Knowing that you want to be a doctor is one thing. Knowing what kind of doctor you want to be is another.
With so many areas of medicine to choose from, med students sometimes find it difficult to select a specialty. Some choose their specialty based on their passion for a particular area of medicine, while others base it on the salary they can earn — and some specialties pay significantly more than others.
Anesthesiology is one of them.
If you’re considering specializing in this field, here’s a look into the lifestyle and professional responsibilities of an anesthesiologist.
What Exactly Does an Anesthesiologist Do?
Anesthesiologists play a critical role in a patient’s care team, as their core responsibility is administering anesthesia to patients prior to surgical procedures. But day to day, they do much more than that.
They evaluate patients prior to surgery, before they deliver anesthesia. They monitor patients during procedures, to ensure that the anesthesia dosage is sufficient in managing their pain. They also care for patients after surgery to minimize any residual effects of surgical pain.
Anesthesiologists spend most of their time working directly with patients, but they also perform research, consult with other physicians, and work with administrative teams. If they are board certified in pain management, they can also work with patients outside of surgery to treat chronic and acute pain.
Four Years in Residency Means a Later Career Start
To become a licensed anesthesiologist, you’ll have to obtain your MD degree with a four year medical school program plus an additional four years in residency training.
While some specialties only require a three-year residency program, anesthesiologists must complete an additional year, so most don’t start “working” in their official capacity until they’re at least in their early thirties. This is common amongst physicians that specialize in invasive procedures.
Physicians in all specialties sometimes find it difficult to spend so many years in training while their peers are already well on their way to advancing their careers, starting families, and purchasing homes. If the goal is to become an anesthesiologist, don’t let the timeline hold you back. Your earning potential will be high enough to make up for the lost income in those preliminary years. (More on that in a minute).
Where Do Anesthesiologists Work?
Some anesthesiologists work in outpatient clinics, but the majority work in hospital settings. Their most important duties take place within the operating room, but they also provide critical care in ICUs and patient rooms post-surgery.
If your ideal workplace setting is a small medical practice or an outpatient clinic, you may want to explore the career path of the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist instead.
CRNAs also administer anesthesia and provide vital patient care inside and outside of operating rooms, and they often do so in smaller settings, such as dental practices, respiratory therapy practices, and other outpatient medical offices.
Checkout this article from Physicians Thrive to learn more about the roles of the CRNA vs. anesthesiologist, including the difference in educational requirements, daily duties, and salary.
How Many Hours Do Anesthesiologists Work?
Most anesthesiologists work traditional full-time “doctor” schedules of 40-60 hours per week. However, in an emergency hospital that requires 24/7 staffing, 80-hour weeks are not uncommon. Like many other specialists employed by large hospitals and critical care centers, 24-hour shifts and on-call shifts are typical.
Some take a different approach to employment and opt to work temporary locum tenens positions instead. Locum tenens positions are an excellent option for physicians that want to travel, live in different places, and have weeks of downtime between short-term contracts.
What is the Average Anesthesiologist Salary?
In most employment settings, your salary is tied to your hours worked or WRVUs collected. Consider that, along with your experience level and the state you practice in, and anesthesiology salaries can vary quite a bit.
According to the Medscape Anesthesiologist Compensation Report 2023, the average anesthesiologist salary in the U.S. is $448k per year. They are some of the top income earners in all of medicine, and they also earn some of highest annual incentive bonuses across all specialties.
This salary affords physicians a comfortable lifestyle, as well as incredible opportunities to invest, save for retirement, and provide lifelong financial security for their family.
Anesthesiologists are essential in surgical settings, and most specializing in this field of medicine agree that it is a rewarding career choice. From the higher-than-average salary they earn to the critical care they provide, anesthesiologists can achieve both financial independence and personal success throughout their career.