What is an Anesthesiologist?
Table of Contents
- What is an Anesthesiologist?
- What does an Anesthesiologist do?
- How to Become an Anesthesiologist
- What is the workplace of an Anesthesiologist like?
- What does it take to become an Anesthesiologist?
- What is the difference between an Anesthesiologist and a Nurse Anesthetist?
- What are the pros and cons of being an Anesthesiologist?
- What is some good advice for aspiring Anesthesiologists?
- What are the subspecialties of Anesthesiology?
- How long does it take to become an Anesthesiologist?
- Further Reading
- Similar Careers
An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic. Once the patient enters the operating room, an anesthesiologist will be by their side throughout the surgery, making sure they are stable right through to the post-anesthesia care unit. Anesthesiology is a prestigious and lucrative field of medicine, but requires a great deal of education and expertise.
How to Become an Anesthesiologist
What does an Anesthesiologist do?
An anesthesiologist will meet with the patient prior to surgery to make sure they are suitably prepared and medically fit to endure the proposed surgery as well as the related anesthetic. Once they have done this, just before the surgery, the anesthesiologist will administer either a general or local anesthetic to the patient.
During the surgery, the anesthesiologist will monitor the patient's blood pressure, heart rhythm, temperature, level of consciousness, and amount of oxygen in the blood. For a general anesthetic, the anesthesiologist will monitor each breath. This is done by measuring the volume of breath exhaled and the amount of carbon dioxide in each breath. They may also measure the amount of blood the heart is pumping and blood pressure inside the lung vessels.
After putting the patient to sleep, the anesthesiologist will adjust the patient's position if necessary, depending on the surgery being performed. For example, a back operation will require a different position than a stomach operation. Also checking to make sure a patient doesn't have his legs crossed is important, as the patient can potentially sustain nerve damage if the legs are crossed for the duration of a long operation.
Some of the anesthesiologist's duties during surgery include:
- Continuous monitoring of vital signs
- Monitoring of the level and depth of anesthesia
- Making adjustments if necessary
- Recognition of any potentially life threatening emergencies and timely intervention
- Ensuring the safety of the patient and taking appropriate steps to avoid any injuries to the patient’s body during the anesthetic period
Obstetrical anesthesiologists also help with pain management during childbirth. They discuss pain management options with the mother, and administer an epidural anesthetic if the mother decides that she wants it. They watch over the mother and if the labor is long, or the epidural wears off, they provide another dose.
They may also work with patients who need pain management for other issues outside of the operating room and delivery room. They provide after care for patients who have had surgery and still require some sort of pain management. They may also work in emergency rooms, and help with patients who need immediate pain relief or sedation.
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How to Become an Anesthesiologist
In terms of education, the following is the typical path to becoming an anesthesiologist in the United States (please note that each country may vary in their requirements):
Take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). You can prepare for this test by taking practice exams, or enrolling in an MCAT preparatory course. Your scores from this exam plus your transcript will be the basis of your acceptance to medical school.
Medical school will take four years to complete. You will either earn a Doctor of Medicine degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, both of which will qualify you to become an anesthesiologist.
Anesthesiology residency will take four years to complete. Residents will receive clinical training where they will work in a hospital and provide medical care to patients under supervision. After the four years of residency are complete, the resident will be eligible to take the American Board of Anesthesiology examination. Note that many physicians at this point decide to complete an additional one-year fellowship after their four-year residency. This allows them to focus on a specialized field like cardiac or pediatric anesthesiology.
The physician will need to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and/or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) to obtain licensure to practice medicine in the US.
Board certification is optional. Not all anesthesiologists are board-certified, but most (90%) are. Board certification demonstrates a physicians' expertise and commitment to the practice. Completing the anesthesiology board certification exams indicates mastery of anesthesiology, as well as a professional commitment to adhere to the ABPS Medical Code of Ethics.
What is the workplace of an Anesthesiologist like?
Anesthesiologists often work in high stress situations, where a great deal of concentration and alertness is necessary, such as in the operating room. They also work in many outpatient facilities, and they will often have to work with people who are recovering from an operation, or those who need pain management treatment.
The requirements to enter the field of anesthesiology are very specific; only those with certain interests, aptitudes, and personality traits should consider this specialty. Anesthesiology draws medical students who excel in the sciences and pharmacology and who are results-driven individuals. Anesthesiologists must be extremely observant and able to think and act very fast as their patients' lives are hanging in the balance; they must be detail-orientated and be well-prepared should something go wrong.
