How To Become an Anaesthetist: The Ultimate Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 23 October 2022 | Published 14 July 2021

Updated 23 October 2022

Published 14 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Anaesthetists are specialised physicians who deliver local and general anaesthesia to patients for surgery and other procedures. They have an expert understanding of the health and safety practices surrounding anaesthesia. Learning about the qualifications and steps to achieving this career can help you decide whether this role suits you. In this article, we discuss how to become an anaesthetist, including the skills, education and qualifications required.

How to become an anaesthetist

Here are steps you can take to become an anaesthetist:

1. Receive training

Becoming an anaesthetist takes time and dedication. First, you can complete a degree in medicine. There are 19 medical schools in Australia, each with slightly different entry criteria. In general, there are three requirements for medical school:

  • An Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) of 99 or higher, although this may be lower for some schools.

  • A University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) score

  • An interview or oral assessment conducted by the university

An undergraduate degree in medicine usually takes between four to six years, depending on the institution.

2. Complete an internship

After this, you can complete a year-long internship at a hospital where you can work in several different departments. This is a great way of experiencing different types of medical work. It can also give you the opportunity to network with other medical professionals.

3. Complete a hospital residency

After your internship, you begin a hospital residency. This lasts a minimum of one year; some students remain residents for many years. Completing a residency can give you the opportunity to gain the skills necessary for this career.

4. Participate in a fellowship

Finally, you complete a five-year Fellowship of Australia and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) . Completing a fellowship can allow you to further specialise in a particular area of medicine. It can also help you grow your professional skills.

What is an anaesthetist?

Anaesthetists work with a group of medicines known as anaesthetic agents. Anaesthetic agents block pain sensations for patients undergoing surgery or other procedures. They can temporarily and safely render people unconscious. Anaesthetists carefully assess each patient before administering anaesthetic. They monitor vital signs during the entire procedure and care for the unconscious patient. They are trained to manage complications that may arise during surgery and other procedures.

Many anaesthetists are also specialists in pain management. They perform complex procedures providing pain relief, for example, managing chronic back pain. Anaesthetists are highly skilled in the placement of intravenous and intraarterial lines. They are also experts in resuscitation and fluid management.

What are the key responsibilities of anaesthetists?

There are a few key duties and tasks that anaesthetists do:

  • Assess the general health of patients needing anaesthesia

  • Determine possible risks and plan safe management of their patients

  • Determine the type and volume of anaesthetic agents required

  • Reassure and calm their patients before surgery

  • Continuously monitor their patients during surgery and in the recovery phase

  • Manage pain

  • Manage any complications that may arise

  • Work with the surgical team for a smooth and safe operation

What education and qualifications do anaesthetists need?

Becoming an anaesthetist takes many years of study. The key qualifications required are:

  • An undergraduate degree in medicine

  • An internship

  • A hospital residency

  • An ANZCA fellowship

To gain all the required education and training can take 10 or more years. Entry into ANZCA can be quite competitive, it may take multiple applications to obtain a spot. It is a rigorous training program that requires life-long learning through its different educational programs.

What coursework will be required?

While studying to become an anaesthetist you can complete a lot of coursework. It begins in medical school where you develop broader medical knowledge, which includes:

  • Anatomy and physiology

  • Body function

  • Epidemiology

  • Disease and microbiology

  • Clinical skills

  • Neurology

  • Psychology

  • Pharmacology

  • Obstetrics and gynaecology

  • Paediatrics

  • Geriatrics

  • Community and preventive medicine

  • Surgery

During your practical experience, you get to put all this knowledge to the test. You'll learn valuable on the job training which cannot be taught in a book. Once you reach the final stage, you are required to complete the ANZCA anaesthetist training program. This five-year program consists of introductory training, advanced training, and one year of provisional fellowship training. You can learn about:

  • Chronic and acute pain management

  • Patient preparation

  • Patient monitoring

  • Intro-operative care

  • Post-operative patient evaluation

  • Post-operative pain evaluation and control

  • Pre-existing disease factors in surgical care

  • Advanced resuscitation management

What skills do you need to be an anaesthetist?

