If you want to become an anesthesiologist, you should have started planning and studying yesterday. As with many careers in medicine, competition for jobs in anesthesiology can be fierce, so an early start is an advantage.
To become an anesthesiologist, you start by becoming a doctor. Four years in college on a premed track that includes both liberal arts and calculus, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physiology and physics. Once you’ve swapped your tassel to the other side of your cap, you’ll head off to medical school. Your choices at this point are doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy -- either will get you your medical degree. Thought you were finished? Sorry, Charlene, now you become a resident.
Another four years in an anesthesiology residency is necessary for your career goal. During residency, you’ll spend your time learning all the clinical skills an anesthesiologist needs under the supervision of experienced physicians. You’ll actually get to administer sleepy juice to patients. You might even go on to one or more years in a fellowship to learn more about a specific area in anesthesiology, such as critical care medicine, pain management, cardiac or pediatric anesthesiology. Now you’re finished -- about 12 or 13 years after you started.
Licensure and Certification
There are still a couple more steps, however. You must get a license to practice in your state, and you’ll probably want to become board certified. Once you finish your residency, you’ll be eligible to take the written and oral examinations for the American Board of Anesthesiology examination. Board certification is proof of competence in your specialty, and many anesthesiologists opt to sit for the boards. You will need to renew the certification every five years by taking the test again or completing continuing education courses.
Now that all the schooling is behind you, you’ll settle down to a daily routine. Patient safety is one of the most important goals in your professional life as you administer anesthesia, monitor the patient and counteract any adverse reactions. You’ll use a variety of techniques: inhaled gases, intravenous medications, local anesthesia -- like the novocaine a dentist uses -- spinal and epidural anesthesia. You’ll assess patients before surgery to make sure they don’t have any medical problems you can’t handle, decide when they’re ready to get out of the recovery room and in many cases, manage their pain for the first few postoperative days.
Skills and Salaries
If you can make good decisions quickly with minimal information, even when you’re under pressure, you have a useful skill for anesthesiology. Others are manual dexterity for procedures, mechanical ability -- anesthesiologists use a number of machines in their work -- and good communication skills. Compassion, empathy and a desire to help others are characteristics that can help you be successful in your work. An anesthesiologist also needs to be able to reason logically and use good judgment. Anesthesiologists earned an average annual salary of $234,950 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.