Medicine is a broad field, and choosing a specialty is one of the most important decisions a medical student makes. Each branch of medicine has advantages and disadvantages, and its relative popularity grows and fades over time. Many medical school graduates favor anesthesiology because it combines professional responsibility, the promise of a more stable home life, and excellent compensation.
Each year surgeons in the United States perform millions of procedures, and most of them require anesthesia. The anesthesiologist is responsible for keeping patients pain-free and stable during the procedure. Patients are unconscious during most procedures, and the anesthesiologist must provide just enough sedation to keep them stable without endangering the function of their heart and lungs. Anesthesiologists are also responsible for airway management during surgery, and sometimes provide patients with breathing assistance during recovery. Some anesthesiologists specialize in pain management, providing care for patients suffering acute or chronic pain in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Each of these roles is highly responsible, and anesthesiologists can take satisfaction in seeing the immediate effects of their work.
For many medical students entering residency, lifestyle factors are part of anesthesiology's appeal. Although some anesthesiologists take turns on call, especially during the early years of their careers, most can look forward to walking away from their job's demands at the end of the shift. This makes it possible to enjoy a more stable home life and a more balanced overall lifestyle. Anesthesiologists wanting to focus on their lives away from work can choose to practice in an environment such as an outpatient clinic, a physician's office or a pain management practice, where their hours will be regular and predictable.
Part of anesthesiology's allure is its earning potential. Even by the standards of other physicians, anesthesiologists are well compensated. A 2012 special issue of "Modern Healthcare" magazine reviewed several major physician salary surveys, reporting average salaries for a number of leading specialties. For anesthesiologists, the lowest average salary reported by any of the surveys was $316,500 and the highest was $471,667. Most fell between $360,000 and $400,000 per year. Those are comparable to the figures for cardiologists or general surgeons, and well above salaries for family physicians, obstetricians, neurologists and most other specialists.
Training in anesthesiology is shorter than for many of the other top-paying specialties, another reason for its popularity. Medical school graduates spend one year in a general internship, then three more in an anesthesiology residency. Other specialties can require three to five years' residency and then another one to four years in specialized fellowships. Demand for anesthesiologists is strong, with shortages in some regions and a large number of current practitioners over the age of 50. A 2011 study by the RAND Corporation predicted a significant shortage of anesthesiologists by the year 2020, based on those and other factors.
- Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: Anesthesiology
- Becker's Hospital Review: 23 Things to Know About Anesthesia and Anesthesia in ASCs
- The DO: Anesthesiology’s Allure: High Pay, Flexibility, Intellectual Stimulation
- RAND Corporation: Research Highlights: Is There a Shortage of Anesthesia Providers in the United States?
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images