How to Become an Anesthesiologist

Essential Education, Skills, and Job Interview Prep

If you want to play a key role in patients’ critical care and pain management during and after surgery, then you should learn how to become an anesthesiologist. To succeed in this career, you must be good at school, have excellent communication skills, and have the ability to work well under pressure.

The journey to becoming an anesthesiologist is long and demanding, so read on to find out if it’s the right career for you. We’ll look at the required education and training, essential skills, salary, and job outlook.

What Is an Anesthesiologist?

An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who administers anesthesia and cares for patients undergoing surgery. They may also work in other areas, such as helping patients who live with long-term pain.

As an anesthesiologist, you will work with patients to design safe, personalized pain relief plans. This includes choosing the appropriate type of anesthesia to administer, whether that be local, regional, or general.

You may also specialize in different medical subfields. These include cardiac anesthesia, neuroanesthesia, pediatric anesthesia, chronic pain, critical care medicine, and obstetrics.

Anesthesiologist Salary and Job Outlook

If you’re unsure whether anesthesiology is worth the financial and time commitment, the salary may entice you. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, anesthesiologists are among the 20 highest-paying jobs in the country. The average anesthesiologist makes a whopping $303,587 per year, according to PayScale.

Your actual salary will depend on your specialization, experience, state, and place of employment.

Despite the high salaries, the anesthesiologist profession is not expected to grow much over the next decade. According to BLS, the number of anesthesiologist jobs is projected to increase from 33,800 to 34,000 between 2019 and 2029.


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Entry-Level Anesthesiologist Job Requirements

To get an entry-level anesthesiologist job you’ll need a combination of academic qualifications and practical medical experience. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to complete another eight years of anesthesiologist schooling. This includes four years of medical school and a four-year anesthesiology residency. Most anesthesiologists sit the American Board of Anesthesiology exam at the end of their training.

According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of an entry-level anesthesiologist is $81,576 per year. Keep in mind that this number is the mean, not the median. Most entry-level anesthesiologists earn between $33,500 and $51,500, albeit with plenty of room to grow.

How to Ace Your Anesthesiologist Job Interview

The key to acing your anesthesiologist job interview lies in being able to demonstrate all the skills and knowledge gained during your residency, as well as requisite soft skills such as the ability to make decisions under pressure.

Below are some of the most common anesthesiologist job interview questions.

Common Anesthesiologist Job Interview Questions

  • Why are you interested in becoming an anesthesiologist?
  • What questions would you ask a patient before putting together an anesthesia plan?
  • How would you assess whether a patient is eligible to be discharged after receiving general anesthesia?
  • How would you approach a problem that arises while a patient is in surgery?
  • What are the most efficient techniques for administering sedatives?
  • Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

What Degree Should I Get to Become an Anesthesiologist?

You’ll first need to complete an undergraduate degree, then apply for medical school. Unlike some disciplines such as database administration, an online associate degree does not make you eligible for medical school.

Below are the degree pathways you need to follow to become an anesthesiologist.

Bachelor’s Degree in Pre-Med, a STEM Field, or Any Other Major

The first step is to get a bachelor’s degree, usually within a related subject that allows you to get into medical school. Most students who want to pursue a medical career choose a pre-med pathway. Others get an in-person or online bachelor’s degree in a science subject.

Having a pre-med or STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) degree will make your journey a little easier. You can also qualify for medical school with a bachelor’s degree in another subject, but it’s recommended that you still take courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics to gain a science background.

A bachelor’s degree will take you between four and five years. Medical schools mostly accept students with GPAs between 3.4 and 4.0.

Postgraduate Degree in Medicine

After obtaining your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to go to medical school. To qualify for medical school, you must first pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which is administered by the American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Once you pass the MCAT, you can apply for a postgraduate degree in medicine. As an aspiring anesthesiologist, you can enroll in either a Medical Doctor (MD) program or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DOM) program.

A postgraduate degree in medicine typically lasts for four years and is a mix of study and intensive practical training. During the last two years of your degree, you will work alongside qualified doctors and gain practical medical experience.

Residency Program in Anesthesiology

Once you successfully complete medical school, you must complete a four-year residency program.

The first year will be in general medical training, and the last three years will be in anesthesia training. Think of your residency as a trainee program where you get paid while gaining practical skills.

According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of an anesthesiology resident is $156,134 per year or $75 every hour. Bear in mind that this salary figure changes depending on the state and your employer.

What Does an Anesthesiologist Do?

The role of an anesthesiologist revolves around administering pain relief to patients undergoing surgical and medical procedures. However, the job duties extend beyond just administering anesthesia.

Read on to find out the different job responsibilities of an anesthesiologist.

Designs Anesthesia Care Plans

An essential part of the role is putting together accurate and personalized anesthesia plans for patients. Anesthesiologists do this by referring to the patient’s medical history, body size, and treatment plan. They use this to outline a plan for the type of anesthesia and the dosage.

