How to Become an Anesthesiologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Feb 07, 2020

Find out how to become an anesthesiologist. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in anesthesiology.

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  • 0:01 Should I Become an…
  • 1:12 Prepare for Medical School
  • 3:10 Pass Medical School…
  • 4:50 Complete a Residency
  • 5:35 Obtain State Licensing
  • 5:57 Become Board Certified

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Should I Become an Anesthesiologist?

Degree Level M.D.
Degree Field(s) Health sciences or pre-med for bachelor's degree
Licensure/Certification All states require licensure; voluntary board certification
Experience 4 year residency program required
Key Skills Strong communication, leadership, problem-solving, and organizational skills; be detail-oriented, empathetic, and patient; possess dexterity and physical stamina; extensive medical knowledge and be able to use specialized medical equipment and computer software
Mean Annual Salary (2020)* $292,369

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *

Anesthesiologists are physicians who deliver pain-relieving medications during surgical procedures and monitor patients' vital signs. In addition to working with patients in the operating room, anesthesiologists also provide pain relief services to people who suffer from chronic pain, during labor and delivery, and to patients in the intensive care unit. They work closely with surgeons and other physicians to formulate a treatment plan before, during, and after a surgical procedure. Standing for long periods of time during surgeries in a sterile environment is often required.

Anesthesiologists need strong communication, leadership, problem-solving and organizational skills, and they must be both detail-oriented and patient. They also must possess dexterity, empathy, and physical stamina. Additionally, anesthesiologists must have extensive medical knowledge and be able to use specialized medical equipment and computer software. According to, anesthesiologists earn a mean annual salary of $292,369 as of January 2020.

Prepare for Medical School

Before attending medical school to become an anesthesiologist, a student must have a bachelor's degree. This undergraduate degree can be in any discipline but a background in the natural sciences, especially biology, is essential. Strength in chemistry, mathematics, physics and English is also needed. Some schools offer bachelor's degree programs that are specifically designed to prepare students for medical school.

The selection process for medical school is very competitive. Students with exceptional academic performance will likely be the strongest candidates. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), a GPA from 3.5-4.0 is typical of most successful applicants to medical school. Additionally, evidence of interest in service can be helpful when applying to medical school. Gaining clinical or healthcare experience can help students demonstrate their commitment to medicine. Students can consider volunteering in a clinic or hospital in an effort to obtain practical experience. Building a professional network based on these experiences can also be helpful when seeking letters of recommendation.

A passing score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required for medical school admission. The exam is designed to assess candidates' knowledge in a variety of subjects, including physics, biology, organic and general chemistry, general writing skills, problem-solving and critical thinking. In addition to a writing assessment, the MCAT features a multiple-choice exam consisting of 3 sections, which include biological sciences, verbal reasoning and physical sciences.

There are a variety or resources to prepare for the MCAT. The website for the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, offers content outlines for each section covered on the MCAT. Students can also consider using the official guide to the MCAT exam and purchase practice tests offered by the AAMC.

Pass Medical School and the USMLE

After passing the MCAT exam, aspiring anesthesiologists must attend 4 years of medical school. During the first year, medical students can expect to take courses in the basic sciences. The second year of medical school is focused on organ systems.

Clinical training and gaining direct experience in patient care occurs in the third year. Students participate in a variety of clinical rotations and gain experience diagnosing and treating a variety of patients. During the fourth year, medical students will participate in additional clerkship experiences, like ambulatory care, acute care and inpatient care.

Many medical schools offer electives that students can choose to take in their third or fourth year. Medical students preparing for a residency in anesthesia can benefit from this exposure and education because it allows them to work alongside anesthesiologists and educates them about both patient care and invasive techniques.

During medical school, aspiring anesthesiologists should make sure they adequately prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which is taken to obtain medical licensure in the United States. Students can find numerous study materials on the USMLE website, including examination descriptions, sample test materials and information about the test format.

The USMLE consist of three parts and is designed to evaluate a physician's ability to apply the concepts, knowledge and principles that are the foundation of effective and safe patient care. The first 2 steps of the USMLE can be taken during medical school or after graduation, while step 3 must be accomplished after receiving an M.D. degree.

Complete a Residency

After attaining an M.D. degree, anesthesiologists spend an additional 4 years completing a residency program. During the clinical base year, residents complete various hospital rotations. The remaining 3 years are dedicated to clinical anesthesia (CA) training.

The first year of CA training consists of working with faculty preceptors who provide basic instruction on the fundamental principles of anesthesia. During the second CA year, residents will participate in rotations related to anesthesia subspecialties, including cardiac anesthesia, pediatric anesthesia, and regional anesthesia. For the third and final year of CA training, residents can choose from advanced clinical training or clinical research.

Obtain State Licensing

Anesthesiologists must apply for licensing through the medical board in the state where they plan to practice. Graduating from an accredited medical school, completing residence training in anesthesiology and passing practical and written exams is the typical process for obtaining state licensure. Passing the USMLE is also required for national medical licensing.

Become Board Certified

Although achieving board certification is a voluntary process, employers are likely to prefer anesthesiologists who are board certified. The American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) and the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) offer opportunities for anesthesiologists to become board certified. Upon successful completion of an exam, an anesthesiologist can use the title of 'Board Certified Anesthesiologist'. Additional certification options can also be obtained through the ABA in subjects including critical care medicine, pain medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, sleep medicine, and pediatric anesthesiology.

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