An anaesthetist is a specialist doctor responsible for the management of patient anaesthesia and pain in medical settings. Their work is vital for the wellbeing, treatment and recovery of patients undergoing medical treatments.
What is an Anaesthetist?
As an anaesthetist, your role largely focuses around surgery. It’s your job to check patient suitability for medical procedures (such as their overall health, mass, and whether they have any underlying conditions), assess the best anaesthetic for procedures, administer anaesthetics and follow up on aftercare. Your work will usually be in the operating theatre, but when involved in aftercare or in maternity care you’ll likely be on ward rounds, too.
Your initial medical degree will give you the key skills you need to start practising as a doctor, which you’ll then build on as you specialise further in anaesthesia in your anaesthetics training.
Responsibilities are fairly standardised across the profession. Your main duties will include:
- Administering anaesthesia to patients during procedures and in childbirth.
- Assessing patient suitability for procedures, for example, if any pre-existing medical conditions might complicate the procedure.
- Contributing to detailed patient records and using these records as part of your treatment plans.
- Monitoring patients during operating procedures to ensure their well-being and assess if any further interventions are required.
- Offering pain management to individuals with long-term health conditions that cause pain.
- Performing resuscitation in intensive care and emergency departments.
- Reversing anaesthesia delivered during procedures.
- Running outpatient pain management clinics.
- Supporting patients in intensive care units, such as those in medically induced comas.
- Supporting women with pain relief during childbirth, such as epidural analgesia.
An anaesthetist salary is standardised within the NHS Agenda for Change pay scale. On completion of your medical degree and in your first two years of practice (also known as foundation years) you’ll earn £29,384 - £34,012. Once you begin specialist training, you’ll be on a salary of £40,257. This can increase as you go up further bands, ranging from £84,559 - £114,003 for an NHS consultant salary. You’ll also receive pay allowances for overtime and on-call work.
Anaesthetists are specialised doctors, so to begin your initial practice, you’ll need to have attained a medical degree. This is a 5-year long course carried out at medical schools - specific departments attached to universities. Medical degrees are highly competitive courses to join. You’ll need to have achieved at least 3 A Levels, usually at A* and A grade. Subjects that are deemed relevant are usually Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics.
Any specific courses you need to have taken will be listed on relevant university department websites. You’ll also need at least 5 GCSEs (usually more) including English, Maths and Science, and evidence of recent work experience in a medical setting. You’ll also need to pass one of the following aptitude tests to be considered for study:
- BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
- Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT)
- University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT)
Some individuals decide to study medicine when they’ve already carried out a degree. If this is you, you could decide to pursue graduate entry onto medicine. This is an accelerated course, and often joined by graduates who have taken medical adjacent or science degrees such as:
You do not necessarily need to have taken a scientific degree to pursue graduate entry medicine, though some medical schools will require this.
Training and development
Training in the medical profession is highly standardised. Your initial medical degree will give you the key skills you need to start practising as a doctor, which you’ll then build on as you specialise further in anaesthesia in your anaesthetics training.
You’ll begin your development after your degree with two years of foundation medicine training. Once you have completed your foundation training you can apply to join the General Medical Council register (GMC) and apply for medical specialisms, such as becoming an anaesthetic consultant. This part of your training can take a minimum of 7 to 8 years if completed full-time. This will take significantly longer if you carry out your specialist training part-time, to have a family for example.
Medicine is an incredibly competitive field to enter at degree level.
Once qualified you’ll continue to take on continuing professional development. The Royal College of Anaesthetists (ROCA) support these efforts with various lifelong learning initiatives. ROCA events also include seminars, webinars and conferences that pass on new research and developments in the field. Other supporting bodies which offer training and conferences include the Association of Anaesthetists, which provides conferences, journals and up to date guidance for practitioners.
Your skills as an anaesthetist combine practical skills with in-depth medical knowledge. These include:
- Robust underlying medical knowledge from your medical degree.
- A detailed understanding of anaesthesia and its relation to medical procedures.
- An awareness of the long-term conditions that could require regular anaesthesia.
- Excellent written and verbal communication - you’ll need to pass on vital information to other doctors within an operating theatre which impacts the wellbeing of your patient.
- Strong hand-eye coordination - you could be administering relief such as epidurals which involve very specific forms of administration.
- Excellent bedside manner - you’ll be supporting patients during a vulnerable time, so you’ll need to confidently reassure them.
- Ability to work well within a team - your collaborative efforts are vital to the wellbeing of patients.
- Strong organisational skills - you may be running large clinics so being able to keep track of staff and patients is vital.
- Ability to work well under pressure - your work could be covering life-threatening emergencies, and you’ll need to administer important medication safely and quickly.
- Ability to keep on top of relevant research which could adjust your practice.
- Teaching skills - you may be responsible for junior doctors who shadow your work and learn from you.
Medicine is an incredibly competitive field to enter at degree level. Prior time shadowing and observing medical practitioners is usually an expectation to enter your course. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to directly access anaesthetists working in operating theatres, but you may be able to observe their work on a ward. Reach out to your local NHS trust to find out if they offer short work placements, but don’t worry if it’s hard to access a hospital environment. You could try shadowing in a GP surgery or even apply for paid support roles in hospitals, such as porters.
As an anaesthetist, your role largely focuses on surgery.
Once you are on your medical degree, it’s worth joining any anaesthesia based medical societies that exist at your university. You may build up connections with other budding anaesthetists, and you’ll be able to learn more about the specialised role this field of medicine has in the care of patients. It’s a great way to show your interest in the field and can help you stand out when you apply for specialist training after your foundation year.
As with many careers in medicine, your career prospects in anaesthesia are excellent. Your career trajectory is clearly set out in terms of training, and once fully qualified, you’ll be at consultant level. You could specialise further in anaesthesia, such as becoming a paediatric anaesthetist. Some doctors then choose to go into private practice for the flexibility and opportunity
Many consultants go on to teach medicine at university level to pass on their enthusiasm and knowledge of the field. You could move towards becoming a principal lecturer full-time or work part-time teaching and part-time in practice. You could also go on to take on your own research in the field, and aim for publication, or work in academic partnerships such as the National Institute for Academic Anaesthesia.
- Anaesthesia — HealthCareers.nhs.uk Retrieved 1st September 2022.