An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in administering anesthesia, the medical treatment that keeps you from feeling pain during procedures or surgery. Anesthesiologists take care of you before, during and after your surgery.
An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who directs your anesthesia care, pain management and critical care before, during and after surgeries and invasive procedures.
Anesthesia is a medical treatment that keeps you from feeling pain during procedures or surgery. The medications anesthesiologists and other healthcare providers use to block pain are called anesthetics.
Different types of anesthesia work in different ways. Some anesthetic medications numb certain parts of your body, while other medications numb your brain to induce sleep for more invasive surgical procedures, like those within your head, chest or abdomen.
If you’re having a relatively simple procedure that covers a very small area of your body, such as a dental filling, the provider performing your procedure will often administer a local anesthetic, which only works to block pain at a certain (local) area of your body.
Yes, a physician anesthesiologist is a doctor, just like your surgeon and primary care provider. They have a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree, and together with their college degree and residency training after medical school, have 12 to 14 years of training in total.
Similar to your primary care doctor, your physician anesthesiologist manages all aspects of your medical care (blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and heart conditions), while administering an anesthetic that makes you or part of your body unaware of pain from the procedure being performed.
Anesthesiologists help to ensure your safety when you’re undergoing surgery or an invasive procedure, making sure your body parts are well padded and protected from injury while you’re unaware of your surroundings.
Anesthesiologists have important responsibilities before, during and after a surgery or procedure:
Anesthesiologists also have an important role in taking care of people who are having minor surgery or who may not need to be unconscious with a general anesthesia, such as people in labor ready to deliver a baby.
They care for people after major surgery in the intensive care unit. They also help people who have serious pain from an injury or chronic pain, such as ongoing back pain, within a pain management team in the hospital or in an office setting.
A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is a registered nurse who has completed an accredited nurse anesthesia training program. Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses (non-physician anesthetists) who specialize in providing anesthesia care in their nursing practice. CRNAs are often supervised by a physician anesthesiologist, similar to how a hospital nurse cares for you on the floor based upon direction from your surgeon or primary care provider.
A certified physician assistant (CAA) is a mid-level provider who works similarly as a CRNA but has a science background or pre-medical type of college degree, rather than a nursing degree from college.
A physician anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specialized in anesthesia training after medical school. Physician anesthesiologists spend four years in general anesthesia training after medical school. But they often train for an additional one to two years to further subspecialize in areas such as pediatrics, cardiac, obstetrics, intensive care or pain management.
Most surgeries and procedures generally require some type of anesthesia and the expertise of an anesthesiologist. The following are the types of anesthesia used by an anesthesiologist:
If you need a local anesthetic for a minor procedure, the healthcare provider performing the procedure will often give it to you.
Common surgeries that require general anesthesia (being unconscious) include:
Common procedures that typically require regional anesthesia (numbing a large area of your body) with a spinal, epidural or regional anesthesia block (of an arm or a leg) include:
Common procedures that typically require IV (intravenous) sedation (medication to make you feel relaxed with varying levels of consciousness) include the following, which may or may not involve a local anesthetic (numbing of the area):
In the days or weeks before your surgery, you’ll meet with your anesthesiologist. During the appointment, your anesthesiologist will make sure you’re fit for surgery.
They’ll ask questions about your:
They’ll perform a physical examination of your:
They’ll also review any blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound tests and electrocardiograms (EKGs) that you’ve had to prepare for the procedure.
Based upon their overall review and assessment, they’ll prescribe your anesthetic plan, such as general, regional block, spinal/epidural or some combination. Don’t be afraid to ask your anesthesiologist questions about what they’re recommending and what to expect.
To become an anesthesiologist, a person must complete all of the following:
After residency, most anesthesiologists take the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) written and oral exam to become board certified.
Like all medical professionals, anesthesiologists need to complete continuing medical education through attending conferences and classes throughout their careers to keep up with advances and technology in their field of medicine. Some may be involved in research to discover new and better techniques that improve how they administer anesthesia.
It generally takes at least 12 years to become an anesthesiologist, which includes pre-med education, medical school and a residency program. Some anesthesiologists pursue a fellowship in a specialty field of anesthesiology, which takes an additional year or two if combined.
Some subspecialties of anesthesiology include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Needing to undergo surgery or an invasive procedure can be stressful. Know that your anesthesiologist has specialized knowledge and skills to make sure you’re safe during your surgery. They’ll create an anesthesia plan developed specifically for you. Don’t be afraid to ask your anesthesiologists questions. They’re available to help you feel more comfortable and confident about your surgery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/21/2022.
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