An anesthesiologist is a doctor who is largely responsible for the safety and well-being of patients before, during and after surgery. They not only design and implement plans to usher patients safely through surgery, but also monitor your vital signs during surgery, and oversee pain management and ensure your safe recovery after the procedure. However, their crucial role also means that they are well compensated all over the world.
While becoming an anesthesiologist is a lucrative and rewarding career choice, the path to becoming one is long and tremulous. Almost all physicians complete at least 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of medical school, and, optionally, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs. If you have decided that this is the career for you, let’s delve into all the steps you need to climb to become a successful professional.
What Education is Needed for a Career in Anesthesiology?
Physicians who specialize in anesthesiology begin their academic careers with an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university, typically majoring in pre-med or science. To gain admissions into a credible medical school, you will need to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which accesses your problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as your understanding of scientific concepts and principles. With a good MCAT score in hand, you can begin applying to medical schools of your preference.
Once you’ve graduated from your medical school and earned your Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree, you will need to complete a four-year anesthesiology residency program in a hospital or medical practice of your choosing. To apply for a residency program, prospective anesthesiologists need to fill an application that highlights their competitive USMLE or COMLEX scores, their performance during anesthesiology rotations, as well as strong letters of recommendation. On an annual Match Day, you will be matched with a suitable residency program based on your preferences and performances.
At the end of your residency, you can opt for a two-year fellowship program, which allows you to gain specialized training in a specific subspecialty of anesthesiology. Once you are done with residency and fellowship, you need to obtain a medical license to practice medicine. We would also advise you to take the American Board of Anesthesiology exam and get board certified.
However, keep in mind that your education is not complete once you are a licensed professional. All physicians must regularly complete continuing education courses to update their specialized certifications and stay abreast of the developments in their fields.
What Character Traits are Important for an Anesthesiologist?
According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, one of the defining traits of an anesthesiologist is being detail-oriented. You must exercise precision not only in the type and amount of anesthesia medications you administer, but also reviewing a patient’s complete medical history prior to surgery, diligently monitoring the patient throughout the time they are under anesthesia, and strive for perfection to circumvent complications.
However, even the best laid plans can go south, and you may notice something wrong in the patient’s vital signs. This is where anesthesiologists must think on their feet to choose the correct diagnostic and therapeutic moves to save the patient’s life, and remain level-headed and composed.
An Anesthesiologist must also display excellent communication skills as well a knack for listening. Anesthesiologists only get about ten minutes before surgery to interview a patient, perform pertinent examinations, obtain their consent, and win their trust. Most patients are anxious before surgery, and you need to put their worries to rest and manage their emotional needs at this demanding moment.
Last but not the least, administering anesthesia is a highly technical medical procedure, one that needs dexterity and meticulousness. Anesthesia procedures such as placing breathing tubes into windpipes, injecting nerve blocks near peripheral nerves, or injecting spinals and epidurals into the lumbar spine, require advanced fine-motor skills. This is why a viable hand-eye coordination and strong manual dexterity is a perk for aspiring anesthesiologists.
Career Paths and Subspecialties Within Anesthesiology
Pediatrics: Children have differences in anatomy, physiology, pharmacodynamics and behavioral development, which can make it rather challenging for adult anesthesiologists. From prepping a young child for anesthesia, including playing with the child, allaying anxiety and making them comfortable, to exercising precision in medication dosing, the job of a pediatric anesthesiologist is both highly rewarding and needle point technical.
Cardiac Anesthesiology: Many patients with heart diseases have underlying health issues that make managing anesthesia during surgery rather intricate. Cardiac anesthesiologists specialize in the anesthetic management of patients undergoing cardiac surgery, including pathologies, open heart and valve surgeries, heart and lung transplants, and implantation of mechanical assist devices.
Pain medicine: This rapidly evolving and diversifying subspecialty focuses on the diagnosis and management of patients with acute, chronic and cancer-related pain. While most of subspecialities are practiced in the operating rooms, a pain medicine specialist deals with long-term care of patients with chronic illness, usually through continuous epidural analgesia and single-shot and continuous nerve block techniques. This subspecialty gives you the best of both worlds; you get to enjoy the technical aspects of anesthesiology, along with the satisfying patient-physician relationship that fosters as a result of long-term care.
Regional anesthesia: If a patient cannot be given general anesthesia for any reason, regional anesthesia can numb the very area required for the surgery. For instance, epidural anesthesia allows a mother to be awake during the cesarean delivery of her child.
Obstetrics: Obstetrical anesthesiologists play an important role during child birth via cesarean section or labor, offering effective pain relief for the mother while ensuring the safety of the unborn child. These specialists administer local anesthetics or pain medication before the procedure. In addition, these expert specialists are also involved with in-vitro fertilization, anesthesia for cerclage placements, non-obstetric surgery for the pregnant patient, and fetal surgery.