How to Prepare for a Career in Anesthesiology - American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)

How to Prepare for a Career in Anesthesiology

High School

High school students can prepare for a medical career by concentrating on advanced science classes such as biology and chemistry. Volunteer or work at a hospital to receive first-hand experience working around healthcare professionals and patients.

Undergraduate Studies
College students interested in a medical career should complete liberal arts requirements but plan a pre-med course of study. Nearly all accredited colleges offer standard pre-med curricula, which include calculus, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology and physics. Academic majors are unrelated to admission to medical school. Students must successfully complete a four year undergraduate college program before entering medical school.

An easy way to determine if you have an interest in medicine and anesthesiology is to read more about it. Most colleges and universities have subscriptions to popular anesthesia journals and texts in their collection. One key book to read is Miller's Anesthesia. The Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology, located at the ASA Headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill., is an extensive source for anesthesia knowledge.

Medical School
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.

There is a wealth of information available from the Association of American Medical Colleges, including a complete listing of medical schools. Students considering enrollment in a medical school are often required to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), as part of their admission process.

Upon completion of medical school, United States students participate in the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), also called "the Match." This is when students who want a particular school are matched with residency programs looking for a particular type of student. ASA has information about previous NRMP results for review. A list of all United States anesthesiology residency programs is available at under members.

The ASA Medical Student Membership offers a glimpse of the profession, even before deciding on an anesthesiology specialty. Contact the ASA Membership Department or a member of the Medical Student Component Governing Council for more information.

Residency Program
After medical school, a physician choosing anesthesiology as his or her specialty completes a year of internship and then three years of residency. Physician training programs in the United States require four years of residency training for board certification eligibility in anesthesiology (usually one year of general medical, pediatric, or surgical training followed by three years of clinical anesthesiology training under the tutelage of experienced anesthesiologists, usually faculty at medical school hospitals.)

After residency, many anesthesiologists complete an additional fellowship year of subspecialty training in areas such as pain management, cardiac anesthesiology, pediatric anesthesiology, neuro-anesthesiology, obstetric anesthesiology or critical care medicine.

Following successful completion of a residency program in anesthesiology, residents are eligible to sit for the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) examination. Almost 75 percent of anesthesiologists are board certified, meaning they have passed the written and oral examinations. All anesthesiologists must be licensed to practice medicine in their state. Additional certification is available from the ABA in critical care and pain management.

Additional information about the ASA Resident Component can be found here.

Anesthesiologist Assistants
All AAs possess a pre-med background, a baccalaureate degree, and also complete a comprehensive didactic and clinical program at the graduate school level. AAs are trained extensively in the delivery and maintenance of quality anesthesia care as well as advanced patient monitoring techniques.

Upon completion of an accredited AA program, a student may become certified by passing the National Commission for Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants examination The examination is administered and scored by the National Board of Medical Examiners as part of services contracted to NCCAA. Performance information for test items and the overall exam are provided by NBME. NCCAA uses this data to set the passing score and provides notification of certification.

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