They will also work with other relevant teams to anticipate possible procedural issues and give an overall patient care plan for post-anesthesia recovery.

Monitors Patients’ Vitals During Surgery

As an anesthesiologist, you will also be responsible for ensuring the patient’s condition is stable throughout the surgery and they aren’t in any pain. You are present throughout the surgical procedure to constantly monitor the patient’s vitals.

Helps Patients Manage Pain

As well as providing pain management during surgery, anesthesiologists help patients live with other types of pain. As an anesthesiologist, you will devise treatment and care plans to help people manage a range of pain caused by surgery, injury, or other conditions.

Provides Pain Relief During Childbirth

If you become an obstetric anesthesiologist, you will monitor and administer anesthesia to women before, during, and after childbirth. The job also extends to in vitro fertilization, postpartum procedures, cesarean deliveries, and fetal surgeries.

Provides Specialized Treatment and Care

Your role as an anesthesiologist will differ dramatically depending on the branch of medicine you work in. You might work as a pediatric anesthesiologist, in palliative care, or in emergency care doing everything from stabilizing patients before surgery to resuscitating patients after cardiac arrest.

Essential Anesthesiologist Skills

To be a good anesthesiologist, you must be detail-oriented, calm during high-stress situations, and have good decision-making skills. As well as medical expertise, you’ll need excellent interpersonal skills to be able to communicate effectively with patients and families. You’ll also need to develop the following essential skills.

Computer and Tech Skills

Technology plays a huge role in the world of modern medicine. Anesthesiologists work with a range of technology and software, including programs that monitor patients’ vitals and others that automate patient records.

Good Supervisory and Teaching Skills

As an anesthesiologist, you also take on a supervisory role for certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA) and anesthesia assistants. This includes evaluating and monitoring their performance.

Physical and Mental Stamina

As anesthesiologists play a key role in surgical care, they need good physical and mental stamina. They should be fit enough to stay on their feet and remain highly focused for the duration of surgical procedures.

How to Become an Anesthesiologist:
A Step-by-Step Guide

There are several steps to becoming an anesthesiologist and it can take around 12 years to become fully qualified. Below is a step-by-step guide to becoming an anesthesiologist.


Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program

The first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree program. This could be a pre-med degree or a STEM degree. You can also major in any other field as long as you gain a good understanding of science.


Pass the MCAT exam

After getting your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to pass the MCAT exam to qualify for medical school. MCAT exams are around 7.5 hours and cover four primary subjects. These are biology, chemistry, psychology, and critical thinking and reasoning. Scoring well on this exam will increase your chances of getting into a good school.


Go to Medical School

You must complete four years of med school to get your degree in medicine. Either a Medical Doctor (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DOM) program will qualify you for a career as an anesthesiologist.


Pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)

After completing your postgraduate education, you have to pass the USMLE exam, which is mandatory in every state. The exam covers everything from basic sciences to clinical sciences to patient diagnosis. The exam consists of three tests, which you take during different stages of your postgraduate work.


Finish Your Medical Residency Program

After medical school, every anesthesiologist must complete a medical residency program. Typically four years in length, the program covers general medical training in the first year and anesthesiology training for the next three years.


Obtain Your State License

In addition to the USMLE license, you are expected to get a state board license. After you have completed your residency, you can apply for a license through your state medical board.


Get Board Certifications

This last step isn’t compulsory. but being board certified will increase your chances of getting your dream job. You can pass an exam to get certified under the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) or the American Board of Physician Specialities (ABPS).

How Long Does It Take to Become an Anesthesiologist?

It will take you anywhere between 12 to 14 years to become an anesthesiologist. This includes your bachelor’s degree, medical degree, and residency program. The time can differ depending on your academic and rotation performance. If you plan on specializing, then it will take you an extra year or more to complete this training.

Should You Become an Anesthesiologist in 2021?

Yes, if you are interested in the field of anesthesiology and want a highly rewarding career, then anesthesiology could be the career for you. Despite the long training, the career is definitely worth it for those who love working with patients, are looking for job security, and want a high salary.

Anesthesiologist FAQ

What do the work hours of an anesthesiologist look like?

An anesthesiologist can work anywhere between 40 to 60 hours every week, which includes their on-call schedule. The work hours also depend on the hospital’s structure. It is possible that twice a month you will be required to work an overnight shift.

Who does an anesthesiologist work with?

Anesthesiologists work across various departments. They work with surgeons, doctors, ER staff, CRNAs, anesthesia assistants, and more.

Do anesthesiologists get a high salary?

Yes, anesthesiologists are very well compensated according to their experience. Their salary can go as high as $394,000 per year.

Is anesthesiology a stressful career?

Yes, being an anesthesiologist is stressful. You deal with life-threatening situations, surgeries, trauma, and patient distress on a regular basis. So as well as having medical knowledge, you need to be calm-headed and have excellent critical thinking and decision-making skills.

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