What Does an Anesthesiologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Anesthesiologist sedating a patient in an operating room.

Steve Debenport / Getty Images  

Anesthesiologists are physicians who administer anesthetics (drugs) that reduce or eliminate sensations of pain before, during, or after surgery or another medical procedure. These practitioners work with other medical doctors, including surgeons, and customize anesthesia according to a patient’s medical history.

In 2021, there were 31,130 anesthesiologists working in the United States in hospitals, outpatient surgical centers, clinics, and physician’s offices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Anesthesiologist Duties & Responsibilities

Anesthesiologists have a specialty in pain management, along with a wide array of responsibilities.

  • Administering pain relief before, during, and after medical procedures
  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs during procedures
  • Supervising anesthesia assistants and certified registered nurse anesthetists
  • Approving general, sedative, regional, or local anesthetics
  • Reviewing medical files and lab results
  • Informing patients of risks associated with anesthesia
  • Complying with medical and hospital procedure policy

A patient may feel discomfort for a period of time after certain procedures have been completed, so the anesthesia should help the patient transition into, though, and out of the procedure with relative ease. This is known as perioperative medicine, the specialty of anesthesiologists.

If you’ve done your job well as an anesthesiologist, the patient will usually have no complications stemming from the anesthesia or pain medication during or after the procedure.

Anesthesiologist Salary

Just like any specialist medical doctor, a high degree of specialty merits significant pay. As such, anesthesiologists make six figures almost immediately. Without qualified anesthesiologists, some of the most vital and urgent medical procedures (such as surgery) cannot be done.

  • Mean Annual Salary: $331,190
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: Anesthesiologists are among the highest-paid physicians, but the BLS does not provide specific data on the top 10% of earners in this field.
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $117,590

Education, Training, & Certification

Like most medical doctors, anesthesiologists must complete undergraduate, graduate, and residency programs before launching their careers. In all, you should plan on at least 15 years of formal training after high school before being able to practice.

  • Education: All anesthesiologists must complete a four-year degree in either pre-med or a science-related field. After completing an undergraduate degree, candidates have to get accepted into medical school and complete either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). If you prefer traditional medicine, you will likely want to pursue an MD. However, if you favor more holistic, alternative medicine, you might prefer a DO program.
  • Certification: All anesthesiologists who have graduated from medical school must pass a USMLE test (United States Medical and Licensing Examination). If you prefer to specialize further into pediatric, obstetric, palliative, or critical care anesthesiology, then further certifications from The American Board of Anesthesiology are required.
  • Training: Anesthesiologists must also complete a four-year residency program before practicing on their own.

Anesthesiologist Skills & Competencies

Like all doctors, anesthesiologists must demonstrate high intelligence and strong technical skills. Here are some of the most important skills that anesthesiologists must have:

  • Critical Thinking: Anesthesiologists must be able to analyze which type of medication is best for the patient based upon their age and medical history. Additionally, particular procedures often require specific anesthetics or variations of an anesthetic type.
  • Attention to Detail: The smallest detail in a patient’s medical history could signal major warning signs that a patient should avoid certain kinds of medication. Anesthesiologists must be able to detect early signs of adverse reactions to medication prior to, during, and after a major medical procedure.
  • Monitoring: As a medical professional, you will be responsible for tracking any changes in vital signs and the patient’s condition during anesthesia.
  • Problem Solving: Should something not go according to plan with your patient, you must be prepared to deal with any crisis that should arise. It is not uncommon for anesthesia to cause unexpected reactions in the patient during the procedure, thereby requiring intervention by the anesthesiologist.
  • Verbal Communication: You would be required to communicate clearly and concisely with both doctors and patients. Most importantly, because there are usually risks associated with certain kinds of medication, it is up to you to make sure that the patient (and their family) fully understands those risks.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of anesthesiologist jobs is expected to decline slightly by 2030. The broader category of physicians and surgeons is expected to increase 3% over the next decade.

Work Environment

Those that work in anesthesiology typically work under the same conditions as physicians and surgeons. A significant difference from other doctors, however, is that anesthesiologists rarely meet with their patients until the day of the procedure. Typically, they would receive their orders prior to the procedure, along with the patient’s medical records and history.

Work Schedule

As with all doctors, your schedule could be highly irregular. Though you may not work as long hours as would a standard doctor or surgeon, due to the general shortage of anesthesiologists in the U.S., you will likely be working full-time hours to keep up with the work.

How to Get the Job

PREPARE FOR A JOB SEARCH: What’s most important is that you complete the rigorous training required of all anesthesiologists. If you have not already graduated from a university undergraduate program, that would be the first step, followed by medical school and residency. As you complete these stages of training, be sure to add them to your curriculum vitae.

GET REFERENCES: Consider approaching your medical school professors and supervising doctors (during residency) for letters of recommendation. You’ll need them for job applications.

APPLY FOR JOBS: You’ll often learn about employment opportunities from your network during medical school and residency. However, locating good anesthesiologist jobs is similar to looking for any other open position through a traditional job board.

Comparing Similar Jobs

There are a number of high-demand jobs closely related to anesthesiology but are less specialized. Here are a few with their median salaries:

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN): $123,780
  • Physician Assistant: $121,530
  • Chiropractor: $75,000