The Junctions To Cross On The Path To Becoming An Anesthesiologist!

Becoming An AnesthesiologistBecoming an anesthesiologist is difficult and needs diligence and hard work. But it is a lucrative profession and more and more youngsters are aspiring to become an anesthesiologist. So, how can you become one? Here’s an attempt to explain the steps one by one…

Know your vocation: what is an anesthesiologist?

Any description of the job remains incomplete without a definition of the term ‘anesthesiologist’. Apart from being quite a mouthful, the term refers to one of the most flourishing medical fields.

Wikipedia defines an anesthesiologist/anesthetist in the following words:


An anesthesiologist (US English) or anaesthetist (British English) is a physician trained in anesthesia and perioperative medicine.”

As such, anesthesiologists are an integral part of any surgery team, and need to work closely with patients, nurses and surgeons. As you might already know, anesthesia is the term used for the temporary loss of sensation; it is pharmacologically induced by an anesthesiologist. In fact, anesthesia itself is a

“reversible state of amnesia, analgesia, loss of responsiveness, loss of skeletal muscle reflexes, decreased stress response, or all of these simultaneously. These effects can be obtained from a single drug which alone provides the correct combination of effects, or occasionally a combination of drugs (such as hypnotics, sedatives, paralytics and analgesics) to achieve very specific combinations of results.”

But what does an anesthesiologist do?

To take recourse to simpler explanations, an anesthesiologist is in essence a physician who administers anesthesia before a surgery team takes over. He can either inject the anesthesia drug prior to the surgery or administer an anesthetic gas. He then monitors the patient’s response to the anesthesia drug during the operation.
Such anesthesia procedures include both…

  • Local anesthesia where a particular area of the body is rendered senseless for the duration of a medical procedure.
  • General anesthesia refers to the procedure of medically inducing a state of coma.

So basically an anesthesiologist closely interacts with the patient and must be very careful while administering the dose of the anesthesia drug. One slight miscalculation on his part can render the patient to collapse, or regain his senses prematurely in the middle of the operation!

For an anesthesiologist, patient informed consent is very important.

Anesthesiologists and the importance of patient-informed consent:

  • Before administering the anesthesia, an anesthetist is supposed to let the patient know and decide the manner in which the anesthetic is to be administered.

  • Patient informed consent is crucial on grounds of ethics as well as patient autonomy.

  • The patient might not remember his/her interaction with the anesthesiologist under the influence of the drug during and after the operation. Given the possibilities, it is mandatory that the one responsible for the patient’s anesthetic care should discuss with the patient beforehand the advantages and disadvantages and the various aspects of the drug administration.

  • In the light of the patient remaining incoherent, or unconscious, the anesthesiologist is meant to discuss the terms and aspects of the anesthetic care with the family member attending to the patient.

  • This principle is supported by most medical and professional organizations such as The American Society of Anesthesiologists, The American Osteopathic College of Anesthesiologists, The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists and the like.

Is there any chance of specialization in this field?

You can either choose to pursue and practice traditional surgical anesthesia, or, you can specialize in pain management where your job is to manage the patient’s pre and post operative pain. While the choice is yours, you need to know what a pain management anesthesiologist is involved in.

Job Profile of a pain management anesthesiologist:

  • Running an office based practice.
  • Administering numerous varieties of injections, pain medications, and pain blocking drugs to manage pain.
  • He usually takes care of a patient recovering from a painful injury or a simple/chronic back or neck pain.
  • He also administers pain medications for migraines and chronic headaches or any form of severe pain.

What are the qualities of a good anesthesiologist?

  • Mindset to prepare for a medical career: if you have a medical career in mind, especially a career in anesthesiology, you need to begin planning early on. You need to pursue your academic courses with the requisites of medical school, or anesthesiology in mind.

  • Will to go through with the medical course: choosing a medical career might seem easy, but pursuing it till the end is a tough job and there are many who leave it for better prospects midway through the journey. Considering the fact that an anesthesiologist’s career requires a full-fledged medical course and a special anesthesiologist course, you must be prepared to go all the way till you emerge successful.

  • Ability to Work hard: Keep in mind that pursuing a medical career is not that easy. There are too many aspects to remember and work on, so you will have to be prepared to work hard. As long as you are a willing hard worker, success as an anesthesiologist is sure to come your way.

  • Skill to develop a rapport with patients: given that you have to work closely with patients, irrespective of whether you are a pain management specialist or a traditional anesthesiologist, you must have an amicable attitude. Being polite and understanding your patient’s needs come first, since their well being during the surgery or treatment depends on your care to a significant degree.

Only if you have all of these qualities are you cut out for a career in medicine and anesthesiology.

Moving on to the educational requirements of becoming an anesthesiologist…

Educational background needed to become an anesthesiologist:

science whizStep#1

GED levels: you need to have the right subject combinations and a decent GED score to be able to enroll in a 4 year undergraduate course. Therefore, you need to pay attention to the science subjects in particular right from your high school days:

  • Biology
  • Physiology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry

What you can do if you aren’t a science whiz?

Not all of us are gifted in the science department. If you are aspiring for a medical career, but are weak in the science stream, you have your work cut out for you.

