skills are in high demand.
It takes an incredible amount of training to become an anesthesiologist, and so many med students choose to shift to a different specialization or drop out entirely.
Who do anesthesiologists Work For?
Some will work with a hospital, employed as part of that hospital’s staff.
They may work under specific doctors within the hospital and follow them to their general practices.
They may work strictly within one hospital, or share their skills with any hospital in an area.
Anesthesiology is a specialized medical profession.
As such, most trained anesthesiologists are or can be general practitioners themselves. Some will form their own practices and essentially be their own bosses.
They would be assisted by partner doctors and a staff of nurses and secretaries.
Many anesthesiologists who choose to work in the private sector will form partnerships with other anesthesiologists.
This allows them to share their skills with each other, widening their base of experience and increasing their skill level all around.
These partnerships are valuable for both the anesthesiologists involved and the hospitals that deal with them.
Many of the best specialists in the field work in this manner.
While an anesthesiologist may not have a direct boss, they have to answer to various medical boards and hospital leadership personnel.
This ensures they are accountable for everything, both good and bad, that occurs during their practice.
What are the Hours an Anesthesiologist Works?
The job of an anesthesiologist is a long, hard one.
While some of the most talented anesthesiologists are capable of choosing their hours and working part-time, the vast majority of anesthetic professionals will work full-time hours.
In fact, a 40-hour workweek might seem like a dream to some.
The typical anesthesiologist works somewhere between 10 and 12 hours a day.
They may work this seven days a week except for the occasional holiday and vacation day for recovery.
This would be a very stable schedule for an anesthesiologist and is perhaps somewhat unlikely.
Many anesthesiologists find themselves working much less regular hours.
They may put 12 hours in one day and have a day off.
Then they may end up working for 48 hours straight without rest, if a series of medical emergencies call for it.
Even if they have a stable nine to five set of hours, they are probably on call for most of the rest of their time.
As long as they are in the city, they could be called up at any time to come in for an emergency.
This is all very intense and leads to the occasional burnout, though there are labor laws and regulations in place to assure each anesthesiologist that they get the time they need to rest.
This helps ensure they do not make potentially life-threatening mistakes due to fatigue.
How much do Anesthesiologists Make?
As with any profession, the salary can vary.
For a very broad estimate, a trained anesthesiologist might make between $250,000 and $1,000,000 a year.
However, this is not guaranteed, and there are a number of factors that influence this number.
First off, training to be an anesthesiologist is long and intense.
College and medical school are both requirements, as is an internship and potentially a fellowship.
These can all lead to large amounts of loans and debt before the job has even begun.
While the typical anesthesiologist will probably have no trouble finding work, they need to manage stress levels, living expenses and financial requirements so they don’t lose their jobs.
The average pay rates nationally among anesthesiologists are between $170,000 and $295,000 a year.
Beginning anesthesiologists will find themselves on the lower end of this pay scale more often than not.
It is only once they have proven themselves with an extensive track record that they can demand higher salaries.
However, the position of anesthesiologist is one of the most highly paid positions in the United States, as well as being one of the top hundred jobs in terms of projected growth.
To reach the higher ends of this salary range, an anesthesiologist will need to have been in practice for a number of years.
The most highly paid anesthesiologists are specialists as well, with cardiac anesthesiology being the top specialist field.
Of course, these people are paid well because they do an exceptional job and they do not make mistakes.
What Type of Lifestyle does the Anesthesiologist Live?
The answer to this is generally a stressful one.
Once again, training takes a long time and requires advanced schooling, so this requires a large initial investment.
It may take several years after graduation before the anesthesiologist even pays off their debts, let along begins to live a more luxurious lifestyle.
That said, experienced anesthesiologists could live opulently if they choose.
The position is one of the most highly paid in the country, so the main limitation is what you personally choose to live.
If you desire to play golf around the world on your vacations and drive exotic cars, you certainly can.
If you prefer a more laid-back lifestyle, you will have the funds to support yourself.
Due to the hours an anesthesiologist works, family life can sometimes become strained.
Being on call 24 hours a day can lead to interruptions for any family function, and the call of the hospital is more important than just about anything else.
How Can I Become an Anesthesiologist?
At the very outset, you will need to have graduated high school, potentially with honors. While no hospital is going to look at your grades in high school, these grades will help you get into a better college.
You will need a bachelor’s degree from a reputable university.
This will likely be one of several pre-med degrees offered around the country.
You will then need to attend and graduate medical school, with your specialization in anesthesiology.
At this point, you will be a M.D. or D.O. depending on your path.
After graduating med school, you will begin four years of residency training with a hospital and a professional anesthesiologist.
You will need to pass the USMLE test and receive a license from the medical board in the state you will be practicing in.
You will also likely require a Board Certification in Anesthesiology.
Maintaining a clean criminal record through all of this is essential, as very few hospitals will hire an anesthesiologist with a conviction or malpractice claims.