Anesthesiologists are physicians specialized in administering pain relief for medical patients who are undergoing surgery, in intensive care, delivering a baby, or suffering from chronic pain. They're also responsible for monitoring and assessing the patients' vital life signs while administering anesthesia. Becoming an anesthesiologist requires a doctoral degree from an accredited medical school, completing several state-determined years of residency and fellowship, and passing the national medical licensing exam and the board certification exam for anesthesiology. It's a long journey, but the end result could be a rewarding job where helping people is your number one priority.

As the number of surgeries continues to rise, totaling more than 40 million a year, so has the demand for the medical expertise and skills of anesthesiologists.

Katie LoozePublic Relations Associate for the American Society for Anesthesiologists

Getting a Medical License and a Certification in Anesthesiology

The majority of anesthesiologists work in operating rooms during surgeries. When patients "go under" from anesthesia, their lives are in the hands of the surgeons and the anesthesiologists. While the surgeon focuses on the operation, the anesthesiologist is charged with making sure the patient stays alive and pain-free by keeping the patient sedated, monitoring and assessing the patient's vital life functions — heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature — and making any necessary adjustments in anesthesia levels. "Almost 90% of anesthesiologists are board certified, meaning that they've passed the written and oral examinations of the American Board of Anesthesiology, and all anesthesiologists must be licensed to practice medicine in their state," said Katie Looze, a public relations associate for the American Society for Anesthesiologists. "As the number of surgeries continues to rise, totaling more than 40 million a year, so has the demand for the medical expertise and skills of anesthesiologists."

After earning your doctoral degree from an accredited medical school, you must complete a certain number of years of residency, which is essentially paid, on-the-job training under the direction and supervision of licensed medical professionals. This will make you eligible to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The USMLE is sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), which works with each state individually to assess and assist with their specific medical licensure requirements. Passing the USMLE will allow you to practice in your state. The USMLE is subject to federal oversight, but regulated by each individual state's medical board. Therefore, practicing in a different state may involve further examination, depending on the state's requirements.

Since anesthesiology is a specialty, many states also require you to complete a fellowship — specialized, on-the-job training — in the area of anesthesiology. When you complete your fellowship, you will be eligible to take an anesthesiology certification examination from an organization such as The American Board of Anesthesiology or The American Board of Physician Specialties. Upon passing the exam, you'll be licensed and certified to practice anesthesiology in your state.

Maintaining a Medical License and an Anesthesiology Certification

Advances in medical treatment and technology, including anesthesia, are constantly being made, so anesthesiologists must continually learn and improve their skills. In addition, anesthesiologists cannot become complacent in their duties. The risk of messing up as a result of negligence can be fatal, so anesthesiologists must stay sharp. Maintaining licensure and certification tests an anesthesiologist's knowledge and performance to determine if he or she is still capable of practicing anesthesia.

[Online continuing medical education] is convenient, enabling physicians to access activities whenever and wherever it is best for them.

Dr. Murray KopelowChief Executive for the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education

The FSMB also provides the Post-Licensure Assessment System (PLAS), which is "a collaborative initiative of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) to provide services for use by medical licensing authorities in assessing the ongoing competence of licensed or previously licensed physicians," according to the FSMB website. The PLAS consists of a comprehensive exam and an assessment of practical, hands-on competence. The frequency and strictness of this depends on your state's requirements. We recommend that you contact your state's medical board to learn exactly what you need to do to maintain your medical license.

To pass the renewal exam, you will need to have an understanding of current practices, laws, and techniques, which requires you to enroll in continuing education courses. Many medical schools and associations offer continuing education classes online, which will allow you to attend class around your schedule and learn at your own pace. "Online CME [continuing medical education] provides a range of additional options for physicians," said Dr. Murray Kopelow, chief executive for the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. "It is convenient, enabling physicians to access activities whenever and wherever it is best for them."

In addition to making the courses more convenient, online education also increases accessibility. "Online CME can support physician learning by augmenting live activities. Online CME can quickly disseminate information about medical breakthroughs or new guidelines," said Kopelow. "It enables physicians to access information right at the moment when they need it, such as to address a patient care problem. It can be an effective format for simulation and can support the integration of health [information technology]."

The American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) states that anesthesiologists are required to get recertified every ten years, which requires a demonstration of expert knowledge through an examination and expert ability through a four-step performance assessment. The ABA also states that anesthesiology is a career of life-long learning and requires participation in continuing medical education. Much like continuing education for medical licensure, many medical schools and associations offer these courses online, which will make your life-long learning endeavor easier to manage. The ABA provides a list of registered medical continuing education providers. Selecting from this list will ensure that you are taking the approved courses that you need.

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