An anesthesiologist is a physician who provides anesthesia for patients undergoing surgical, obstetric, diagnostic, or therapeutic procedures while monitoring the patient’s condition and supporting vital organ functions. The anesthesiologist also diagnoses and treats acute, chronic, and/or cancer pain as well as provide resuscitation and medical management for patients with critical illnesses and severe injuries.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Four years
Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine dedicated to the relief of pain and periprocedural care of patients before, during and after invasive procedures. It is, quite literally, the physician anesthesiologist’s job to keep patients alive during invasive procedures. By controlling a patient’s level of awareness (hypnosis), response to pain (analgesia), memory (amnesia) and muscle tone (relaxation), the physician anesthesiologist makes a surgical event a “non-event” for the patient while providing an optimal surgical environment for the team.
The role of the physician anesthesiologist has expanded greatly, and now includes caring for patients during recovery, postoperative pain management, providing anesthesia for nonsurgical procedures, providing pain relief during childbirth, critical care medicine, chronic pain management, consulting with other practitioners on managing pain, and much more.
Physician anesthesiologists have also taken leading roles in hospital management as safe, effective and efficient care for surgical patients becomes an important focus at the national level. Physician anesthesiologists developed the perioperative surgical home to improve the delivery of health care during the entire patient surgical/ procedural experience.
Anesthesiology is a young specialty, with its roots in the mid-19th century. Very quickly, however, physician anesthesiologists became recognized as leaders in patient safety. That focus remains the bedrock of the specialty and can be seen in the day-to-day activities of every physician anesthesiologist today.
Anesthesia for surgery is administered primarily in hospitals or medical centers, ambulatory surgical centers or a doctor’s office. Depending on their mode of practice and subspecialty, physician anesthesiologists encounter a wide variety of patient types, with numerous career options in both the academic and private practices.
Those who do not fully understand the role of the physician anesthesiologist might say that there is little, if any, meaningful patient contact, but nothing could be further from the truth. The role of the physician anesthesiologist is perhaps one of the most intense physician–patient relationships in medicine. Many successful physician anesthesiologists mention the often exhilarating and intense patient interactions encountered in anesthesia as a reason for choosing, and staying in, the field.
Charged with protecting patients at a time when they are unable to care for themselves, a physician anesthesiologist’s work is anything but routine. He or she may encounter an emergency cesarean section, a routine tonsillectomy or a car-accident victim all in the same morning. Exceptional technical skills, problem-solving abilities and a cool head under pressure are musts—as is a caring, empathetic demeanor, as “going under” is often cited as patients’ primary fear during medical procedures.
As the role of physician anesthesiologists continues to expand and the need for their services increases, anesthesiologists are experiencing greater variety in employment options and an increase in the complexity of contractual arrangements, billing regulations and clinical guidelines. It behooves today’s physician anesthesiologist to keep current on practice management and professional liability issues.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a physician anesthesiologist in 2013 was $235,070 annually.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists maintains active resident and medical student components.