By Jacob Cruz


More than 150 years ago, ether – the first anesthetic – was hailed the “greatest gift ever made to suffering humanity.” Today the drugs are different, but any woman who has experienced the excruciating pain of contractions followed by the amazing relief of an epidural will tell you that anesthesia remains one of the greatest gifts to humanity.

Anesthesiologists are the physicians responsible for administering general or regional anesthesia, which allows surgeons and other physicians to complete invasive procedures with little to no discomfort to the patient. Anesthesiologists also closely monitor a patient’s vital signs and critical life functions before, during and after a surgery – making rapid decisions on limited data when required. To say that the profession is stressful is an understatement.

Anesthesia is often portrayed as going to sleep, but J.P. Abenstein, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and associate professor of Anesthesiology at the Mayo Medical School, explains that general anesthesia is more akin to a powerful drug-induced coma. Anesthesiologists typically administer a combination of intravenous drugs and inhaled gasses to render a patient unconscious and pain-free. For operations on the head, chest or abdomen, anesthesiologists also have to support a patient’s breathing with a breathing tube. So it’s no wonder that Abenstein describes the job like this: “An anesthesiologist keeps a patient alive during an invasive procedure that would otherwise kill them.”

Anesthesiologists may also employ sedation, in which medication is administered intravenously to calm the patient. With regional anesthesia, as opposed to general, anesthesiologists inject medications near a knot of nerves to prevent pain signals from traveling to the brain -- in other words, numb a certain part of the body. Patients who are given regional anesthesia are awake, although they may also be sedated intravenously, which helps them relax, feel drowsy or even sleep, depending on the level of sedation.

Work Conditions

Usually inside,in a clinical environment


From 150,000 to 300,000

60 Hours a week

Educational Background

After completing a four year bachelor's degree, students then take four years of graduate education leading to a degree in medicine (M.D.) or osteopathy (D.O.). After receiving a medical degree, students must complete four more years in an anesthesiology residency. Some residents take one more year of study or fellowship, in a specific area of anesthesiology such as critical care medicine, pain medicine, research or education.

There is one important decision you must make before deciding to become an anesthesiologist: Do you want to become a physician? Medical school is designed to give students the widest range of choices, rotating them through all the different areas of medicine. Some medical students find that they are drawn to anesthesiology because of its intense doctor patient relationships combined with cutting edge technology in a fast paced environment. Anesthesiologists' training overlaps into internal medicine, critical care, obstetrics and pain medicine, while dealing with emergency cases, organ transplants and all types of surgeries.

Career ladder

Anesthetics Resident

Certified Anesthesiologist

Senior Staff Anesthesiologist

Career Outlook

12% from now to 2022

Related jobs

Anesthetic assistant

anesthetic Physician


What Characteristics Are Needed

Good under stress



and surprisingly low hours considering how much money



You could kill someone