You don’t see many newly graduated anesthesiologists with long white beards, although you will see women. Women make up 17 percent of rural and 21 percent of urban anesthesiologists, according to a 2010 report from The Rand Corporation. Most practicing anesthesiologists are in the 40 to 60 age range, according to Rand, and some are still practicing at 71-plus.
The common public perception of physicians is a nose-to-the-grindstone route of high school, college, medical school and residency that takes about 15 years from start to finish. For a variety of reasons, however, people might make an about-face and decide to go to medical school later in life. Students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field can enter a “post-bac” program, according to an April 2012 article in “The New York Times.” Students in post-bac programs take mandatory science courses to meet medical school requirements and can enter medical school after 11 months to two years of study. These students are typically in their late 20s, with a mean entry age of 28, according to the article.
Age Isn't Everything
Age is by no means the most important factor in becoming an anesthesiologist. In one study published in the December 2009 “Medical Teacher,” residents ranged in age from 27 to 49 years of age, with a mean age of 33.7. The purpose of the study was to examine traits that might make a resident more likely to be successful in anesthesiology. The authors found that residents who reported they were able to cooperate with others, accomplish tasks, were conscientious and had a sense of adventure but also looked before they leaped were most likely to be considered successful in their residency programs.
Age and Gender Bias
You might have more trouble getting into an anesthesiology residency if you’re older and female, however, according to an August 2012 article in “Anesthesiology.” The authors studied the characteristics of applicants to anesthesiology residency programs in the United States. Residency programs have a system called a match, in which prospective candidates interview at different programs, and then select their top choices. Residency programs also select their top choices and the two are “matched.” Study authors found female applicants and applicants older than 29 were less likely to make a match, irrespective of exam scores and their choice of medical school.
Go For It
Although medical schools and anesthesiology residency programs don’t have age requirements -- and in fact are legally bound not to discriminate on the basis of age -- becoming a doctor is an expensive, lengthy proposition. Admission is extremely competitive, and the schools want to invest their time in candidates who are more likely to go all the way. You could probably apply for an anesthesia residency at almost any age, and even if you graduate at 50, you might practice for another 20 years. The Center for Health Workforce Studies found 26.9 percent of practicing anesthesiologists in 2010 were 65 or older.
- The Rand Corporation: An Analysis of the Labor Markets for Anesthesiology
- The New York Times: A Second Opinion: The Post-Baccalaureate
- Medical Teacher: Personality Testing May Improve Resident Selection in Anesthesiology Programs
- Anesthesiology: Factors Affecting Admission to Anesthesiology Residency in the United States - Choosing the Future of Our Specialty
- Center for Health Workforce Studies: Analysis of the Survey of Anesthesiologists Age 50 and Older
- American Society of Anesthesiologists: How to Prepare for a Career in Anesthesiology
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