Playing an essential role in the operating room, an anesthesiologist does much more than administer the drugs that send you into a slumber before undergoing a surgical procedure. As a highly trained physician who specializes in the field, an anesthesiologist should not be confused with an anesthesia practitioner, who does not possess the same number of years and depth in training, knowledge and authority as someone with a medical school degree.
What is an Anesthesiologist?
An anesthesiologist is a doctor who is largely responsible for the safety and well-being of patients before, during and after surgery. These physicians are trained on how to properly administer anesthesia to a patient – the medicine primarily used to control pain during a surgery and other medical procedures. Not only does anesthesia block pain, but it also causes relaxation, and helps control a patient's breathing, blood pressure and heart rate.
To ensure the safety of a patient, an anesthesiologist is trained to monitor the use and effects of anesthesia on a case-by-case basis, and also takes into account a patient's past and present medical history. In the operating room, they make the kinds of decisions that protect and regulate the essential life functions of a patient. When any medical issues develop during surgery or recovery, an anesthesiologist is generally the first physician to identify and treat the problem.
Anesthesiologists are primarily trained to:
Anesthesiologists administer anesthesia in the following three ways:
Anesthesiologists pay attention to the medical condition of their patients after administering anesthesia. During surgery, they monitor a number of vital signs – from body temperature to heart rate and rhythm. Throughout a procedure, an anesthesiologist will adjust anesthetics to meet the progress and changes of a patient's physical state. Anesthesiologists also return a patient to a conscious state when necessary, continue to monitor vital signs, and oversee any pain management. A patient does not leave the recovery room until an anesthesiologist gives the OK.
A doctorate degree is the entry-level educational requirement for an anesthesiologist.
Step by Step Educational Path of an Anesthesiologist
Upon completion of an anesthesiology residency, a doctor then becomes eligible to sit for the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) exam. Although this step is optional, nearly 90 percent of anesthesiologists are board-certified says Jason Begalke, D.O. in What Does an Anesthesiologist Do?.
Anesthesiologists find employment in work environments where surgical procedures and the need for patients to receive pain relief take place, such as hospitals, outpatient medical facilities, academic medical centers, private and group practices, urgent care centers, and the military. Some anesthesiologists hold positions directly in the emergency room of a hospital, where they provide immediate care to individuals with traumatic injuries, chemical burns, and other serious health issues. Anesthesiologists are also hired to work in dentist offices, where surgical procedures (such as wisdom teeth extractions) are performed.
Employers hiring anesthesiologists typically seek the following qualities in a job candidate:
In addition to doing well in medical school and fulfilling all requirements to become a physician that specializes in anesthesiology, there are a few things that a job candidate can do to enhance their appeal to potential employers, such as:
Among all other physicians, anesthesiologists rank sixth in earnings for 2013 with an average income of $338,000, according to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report (2014). Those who were surveyed by Medscape also reported to have earned the same median salary as indicated in the previous year's report.
A few factors that play an important role in assessing the average salary earned by an anesthesiologist include geography, the number of years worked, and their place of employment. For instance, anesthesiologists residing in the South Central and North Central regions of the United States earned the most in 2013 – between $353,000 and $365,000. Those who lived in the Northwest were paid the lowest salaries in the U.S. during this same time period, taking home an average income of $296,000.
An anesthesiologist's work environment and/or employer also influences the amount of money made in a year. Healthcare organizations paid the highest salaries to those specializing in anesthesiology with $360,000, followed by hospitals ($348,000).
Other work environments and average yearly salary figures for anesthesiologists to consider:
The number of job prospects for anesthesiologists is rising at a faster than average pace than all other occupations in the United States. Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites the employment of physicians is projected to grow 18 percent from 2012 to 2022.
Continued development and expansion of healthcare-related industries are some of the primary forces behind the anticipated job growth for anesthesiologists. Other factors that play a role in the promising job outlook for the anesthesiology field include population growth; technological advances; the retirement of older specialists who are leaving behind vacancies; and the increased need to hire more qualified physicians who possess a particular subspecialty.
Starting a Private Practice
The prospect of becoming self-employed and owning a private practice is attractive for many anesthesiologists who wish to enjoy more freedom and flexibility within their career. Before moving forward with establishing a medical business, it is important to weigh the pros and cons.
In addition to the advantage of having more control over job duties and work conditions, a self-employed anesthesiologist also has the potential to earn a higher yearly income. According to Medscape, anesthesiologists in business for themselves earned more ($375,000) in 2013 than those employed in a salaried position ($307,000).
Although they do not get the benefit of paid off-time like salaried employees, the flexibility that self-employed physicians do enjoy also extends to how and when they can spend their free time. For instance, they set how much vacation time they take, and do not have to gain permission from or alert an employer when they choose to take time off.
Additionally, anesthesiologists in private practice do not face some of the demands or expectations that some employers place on their staff, such as teaching fellow medical staff or publishing a scholarly article.
However, an important part of becoming a self-employed anesthesiology is to understand all of the responsibilities that come with managing a business, such as securing adequate office space and purchasing the appropriate office equipment and software.
A few other factors to consider before starting a private practice as an anesthesiologist include start-up costs, increased paperwork, dealing with insurance companies, and the elevated time commitment.
"I was in private practice for 18 years (because of a good opportunity that came my way)," said William Baker, MD, in an interview featured on The Student Doctor Network.
"In private practice you put in more hours but are also paid more," said Baker, who later became a faculty member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). "Now I am happy to work less and take home less."
As an employer of UAB, Baker worked around 45 hours per week; a much less demanding week than the up to 80 hours he said he often worked while in private practice.
One of the reasons anesthesiologists tend to put in long hours is because their income is directly connected to the number of cases they handle, which is an incentive to take on extra cases.
Another aspect to recognize when owning a private practice is the type of insurance that a patient possesses. To earn the most as a self-employed anesthesiologist, keeping the percentage of Medicare and Medicaid work to a minimum is a desirable career move.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is a good resource for an aspiring medical entrepreneur, and as a member, physicians looking to start and manage their own practice can gain valuable insight and assistance. The ASA provides resources, such as their Manual for Anesthesia Department Organization and Management (MADOM); a member discount on essential coding resources; and access to their Certificate in Business Administration program.
Anesthesiologists are in high demand, as they play a significant role in a patient's care as it relates to surgical procedures and cases involving pain management. Although a career in anesthesiology requires the completion of up to 13 years of post-secondary education, the field offers a wide-range of rewarding opportunities and fulfilling employment prospects for both salaried and self-employed anesthesiologists.