Anesthesiologists assess patients when they enter the hospital and develop an anesthetic plan. They take care of patients in the operating room as well as during the postoperative period. Individuals considering anesthesiology need to have an aptitude and a passion to care for patients with life-threatening conditions.
An nurse anesthetist is a nurse with extra training (typically two years) in the field of anesthesiology, and has the ability to administer anesthesia. In most surgery centres and hospital settings, they work under the supervision of a board certified anesthesiologist. An anesthesiologist is a physician who has gone through medical school, internship, and then an accredited residency training program in a US hospital.
Also relevant for Nurse Anesthetist
See if anesthesiology can be the right career fit for you. The following are some of the pros and cons in the field of anesthesiology:
- high salary
- job security
- wide variety of patient types
- professional respect
- working with your hands
- instant gratification and feedback in the operating room
- good working schedule
- over ten years of schooling
- getting residency positions can be very competitive
- lack of follow-up and continuity in patient care
- requires high level of responsibility and potential stress
It is good to concentrate on science classes such as biology, chemistry or other advanced sciences in high school. After high school, the student who wants to practice anesthesiology should continue to concentrate on advanced science courses in university such as: anatomy, physiology, organic chemistry, physics and advanced math classes such as calculus.
All medical students applying in anesthesiology must do well on the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination). If your scores are not competitive, you will have an uphill battle to get a residency slot at a top program.
At the very least, individuals should do an anesthesiology rotation at their local institution. Medical students who stand out pay attention to what is going on, anticipate events, know how to be helpful, and get involved with the entire patient care experience. It is not recommended to stand around and give off a bored presence.
Anesthesiology departments receive hundreds of applications each year. Some things that may set you apart from the pack: excellent grades and USMLE scores, a strong dean’s letter and other recommendations, personal experiences, prior careers, other degrees, thought-provoking research, a list of activities, and a unique personal statement.
Anesthesiology, like all medical disciplines, is sufficiently complex that it is divided into several subspecialties. While initially trained in anesthesiology as a whole, as they move through residency training, anesthesiologists choose to specialize in a particular area.
Cardiothoracic Anesthesia - These anesthesiologists employ their advanced training dedicated to cardiac and thoracic anesthesia to make the perioperative period both safe and comfortable for patients
Critical Care Anesthesia - These anesthesiologists see a wide variety of trauma, general surgical, thoracic, neurosurgical, vascular and cardiac surgical patients
Neurosurgical Anesthesia - These anesthesiologists provide anesthesia in the operating room, neuroradiology, and in MRI and CT suites
Obstetric Anesthesia - Obstetric anesthesiologists serve in labor and delivery, ready to assist in the management of pain of labor and delivery, to administer anesthesia for cesarean section, and to manage emergencies that may arise
Orthopedic Anesthesia - These anesthesiologists administer safe anesthesia for a broad array of routine and challenging cases, such as major spine surgery, joint replacement, reconstructive orthopaedic surgery, extremity surgery and surgery for all orthopaedic subspecialty areas
Pain Medicine - Physicians from various specialties (neurology, anesthesiology, physical medicine, psychiatry, spine and neurosurgery, psychology, rheumatology) combine their expertise to manage the treatment of patients unable to a have a normal life because of pain
Pediatric Anesthesia - Children are not small adults and no child is exactly the same. Pediatric anesthesiologists focus on providing an individualized experience for each child, based on his or her needs. After surgery, pediatric anesthesiologists are involved in prescribing pain medication or recommending pain-relieving techniques for each child that is best for providing comfort and rest for optimal recuperation. Pediatric anesthesiologists are also involved in caring for children during radiological imaging or scanning procedures, gastrointestinal procedures, and other non-surgical treatments that require a cooperative and motionless patient.
Hospice and Palliative Medicine - These anesthesiologists specialize in providing care and preventing and relieving the suffering experienced by patients with life-limiting illnesses. They work with an interdisciplinary hospice or palliative care team to maximize quality of life while addressing the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of both patient and family.
It takes approximately 12 to 13 years to become an anesthesiologist. A bachelor's degree takes four years, medical school takes four years, and then another four years are spent as a resident. Some doctors follow their residency with a fellowship (another year) to further train in anesthesiology specialties like pain management, pediatric anesthesiology, or obstetric anesthesiology.
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