What Is an Anesthesiologist?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 10, 2023
2 min read

Anesthesiologists are doctors who specialize in giving patients anesthesia, medicine that controls pain and may put you to sleep during surgery, and monitoring people while they are still under the effects of these drugs after surgery. They may also help manage long-term (chronic) pain conditions. 

Anesthesiologists are different from nurse anesthetists and anesthesiology assistants. Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses with a master's degree in nursing and a focus on anesthesiology. Anesthesiology assistants are certified medical professionals with a master's degree and certification in anesthesiology.

Before you have a surgical procedure, anesthesiologists will meet with you or your doctor to come up with a plan for the type of anesthesia you’ll need. They’ll look at your overall health to find the safest medicine for you. 

Types include:

  • General anesthesia. This puts you to sleep for major operations.
  • IV sedation. This keeps you relaxed during a procedure. Your level of consciousness can range from being able to talk to being nearly unconscious. It’s used for less-invasive procedures
  • . This is when an anesthesiologist numbs a large part of your body, like everything from the waist down, while you remain awake. It is often used for childbirth.
  • Local anesthesia. This is usually an injection that numbs a small area. Local anesthesia is often used for minor procedures, like removing a mole.

Monitoring during surgery

Anesthesiologists monitor your condition during surgery. They constantly keep an eye on your:

They also maintain the anesthesia throughout the surgery, managing your level of consciousness and pain.

Managing comfort after surgery

After surgery, anesthesiologists will manage your pain and monitor any side effects as the anesthesia wears off. 

Helping with chronic pain conditions

Anesthesiologists can do extra training to specialize in treating long-term (chronic) and short-term (acute) pain. This specialty is called pain management.

These anesthesiologists prescribe medications, including opioid and non-opioid options. They also recommend and oversee treatments like physical therapy, acupuncture, and nerve blocks.

Anesthesiologists get a 4-year college degree and then go to medical school for 4 years.

Then, they do an internship for a year. Interns are not officially licensed doctors. They rotate between specialties to learn more about them. Interns are sometimes called first-year residents.

After an internship, anesthesiologists do a 3-year residency. Residents are licensed doctors who are supervised by more experienced doctors.

After residency, anesthesiologists can start work or get more training. For example, those who want to specialize in pain management can study for an additional year.

Anesthesiologists can also pursue fellowships to specialize in areas like cardiac anesthesia or obstetric anesthesia. 

You need to see an anesthesiologist only if you plan to have a medical procedure or surgery that will require some type of anesthesia. You may also see an anesthesiologist who specializes in pain management if you have a condition that causes pain.