To start with, you should know that an anesthesiologist is a physician--a medical specialist who makes all the medical decisions about anesthetizing a patient for surgery and who is responsible for the safety and well-being of the patient. This includes maintaining the patient in a state of controlled unconsciousness (while under general anesthesia), providing pain relief and monitoring the patient's critical life functions (breathing, heart rate and heart rhythm, blood pressure, body temperature) as they are affected throughout surgical, obstetrical or other medical procedures.
Remember, though, that the anesthesiologist's role also extends beyond the operating room. First, the anesthesiologist is responsible for the preoperative ("before surgery") assessment of the patient, making medical judgments about what the best anesthesia plan is for that individual based on his or her current health, what medications they are taking, the type of surgery, etc. The anesthesiologist also is responsible for the well-being of the patient postoperatively ("after surgery") while the person emerges from the effects of the anesthesia. In addition, anesthesiologists use their expertise in intensive care units to help stabilize critically ill or critically injured patients. And they are often involved in the management of acute postoperative pain, chronic pain and cancer pain; in cardiac and respiratory resuscitation; in blood transfusion therapies; and in respiratory therapy.
The medical specialty of anesthesiology involves many aspects of patient care and includes many challenges, diversity, flexibility and rewards. We asked one anesthesiologist mid-career, "What has been most rewarding about your job as an anesthesiologist? He said, "Through the work I do in helping people survive trauma like a car accident or get well from an illness like cancer or a heart attack, I know that I have personally saved 700 people who otherwise would have died. That is incredibly rewarding!"
In answer to the question, "How does someone become an anesthesiologist?"-- here's a summary: In high school, students can prepare for a medical career by concentrating on the advanced science classes such as biology and chemistry. Get involved in many activities and stretch yourself educationally. Consider extra training on computers and in learning a second language, possibly Spanish. Consider volunteering at a hospital where you will be able to see firsthand what it's like to work around health care professionals, helping many people who need their help.
We are also asked from time to time whether there is currently a demand for anesthesiologists and how much an anesthesiologist earns. First, as long as there is a demand for surgery and relief from pain, there will continue to be a need for qualified anesthesiologists because of their unique qualifications and medical expertise. The number of surgeries has been on the rise in recent years, totaling more than 40 million a year, and is almost evenly split between surgeries in hospitals and in outpatient facilities. Regarding how much anesthesiologists earn, our organization does not have that information. We ask our members many things--about how they practice, where they practice, what kind of practice they have--but we don't ask them how much they make.
Some people also want to know what are the fears, stress factors and emotional involvement connected with being an anesthesiologist. Anesthesiologists need to rise early in the morning. During internship and residency, trainees work 12-hour, 12-hour and 24-hour days in cycles. Real-world anesthesiologists probably average 10-12 hour days with night call every four to five days. To be a fine anesthesiologist, one has to be able to remain vigilant for many hours. Yes, it can be stressful, but many jobs have the stress without the rewards. Being a doctor has many rewards. Anesthesiologists have a short-term but intense relationship with their patients: calming them before surgery, getting them through surgery safely and without pain, and making sure they have recovered enough to go home or be admitted to a regular hospital floor. Their "thank-yous" and smiles make it all worthwhile.