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How to Become an Anesthesiologist

November 4, 2022
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Steps to Becoming an AnesthesiologistHow Hard Is It to Become an Anesthesiologist?How Long Does It Take to Become an Anesthesiologist?Job Outlook for AnesthesiologistsThings to Consider Before Starting the ProcessFAQs: Becoming an Anesthesiologist


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 6/3/22

How does one become an anesthesiologist in the first place? Is it harder than other specialties? Read on below to learn more about how to become an anesthesiologist. 

A recent study revealed how anesthesiologists rose under the shadow of the pandemic. Anesthesiologists, who are used to working with patients requiring ventilators, have been so central in handling the pandemic that “even freshly passed anesthesia residents are coveted, which only accentuates the importance of the specialty.”

Pre-med and medical school students may wonder if anesthesia is right for them. We’ll cover the key info about anesthesiology and how you can follow this career path with our step-by-step guide.  

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Steps to Becoming an Anesthesiologist

To become a successful anesthesiologist, students should expect eight different steps: 

  1. Get a Bachelor's degree
  2. Study and pass the MCAT
  3. Graduate from medical school
  4. Take and pass the USMLE
  5. Complete a residency program
  6. Become state licensed
  7. Consider a fellowship (optional)
  8. Get board certified (optional) 

Let’s dive into the necessary steps to become an anesthesiologist.

1. Get a Bachelor's Degree

There are no specific undergraduate programs aspiring anesthesiologists must enroll in. As long as they meet course requirements for medical school and pass the MCAT with high grades, they can choose any bachelor’s degree.

However, some undergraduate majors are particularly helpful for students interested in becoming anesthesiologists: 

However, you should pick whichever major interests you most. You can supplement your major with minors and electives to meet medical school requirements. 

With a tailored undergraduate background, you can demonstrate the unique perspective you bring to anesthesiology.

2. Study and Pass the MCAT

Most students study for the MCAT about three to six months before taking the exam, depending on their study schedule. It’s not necessary to go from college straight to medical school. 

More than half of the matriculated medical students interviewed by the AAMC took a gap year. Many students use this time to study for the MCAT or improve their scores. It’s crucial to develop an excellent MCAT study plan to succeed. Many students may find seeking an MCAT tutor’s help worth it! 

3. Graduate from Medical School

Medical school prepares students for the healthcare field with a broad curriculum. You’ll explore different specialties throughout your four years at med school. 

It’s best to keep an open mind as you go through med school. Your first two years are a good time to network with medical professionals, faculty members, and other professionals. 

You can apply for relevant elective rotations once you’re confident the anesthesiologist career path is right for you. These take place at an affiliated hospital or elsewhere. For example, Johns Hopkins University offers an Anesthesia Clerkship for Medical Students open to visiting students, pairing them with a senior anesthesia resident. 

picture of a John Hopkins Medicine building

Source: John Hopkins Medicine

Similarly, Weill Cornell Medicine offers a Clinical Anesthesiology Elective, open to candidates from around the world. The program “welcomes fourth-year medical students for a dynamic and educational month-long experience” and exposes them to “the full breadth of anesthesiology practice.”

4. Take and Pass the USMLE

Medical students should also prepare to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) within the next four to five years. Here is a recommended timeline medical students can work with:

Table outlining the steps for medical students taking the USMLE

5. Complete a Residency Program

Once you match, you can finally work up close with anesthesiology. In the early stages, residents can do simulation-based training. 

For example, at the UCLA Simulation Center, “residents benefit from simulator experience at least four times during their first month of training in anesthesiology, and multiple times throughout their residency for practice in handling critical incident scenarios.”

Later on, residents are exposed to the perioperative phases of surgery. According to Yale University’s calculations, each resident in their anesthesiology program “will be involved in approximately 400-500 anesthetics per year.”

Picture of a Yale Residency building.

Source: Yale News

You’ll complete your residency program under a doctor’s supervision. Your residency will give you the tools you need to become a fully-fledged anesthesiologist. 

6. Become State Licensed

To practice medicine in the U.S., anesthesiologists must receive a medical license from the state they wish to work in. Requirements can vary by state.

For example, to receive a California license, candidates can complete an online application to provide a full record of their medical education.

7. Consider a Fellowship

While not a mandatory anesthesiology education requirement, the American Society of Anesthesiologists strongly recommends residents pursue a fellowship after residency.

A fellowship is a great way to “get a foot in the door in a competitive job market, and serves as a springboard for those seeking an academic career.” It also boosts the curriculum vitae of anesthesiologists, making them attractive job candidates.

