When we think of the medical profession, most 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 turn our minds to one of the most necessary, meaningful, and respected medical fields of all; the anesthesiologist.
The anesthesiologist is a healthcare provider unlike any other.
They don’t dispense general wisdom.
They also don’t poke and prod at your joints or look into your ears.
What anesthesiologists do is perhaps more critical.
An anesthesiologist is responsible for you during surgery in several ways.
First, any time you need an area numbed for dental work, an anesthesiologist knows 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.
Introduction to Anesthesiologists
At the most basic, an anesthesiologist is trained in anesthetics.
For the most part, they are trained in common types of anesthesia.
- General anesthesia, or putting people to sleep for the duration of an operation
- Sedation, or placing 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
Anesthesiologists can specialize in a particular area of healthcare.
For instance, some anesthesiologists focus on children, learning how the preteen human body differs in reactions to anesthetics. Others specialize in critical care providing sedation to patients in life-threatening situations.
All anesthesiologists must learn the common anesthetics, how people react to them, and any medical interactions or allergies that may occur.
They must also understand and perfect how to deal with these medical concerns.
After all, the anesthesiologist has life in their hands each time they administer an anesthetic.
Thus, becoming an anesthesiologist takes extensive training and knowledge from college onward.
Being an anesthesiologist is stressful; however, it’s also a rewarding position for medical students to aspire towards.
A typical anesthesiologist has put over a decade of their life into learning and mastering their craft.
They are first responders in surgical situations when life is threatened.
At the barest minimum, an anesthesiologist is the one who puts you to sleep before surgery and wakes you up afterward.
However, they also play significant roles throughout the whole process.
The anesthesiologist is the one who performs the preoperative assessment of a patient before surgery.
They learn a great deal about your medical history to know which drugs to use, how much, and how to administer them.
They are also present after surgery is complete to deal with any procedure complications.
If you experience pain after surgery, the anesthesiologist administers painkillers.
The anesthesiologist helps with ongoing pain and other symptoms for those with cancer and persistent illnesses.
If any complications occur, they are 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 do Anesthesiologists Use?
Anesthesia may seem like little more than a needle or a gas mask, but there is much more to it.
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 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 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 works alongside a senior in the field, wherever their practice may be.
Once licensed and capable of choosing their 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
- In the private sector, where they can establish their 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 any position they like, as their skills are in high demand.
It takes excellent training to become an anesthesiologist, 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 as part of that hospital’s staff.
They may work under specific doctors within the hospital and follow them in their general practices.
Alternatively, 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 practices and essentially be their bosses.
In this case, 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.
It allows them to share their skills, widening their experience base and increasing their skill level.
These partnerships are valuable for anesthesiologists and the hospitals dealing with them.
Many of the best anesthesiologists specialize in fieldwork in this manner.
While an anesthesiologist may not have a direct boss, they must answer to various medical boards and hospital leadership personnel.
It ensures they are accountable for everything, both good and bad, during their practice.
What Hours Do Anesthesiologists Work?
The job of an anesthesiologist is a long, hard one.
As a result, 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 days for recovery.
It would be a very stable schedule for an anesthesiologist and is perhaps somewhat unlikely.
Many anesthesiologists find themselves working much fewer 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 regular nine to five-set hours, they are probably on call most of the time.
As long as they are in the city, they can be called anytime to come in for an emergency.
This is all very intense and leads to occasional burnout.
However, there are labor laws and regulations to assure each anesthesiologist that they get the time they need to rest.
It helps ensure they do not make potentially life-threatening mistakes due to fatigue.
How much do Anesthesiologists Make?
According to Indeed, the average salary among anesthesiologists is between $113,000 and $660,000 a year.
Beginning anesthesiologists often find themselves on the lower end of this pay scale.
Only once they have proven themselves with an extensive track record can they demand higher salaries.
That said, an anesthesiologist’s position is among the most highly paid jobs in the United States.
Anesthesiology is considered one of the top hundred jobs in projected growth.
An anesthesiologist needs to practice for several years to reach the higher end of this salary range.
The most highly-paid anesthesiologists are specialists, with cardiac anesthesiology being the top specialist field.
Of course, these people are paid well because they do an exceptional job and do not make mistakes.
For a comprehensive estimate, a highly trained anesthesiologist might average approximately $410,000 annually.
However, this is not guaranteed, and several factors influence this number.
First off, training to be an anesthesiologist is long and intense.
College and medical school are both requirements, as are an internship and potentially a fellowship.
These can all lead to large loans and debt before the job begins.
While the typical anesthesiologist probably has no trouble finding work, they need to manage stress levels, living expenses, and financial requirements not to lose their jobs.
Factors That Affect an Anesthesiologist’s Income:
- Total number of hours they work per year (an anesthesiologist’s salary may partially be determined by the assumed number of hours they are expected to work per week/annually)
- Accumulated over time (if the anesthesiologist is paid overtime, it can have a significant effect on salary)
- Education level (anesthesiologists with more experience generally make more money than those just starting)
- Years of experience (the more knowledge an anesthesiologist acquires, the more likely they are to be paid a higher salary)
- Location of work (the average salary for an anesthesiologist varies depending on the state they work in)
- Overall demand for an anesthesiologist in their area (the level of need for an anesthesiologist in a particular area can significantly increase an anesthesiologist’s salary)
- Benefits and bonuses (in addition to the anesthesiologist’s annual salary, they may also be given additional benefits such as paid vacation time, prizes, and any other agreements made between them and their employer.)
What Type of Life do Anesthesiologists Live?
The answer to this is generally a stressful one.
Training takes a long time and requires advanced schooling, requiring a significant initial investment.
It may take several years after graduation before the anesthesiologist even pays off their debts, let alone begins to live a more luxurious lifestyle.
With 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 choose to live.
You certainly can if you desire to play golf worldwide on your vacations and drive exotic cars.
However, 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 family interruptions, as hospital calls are more important than anything else.
How Can I Become an Anesthesiologist?
To become an anesthesiologist, you will need to have graduated high school at the very outset, potentially with honors.
While hospitals won’t look at your high school grades, these grades will help you get into a better college.
You will need a bachelor’s degree from a reputable university.
It will likely be one of several pre-med degrees offered around the country.
Next, you will need to attend and graduate medical school with your anesthesiology specialization.
At this point, you will be an M.D. or D.O., depending on your path.
After graduating from 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.
Furthermore, you will also likely require a Board Certification in Anesthesiology.
Maintaining a clean criminal record through all this is essential.
Significantly few hospitals will hire an anesthesiologist with a conviction or malpractice claims.