Why People in Anesthesiology Can Breathe Easy

An estimated 40 million anesthetics are administered each year in the U.S., according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists. It's no surprise that those involved in the field are in hot demand.

For qualified professionals in anesthesiology, finding a great job is practically...painless.

Anesthesia is freedom from pain. Anesthesiologists manage the pain of patients before, during and after surgery. They could work at hospitals, doctors' offices or dental clinics.

Anesthesiologists provide or participate in more than 90 percent of all anesthetic procedures, says the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).

Anesthesiologists are doctors. In the U.S., they complete a four-year degree program and four years of medical school. Then they enter a four-year anesthesiology residence program. That's according to the ASA.

Opportunities are looking great for all anesthesiologists.

"An attractive feature of being an anesthesiologist is that we are very heavily recruited," says Craig Baldry.

"The employment outlook for anesthesiologists...is excellent. Most hospitals would welcome a new anesthesiologist into any variety of different anesthesia practices. Probably the most in demand are specialists in pediatrics and chronic pain."

The Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society (CAS) says that during their residency, anesthesiologists are extensively trained in human physiology (how the body works). They pay particular attention to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. They become experts on the drugs that are used in anesthesia and intensive care medicine.

Anesthesiologists give more intravenous drugs than all other types of doctors combined. They are the only doctors with expert knowledge of the extremely powerful drugs used to anesthetize people. That's according to the CAS.

R. Lawrence Sullivan Jr. is an anesthesiologist and the chair of the communications committee of the ASA. "There are many excellent 'practice' opportunities for physicians who have completed four years of post-medical school residency in anesthesiology," he says.

"There are numerous practice opportunities in every situation, including private practice, military, county hospitals and especially in academic institutions. The reason is that there is an increased demand for anesthesiologists to attend patients in traditional hospital and ambulatory settings, as well as during many diagnostic procedures."

According to Sullivan, the most popular subspecialty is pain management. Others include critical care, obstetrics and cardiac and pediatric anesthesiology.

Keith Ruskin is an associate professor of anesthesiology at Yale University's medical school. "What draws medical students into anesthesiology are interests in physiology, the study of how the body works; pharmacology, how drugs work in the body; and technology."

The money's not bad, either. They are some of the highest paid doctors around.

According to the ASA, anesthesiologists are considered perioperative (all-around) physicians. They evaluate the patient before surgery and consult with the surgical team. They provide pain control during surgery. They also supervise care after surgery and discharge the patient from the recovery unit.

Sullivan is positive. "The need for physicians with these skills will not go away. It will only grow."

Other career opportunities in anesthesiology are growing as well.

Nurses administering anesthetics is nothing new. In fact, nurses were the first professional group to provide anesthesia services in the U.S., according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). After its start in the late 1800s, nurse anesthesia has since become recognized as the first clinical nursing specialty.

"Certified registered nurse anesthetists [CRNAs] are being actively recruited, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists manpower survey," says Sandra Tunajek. She works for the AANA.

This survey says the increased demand for CRNAs is due to a number of reasons. Nurses are retiring. There are more operating rooms than in the past. Caseloads have increased and anesthesia services have expanded.

"Currently, CRNAs are heavily involved in obstetrical services," says Tunajek. "They provide spinal taps, epidurals, and participate in 73 percent of all C-sections performed annually. Additionally, the overall shortage of nurse and physician providers make a career as a nurse anesthetist rewarding both personally and professionally."

Plus, they are the highest paid advance practice nurses. According to Tunajek, CRNAs average between $86,000 and $90,000. They also practice in every setting where anesthesia is administered.

The creation of brand new jobs is certainly a sign of unprecedented growth. This is the case with anesthesiologist assistants.

Anesthesiologist assistants (AAs) work under the direction of an anesthesiologist to accomplish the anesthesia care plan.

AAs are trained in a professional graduate-level program.

"It is a young and growing profession with excellent support from anesthesiologists," says Sherri L. Oken. She is a representative for the American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants.

Another career, still in the beginning stages of formal schooling, is that of anesthesia technicians. They prepare patients for procedures and take care of the equipment used.

"The vast majority of technicians in the country have been trained on the job because, up until a few years ago, there were no schools," says Gail Walker. She is president of the American Society of Anesthesia Technologists and Technicians (ASATT).

"The ASATT is hoping to become proactive in helping to establish more formal programs in the country."

"The job outlook for anesthesia technology is very bright," says Walker. And with the current demand for anesthetic services, anyone interested in getting into the field can breathe easy.


American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
Learn more about a career as a nurse anesthetist

American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants
Information on education and accreditation

Master of Science in Anesthesia
Check out the program for anesthesiologist assistants

American Society of Anesthesia Technologists and Technicians
Gives some background

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