Anesthesiology is the practice of caring for patients during the time surrounding a surgical procedure. Anesthesiologists work to provide comfort for a patient in various ways; including inducing sleep through anesthesia before surgery, monitoring a patient’s vital signs and health status, and controlling pain afterward. Anesthesiologists also perform procedures such as endotracheal intubation, which places a tube in a patient’s airway; or administering epidural anesthesia that blocks pain by impeding nerve sensation. Doctors and surgeons perform both life-saving and elective procedures, but almost all surgeries warrant the special services of an anesthesiologist.

The use of herbs for pain control dates back centuries as early physicians and practitioners discovered the benefits of certain plants, including cocaine and opium. During the 1840s, a doctor named Crawford Long was using ether as a general anesthetic during surgical procedures. In 1846, a dentist named William Morton placed a patient under anesthesia using ether, and eventually received a patent for the substance as an inhaled form of anesthetic. The use of anesthesia continued to evolve, and other, safer gases replaced ether as an inhaled anesthetic. Today, general anesthesia is administered via mask through gaseous medications, or through an intravenous line. The role of anesthesia has also expanded to include other types of procedures, including positioning patients for surgery, documentation and consulting with patients and other medical providers.

Anesthesiologists require four years of undergraduate college, followed by four years of medical school. Following this time, an anesthesiologist student must practice another four years of internship and residency to practice working with anesthesiologists and applying the methods learned. Specializing in certain areas, such as pediatrics or emergency medicine may require further education. An anesthesiologist must also pass a licensing exam in order to practice.

Some advanced practice nurses specialize in anesthesiology, becoming certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA), which allow them to administer anesthesia. In some practices, a CRNA works under the practice of an anesthesiologist, although in other situations, she may be the sole anesthesia provider. Despite the rigorous training associated with becoming an anesthesiologist, the rewards of helping patients through surgical procedures are great. With many jobs and opportunities for placement available, working as an anesthesiologist offers the chance to develop a satisfying career.

For more information about the roles and profession of anesthesiology, see the following links.

  • American Association of Nurse Anesthetists: An organization specifically targeted for the work of certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). The group offers continuing education for professional development and advocacy opportunities for policy issues for both CRNAs and students.
  • The Anaesthesia Education Website: A site for those studying anesthesiology; includes a networking forum, bulletin board with announcements, and resources for preparing for licensure examinations.
  • The American Society of Anesthesiologists: A professional association that conducts research to improve the work and standards of the practice of anesthesiology. Provides news, education and opportunities for political involvement.
  • The Evolution of Ether: A brief discussion of the development of anesthesiology practices from early ether use to current methods, provided by Massachusetts General Hospital.
  • History of Anesthesia: A comprehensive timeline of methods used to anesthetize patients throughout history.
  • Internet Journal of Airway Management: An online journal publishing current research in the anesthesiologist’s role of endotracheal intubation and airway management during surgical procedures.
  • Locum Tenens: Career information for anesthesiologists; including salary statistics, news, types of jobs and recruiting services.
  • The Society for Education in Anesthesia: An association that provides educational opportunities for students, researchers, instructors and professionals in the field of anesthesiology.
  • Walter Reed Army Medical Center: Basic explanations of the various tasks of the anesthesiologist.
  • Washington University in St. Louis: Information about training for and practicing anesthesiology; including sub-specialties and fellowships, length of training requirements and career competitiveness.