There are many skills and attributes you need to possess to become an anaesthetist. These include:

Being alert and attentive

Anaesthetists remain alert throughout the entire surgical procedure. They pay close attention to their patient's vital signs and monitor for any changes. They also pay attention to all the details provided by their patients. This is to ensure all their medical history is accounted for.

Related reading: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

Remaining calm and capable under pressure

Surgical theatres can be high-pressure environments. It is important to remain calm, especially in the case of an emergency. If an emergency occurs and a patient requires resuscitation, for example, an anaesthetist can remain calm. They can also calmly give their team orders and instructions.

Dexterity and physical stamina

The work of an anaesthetist is complicated. They use a lot of medical tools that require expert fine motor skills. If you are an anaesthetist working in an operating theatre you can develop physical fitness and stamina. This is because surgeries can take many hours, requiring you to stand for the duration.

Precision and attention to detail

There is no margin for error when it comes to anaesthetics. Everything is measured and administered precisely. You can pay close attention to factors such as your patient's medical history, weight and height. All these details are important when administering anaesthetic agents.

Being a careful planner

Being an anaesthetist requires a lot of careful planning. When you administer anaesthetic, you can plan and prepare for all outcomes. Sometimes the outcomes can be adverse reactions. To address this challenge, you can know what to do in these situations and have all the correct equipment on hand.

Knowledge of computer software

Anaesthetists use complex technology to monitor their patients. You can be proficient in the use and understanding of technology. You can also maintain this knowledge and training as the technology changes.

Related reading: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Excellent communication

Communication is a huge part of an anaesthetist's role. You can develop the ability to communicate with your patients clearly and calmly. You can also communicate with the entire surgical team, at every step. If you decide to pursue a career in education and training, you can use communication skills to teach your students.

Empathy

Successful anaesthetists are empathetic and personable. This is because they spend a lot of time talking to their patient's pre-and post-surgery. As an anaesthetist, you can reassure your patients, and some may be highly anxious. You can also talk to family members and explain complex procedures in general terms.

Highly organised

Organisational skills are key in the role of an anaesthetist. From pre-patient preparation to post-operative care, each step needs to be recorded. The recorded data then needs logical organising so that other doctors can access and read the information.

Frequently asked questions

We've rounded up some of the most commonly asked questions about anaesthetists and listed them below:

How long does it take to become an anaesthetist?

An undergraduate degree in medicine takes between four and six years. Then there is a one-year minimum requirement for both internship and residency. After which you can specialise in anaesthetics, which takes five years. It usually takes people between 10 and 15 years to complete.

Where do anaesthetists work?

Anaesthetists work in hospitals, day surgeries and learning institutions. Most of their work is done in operating theatres or hospital rooms. These areas have strict hygiene and safety standards. Some anaesthetists work as lecturers at universities or assist in on-the-job training in hospitals. Work hours can be long and irregular, especially as anaesthetists are often on call.

What tools does an anaesthetist use?

Being an anaesthetist means constant training to keep up with all the latest technology. They use complex medical machines that monitor a patient's vital signs. They use specific tools to measure and administer the anaesthetic. They also use other medical tools such as ventilators and intravenous pumps. These tools are quite complicated which is why constant training is required.

What is the average salary of an anaesthetist?

The average annual salary of an anaesthetist is $185,482. This can vary depending on location, skills and experience. The highest-paid anaesthetists are usually based in rural locations.

Is it difficult to become an anaesthetist?

To become an anaesthetist, you can be determined and dedicated. It takes many years of intense and rigorous training that may be difficult at times. It is important to possess the necessary skills to become an anaesthetist. However, working in a rewarding team environment to achieve good outcomes for patients makes it worth it for many practising anaesthetists.

Related reading: How to Balance a Fast-Paced Workplace

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