Fellows have the chance to choose among various anesthesiology subspecialties. Some specialties include

Your choice of fellowship is important and helps you further specialize in your interest areas. 

Universities and hospitals seek anesthesiologists who think long-term. Anesthesia is dependent on new technologies. Anesthesiologists with impressive fellowships and research output can understand and foresee shifts in trends within their specialty.

8. Get Board Certified

Another optional step an anesthesiologist can take to further their career is getting board certified.

The American Board of Anesthesiology clarified the appeal of certification: “Physicians, healthcare institutions, insurers and quality organizations look for board certification as a measure of a physician’s ability to provide quality healthcare within a given specialty.”

Initial certification requires you to sit for three exams. After completing a subspecialty fellowship, you can sit for a final computerized exam and receive full certification.

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How Hard Is It to Become an Anesthesiologist?

According to Main Residency Match statistics, 2706 candidates competed for the 1460 available positions in anesthesiology residency programs (PGY-1 entry). Data from other specialties can show you how hard it is to become an anesthesiologist in comparison: 

Table comparing how hard it is to become an anesthesiologist with other specialties.
Source: National Residency Match Program 

While dermatology and neurology are more competitive than anesthesiology, the other specialties on this list are less competitive. 

A reassuring study for anesthesiologists states that fellowships in anesthesiology were less competitive than other subspecialties, such as gynecologic oncology, reproductive endocrinology, and pediatric or hand surgery.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Anesthesiologist?

Like typical medical careers, it takes between 12 to 14 years to become an anesthesiologist. Becoming a radiologist requires an additional year, whereas a career in neurosurgery needs three more.

Therefore, future anesthesiologists have a fairly standard career route: 

However, how long it takes to be an anesthesiologist depends on whether or not you pursue a fellowship to subspecialize. 

Job Outlook for Anesthesiologists 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for anesthesiologists is $331,190. However, the annual wage you can expect to earn can be higher or lower depending on where you work. 

For example, anesthesiologists working in physician offices make $349,590 on average annually, while those working in outpatient care centers make $ 247,550. 

There are 31,130 currently working in the U.S. Between 2020 and 2030, the employment growth for anesthesiologists is estimated to decline by 0.5%. However, a decline this slight is not too concerning.

Things to Consider Before Starting the Process

How can you be sure that anesthesiology is right for you? 

Before starting the process, it’s recommended to consult with residency programs in anesthesiology. The med school curriculum is too broad to understand the specifics. Evaluating residency programs can offer a glimpse into life as an anesthesiologist.

Pay attention to the type of rotations involved and ask yourself if it’s something you see yourself doing. For example, here is a table with subspecialty rotations within the anesthesiology residency program at Yale-New Haven Hospital:

Table with subspecialty rotations within the anesthesiology residency program at Yale-New Haven Hospital

Notice the diversity offered within the residency program. However, don’t let the idea of specialization intimate you. Medicine remains an interdisciplinary effort, and anesthesiology leaves room for professionals to develop other interests.

As the Department of Anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins University puts it: “Whatever interests you within the field of medicine, there is a way to incorporate it within a career in anesthesiology.”

FAQs: Becoming An Anesthesiologist

Still have questions about how to become an anesthesiologist? We’re here for you. 

1. Is It Hard to Become an Anesthesiologist? 

The process is long, residencies can be somewhat competitive, and you’ll need to gain extensive skills and knowledge to succeed. All things considered, becoming an anesthesiologist can be considered difficult, although certainly doable! 

2. How Long Is an Anesthesiology Residency Program? 

Anesthesiology residency programs are typically four years long. 

3. Is Becoming an Anesthesiologist Worth It? 

If you’re passionate about anesthesiology, pursuing this profession is worth it. If you’ve considered how long you’ll spend in school for anesthesiology, the cost, and other factors and still want to become an anesthesiologist, you should go for it!

4. How Much Do Anesthesiologists Make?

According to the BLS, the average anesthesiologist’s salary is $331,190

5. Are Anesthesiologists Doctors? 

Yes: the educational requirements to become an anesthesiologist include attending medical school and obtaining an MD or DO. 

Final Thoughts 

Anesthesiology is an exciting field, both clinically and academically. Becoming an anesthesiologist is a long process, but it’s worth it if you’re passionate about the specialty. 

If your dream is to work in anesthesia, book a free consultation with Inspira Advantage to discuss how we can help you achieve your goals!

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