Though we refer to them all as "doctors," not all medical professionals are the same. Physicians and general practitioners perform most of the checkups, screening tests and shots that we associate with doctors as a whole, but more specialized doctors like surgeons, cardiologists and anesthesiologists round out the staff of a hospital, offering their expertise and training in appropriate situations.
Anesthesiologists are medical specialists trained to apply various forms of anesthesia to patients, putting them to sleep and numbing them to pain in order for them to undergo surgery, dental work and other medical procedures that would be unbearably painful without an anesthetic. If you want to go into anesthesiology as a career, there are a variety of paths you can take to reach the end goal. While becoming an anesthesiologist takes years of school and training no matter what, your undergraduate studies can vary widely based on your preferences.
Because you cannot earn a bachelor's degree in anesthesiology, students can study various majors to enter the field.
Is There a Specific Anesthesiologist Major?
Whether they work in hospitals, small doctor's offices or at a dental practice, all anesthesiologists are highly trained medical professionals. Entering the field and practicing in a medical setting requires a graduate degree from an accredited medical school in addition to specialized training and the completion of a residency.
In other words, there is no dedicated undergraduate bachelor's degree in anesthesiology. Instead, anesthesiologists begin their training and specialized education in medical school after developing a base of knowledge in their undergraduate classes. This provides flexibility to students aspiring to enter the field, as it allows them to explore a variety of majors and minors during their undergraduate studies as they develop the skills and knowledge they will later use in medical school. Many of these students complete a pre-medical studies major to prepare themselves, but this isn't explicitly necessary.
Pre-Med Majors and Other Programs
A number of colleges and universities offer a pre-medical studies, or pre-med, curriculum designed to prepare undergraduate students for further academic endeavors in medical school. These majors teach a variety of sciences, often paired with higher-level math courses and suggested electives related to the medical fields. Many students believe that only pre-med majors are accepted into medical schools, but this is a misconception. While pre-med programs can be beneficial, and the competitive programs offered by more research-focused schools can provide an edge in the admissions process, medical school admissions boards only require applicants to have earned credits in specific subjects.
If you wish to become an anesthesiologist, completing a major in biology or biochemistry, which focus heavily on the physical processes to which anesthesiology relates, will often be just as useful if not more useful than a pre-med program. However, successful anesthesiologists have also graduated with undergraduate degrees in philosophy and psychology among other subjects.
Students in these nonstandard majors blend scientific study with a knowledge in the liberal arts to take a more socially minded approach that some of the more STEM-focused majors. Students who wish to become anesthesiologists should graduate with credits in both general and organic chemistry, biology and biochemistry, physics and English, with each of the sciences including lab credits. Some medical schools also look for credits in calculus, but most weigh the science topics more heavily in their admissions processes.
MCATs and Medical Schools
Regardless of your undergraduate major, you will need to be admitted to a medical school in order to become an anesthesiologist, which means taking exams. The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a standardized test used by medical schools in the United States and Canada to determine the aptitude of potential students, much like the SAT and ACT used by undergraduate colleges and universities.
The science, math, and English courses you take over the course of your undergraduate studies will help prepare you for the MCAT, which most aspiring medical students take at the end of their junior year. A high score on the exam will help make you a competitive candidate for medical school, and upon entry to an anesthesiology program, your studies will truly begin.
Working off of the concepts learned over the course of your undergraduate studies, your medical school program will teach you the more advanced subjects and provide the specialized training necessary to prepare you for work in a medical setting. You will need to complete a residency program at a hospital as well, working under practiced professionals as you work your way toward your career goal. The process can take up to a decade from the beginning of undergraduate studies to the completion of a residency program, but the respect, sense of satisfaction and high salaries (with starting salaries averaging at over $200,000 annually) that come with the position make it more than worth it for those willing to put in the work.
- Hospital for Special Surgery: What is an Anesthesiologist?
- American Society of Anesthesiologists: Guide to a Career in Anesthesiology
- Capital University: Preparation for Allopathic, Osteopathic and Podiatric Medical School Programs
- Monmouth University: Clinical Laboratory Sciences with a Concentration in Medical Laboratory Science
- Pepperdine University: Mathematics Major and Minor
- Seattle PI Education: Things to Major in to Become an Anesthesiologist
- Study.com: What Should I Major in to Become an Anesthesiologist?
- CollegeBoard BigFuture: Career: Anesthesiologists
- Verywell Health: How to Become an Anesthesiologist
Blake Flournoy is a writer, reporter, and researcher based out of Baltimore, MD. Working independently and alongside professors at Goucher College, they have produced and taught a number of educational programs and workshops for high school and college students in the Baltimore area, finding new ways to connect students to biology, psychology, and statistics. They have never seen Seinfeld and are deathly scared of wasps.