  • Hire a tutor to brush up your science subjects.
  • Enroll in a Scholastic Assessment test (SAT) prep course and keep your options open by applying and sitting for the SATs.


Undergraduate course:

Enroll in a 4 year undergraduate course for a Bachelor’s degree. This 4 year course is mandatory if you are seeking a career in medicine. While there is no major in specific that you need to pursue, you should ideally focus on:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Neuroscience
  • Nutritional science


Cracking the MCAT: to make your way into the world of medicine it is essential that you crack the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Once you clear this examination, your scores coupled with your personal info determine your entry and acceptance into medical school.

Word of advice that most examinees are given:

  • The MCAT changes periodically to keep up with the times. You are advised to do the same, keep up with the course syllabi.
  • Sit for mock MCATs to attain a good score at the actual MCAT.


Medical school: it is time for 4 years of medical school at the end of which you emerge as a certified doctor.

  • The first 2 years are dedicated to classroom and lab based study of medicinal science.
  • The focus is on pathology, microbiology, physiology and neuroscience.
  • In the last 2 years you continue with classroom education supplemented by hands on training in hospitals and clinics.


Complete the 4 year anesthesiology residency: once you are done with medical school, it is time to move on to the 4 year residency course in anesthesiology. Only after you complete this course will you be eligible to take the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) examination.

  • Residency involves clinical training coupled with field work experience in clinics and hospitals.
  • The National Residency Matching Program finds matches for the residency programs from amidst the graduates.
  • You can also pursue an extra year of fellowship after the 4 year residency program. This is especially for those who wish to specialize further in the field of anesthesiology.

Medical Licensing ExaminationStep#6

Get a license: in order to practice anesthesiology legally, you will have to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This applies to the United States of America in particular.

  • You can also choose to have a board certification for which you need to pass the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) exam.
  • However, you might choose to skip the board certification as it is not mandatory.

Step #7

Get a job: find work in clinics or hospitals. Anesthesiologists can find work in:

  • Outpatient surgical centers
  • Urgent care centers
  • Academic medical centers
  • Military

So what is the total amount of time taken to become a successful anesthesiologist?

  • High school years
  • Graduation 4 years
  • Medical school 4 years
  • Residency program 4 years
  • Additional fellowship 1 year

Plus you might not clear the MCAT at one go…You can do the math.

And in comparison, what are the prospects of earning in this field?

The average income of an anesthesiologist ranges somewhere in the $400000s. And it is even better for those who specialize in pain management!

So even if it requires a lot of hard work, diligence and patience, not to mention time and monetary resources, it does pay off to be an anesthesiologist in the end!

How much does a nurse anesthesiologist earn?

CRNA or Certified registered nurse anesthesiologists provide assistance in millions of surgical procedures per year. Quite understandably, their salaries are among the highest in the nursing field…sometimes even comparable to those of doctors and physicians.

nurse anesthesiologist
Survey Reports

  •  According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ survey of the year 2009, “an average salary of $182,000 per year for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, or CRNAs” was reported. According to the respondents, the lowest paid nurses draw a salary of $150,000 or less per annum while the highest paid nurses earn as much as $218,000 or more.
  • Another survey report published in the year 2009 by the recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins reported that CRNAs are offered an average salary of $189,000 per year. The salary range varies between $125,000 and $250,000 per year.
  •  In the year 2012, staffing firm Locum Tenens reported that CRNAs, on an average, earn a salary of $167,607 per year.

As can be seen, the salary figure is more or less the same in all the surveys. It definitely goes without saying that being a certified nurse anesthesiologist is quite a lucrative job.

However, you must not forget one thing…

There are factors which determine the salary of a nurse anesthesiologist

Experience: with experience, a nurse anesthesiologist is exposed to a larger spectrum of problems and solutions. It helps expand their network of medical contacts, resulting in an increase in the number of potential jobs as well as professional reputation. Thus, it also paves the way for higher salary.

Employer: the type of employer you work for will not only determine your duties and responsibilities as a nurse anesthesiologist…it will also determine your salary. For instance, if your job profile requires you to administer anesthesia during general surgery, you will get a certain salary. This will be somewhat different from what you will get if you administer anesthesia for pain relief.  And if you serve in acute care situations, your salary is most likely to be higher.

Skills: different skills (complexity and usability) prompt different salary structures. Salary of a CRNA who offers obstetrical anesthesia should be way different from that of a CRNA who helps in emergency surgery or who works in pediatrics.

Apart from these factors, a salary comparison will give you a clearer idea. For example;

CRNA vs. RN: the salaries of CRNAs are generally much higher than that of registered nurses. While the average salary of a registered nurse as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $69,000 in the year 2011, it was $113,000 less than the salary figure of a CRNA as quoted by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

CRNA vs. Physician: A 2011 ISSUE OF “Modern Healthcare” reviewed that, “The average incomes reported for family physicians ranged from $162,908 to $221,196, very similar to the range reported for CRNAs in the AANA survey.”

So, as you can see…

Nurse anesthesiologists earn quite a lucrative salary! Apart from the desire to help the sick and needy…the lucrative salary can also be your motivating point.