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Medical Education
Medical Student Education

Career Information: Anesthesiology

Specialty: Anesthesiology

Completed by: Mark Rollins, Kristina Sullivan and Manny Pardo

Date completed/updated: completed February 2016

What can students do in the 1st and 2nd years to explore and/or prepare for this career?

  • Shadow an anesthesiologist at UCSF or in private practice. You can spend a day or part of a day with a faculty member in the operating room, preoperative evaluation clinic, pain management unit or critical care unit. This will give you exposure to these unique clinical areas as well as provide an opportunity to interact informally with the faculty. If you are interested in participating, particularly during your free time, please contact Marie Lim to help you coordinate with a faculty.
  • Join the anesthesia interest group, which will keep you up to date on activities and information within the specialty of anesthesia, please email Marie Lim at

What common variations exist in the length/content of residency programs for this career?

Internship can be in medicine, transitional, surgery, pediatrics or OB/GYN, but more programs are integrating the internship into the residency (called “categorical” tracks). After the Intern year, the anesthesia residency is 3 years long. If desired there is fellowship training in a variety of areas that are each one year long and include:

  • ACGME certified subspecialties: pain management, hospice & palliative medicine, critical care medicine, pediatric anesthesia, cardiac anesthesia and obstetric anesthesia. Regional and acute pain medicine will become an ACGME fellowship in the next year.
  • Non-ACGME subspecialties: transplant anesthesia, neuroanesthesia, outpatient clinic management, research, QI and other.

What common variations exist in this career after training?  Private or academic practice.

Varying degrees of subspecialization are common, with more subspecialization in academic settings. Private practice venues include large hospitals, small hospitals, outpatient units, and even office settings.

Practice may include working alone, with residents, CRNAs, anesthesia assistants or a combination of perioperative care extenders.

What is a typical workday for someone in this field?

For the anesthesiologist in private practice, a typical clinical day is 10 to 12 hours long, plus overnight call 2+ nights each month. The average number of hours per week depends on the group and its call structure, but typically 40-60 hours per week including call. In an academic setting (the minority of anesthesiologists), there is great variability depending on additional responsibilities outside the clinical setting. Overall, there is a high degree of satisfaction with anesthesiology as a career choice.

What is the culture of this career?

Patients range from all ages; the OR environment is exciting and fun. Anesthesia is often challenging and always humbling. Many like paying attention to one or two patients at a time. The patient contact can be the most satisfying part of the profession.
Many anesthesiologists work part time approach and the career allows this flexibility. Sometimes anesthesia is labeled as a “lifestyle” specialty. There are aspects of that label which ring true, such as the potential flexibility of scheduling clinical work on a day by day or week by week basis, as opposed to those specialties which require building a practice consistently over the long-term with longitudinal patient care interactions. There are other aspects of anesthesia practice that may not appeal to your lifestyle, such as the requirement for in-house overnight call in most practice settings. In addition, many anesthesia groups try to run their groups “lean,” which means less flexibility in accommodating call or vacation requests. This is extremely dependent on the specific practice, but the groups with the highest compensation rates tend to do the most call and work the most hours in a given area. 

How compatible is this career with raising a family? How is this different for men and women?

Overall, very compatible, but will depend on the specific group practice. Smaller groups tend to have less flexibility. There are some aspects of childcare that can be challenging, such as the need for childcare early in the morning in order to work in the operating room by 7 am. This will depend on your particular family situation as well.

What are the most important qualities or character traits for a person in this field?

Valuable traits include the following: honesty, strong work ethic, leadership abilities, emotional intelligence, empathy, vigilance, ability to think and communicate in fast-paced settings, appropriate humility, attention to detail. 

How competitive are the residency programs in this field?

Over the years, residency in anesthesia has waxed and waned in competitiveness and desirability. Currently, anesthesiology is considered quite competitive. An average resident applicant from a US allopathic medical school applies to 18 programs.

What programs have been popular among UCSF applicants, or how should applicants go about considering programs?

UCSF medical students are considered strong candidates for many excellent programs, including: UCSF, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, MGH, Johns Hopkins, U of WA, Stanford, Columbia, UCLA, UCSD, Duke, Oregon, Wash U and others. Career goals, philosophy of training program, structure and location are often considered more important to many applicants than the so-called “tier” of the program.

What resources (e.g., websites, books, professional groups) would you recommend for students interested in learning more about this field?

The UCSF Anesthesia Interest Group is the best resource for UCSF students because the advice and information is tailored to UCSF students. Other sources include the ASA medical student section, the Society for Education in Anesthesia and the ACGME.

How important is each the following for admission to a competitive program?

  Not important Somewhat important Very important
Extra-curricular leadership efforts     X
Research/publications   X  
Honors in third year     X
AOA   X  
A sub-internship X    
An externship X    
Board scores   X  
Top tier medical school   X