Anesthesiology is sometimes thought of as an “easy” type of specialty with low stress, low hours, and high salaries. But is any of that actually true? Just how lifestyle-friendly is an anesthesiology residency position?
That’s what this article hopes to explore!
- If it’s easy
- What you do in an anesthesiology residency
- Lifestyle factors like hours and pay
- How stressful it can be
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.
Is The Anesthesiology Residency Lifestyle Easy?
The lifestyle of an anesthesiology resident, like most other medical residencies, is definitely not easy. Although work-life balance can vary between programs and locations, an average of 50-60 working hours, coupled with intense responsibility and duty, can make it challenging.
Factor in the competitiveness of matching with the high-stakes environment of the job, and it’s very possible there are “better” residency specialties out there that provide a more enjoyable lifestyle.
But of course, this is all subjective!
The Anesthesiology Residency Lifestyle
What do anesthesiology residents do?
An anesthesiologist is a physician that specializes in using anesthesia. These types of doctors help patients manage pain, especially chronic pain, but also help put patients to sleep during operations and take care of their recovery.
Anesthesiology residents are those junior to this position. As well as helping attendants (senior anesthesiologists) with the above job responsibilities, they also help determine dosage values, monitor patients, consult, and present.
Here are just a few of their major responsibilities, listed as per our 5 Best Anesthesiology Residency Programs (Key Info & Data) article:
- Complete rotations in different hospital wards (obstetrics, general surgery, pediatrics, etc.)
- Conduct board review sessions and discuss case studies
- Complete skills workshops and attend faculty lectures
- Take part in simulation sessions and weekly tutorials
Obviously, what’s asked of anesthesiology residents is largely down to their individual residency training programs. For that reason, the residency lifestyle can vary a lot from one anesthesiology training program to another.
One thing is for sure though; becoming an anesthesiology resident is a long road.
First, it starts with four years of college. Second, four years of medical school.
Anesthesiology residency positions themselves are typically 3-4 years in length. Compared to other specialties in medicine, this is an average length of schooling.
Still, the lifestyle is one that requires both a lot of independent studying and practical experience. Beginning as a resident, you’ll still have several years of training, exams, and hard work in front of you before you even begin to reach the top level (and pay level) of the job.
That’s definitely not easy!
Average Anesthesiology Residency Hours
There are horror stories where a resident surgeon has to work 80 hours a week (or more) and can still be on call even once they go home. Comparatively, anesthesiology residents may have it slightly easier, working 60 hours a week or less.
Which is objectively still a lot!
On most programs, work begins around 6 am and goes to midafternoon, finishing around 3 pm. At this point, resident anesthesiologists will usually be relieved by attendings.
Like all medical fields, procedures can run late or emergencies can arise suddenly, forcing doctors to work outside of their normal hours. While this is true for anesthetics, they are maybe not on call that much compared to other medical specialists.
Residents get an average of five or six calls in a four-week block and have two full weekends off every month. This gives them time to attend extra lessons or spend time with their families.
One advantage of the job is that after the surgery is done and the patient wakes up, the anesthesiologist’s role is largely over. After prescribing post-surgery pain medication, it’s typically another medical specialist’s responsibility to check back in with the patient and make sure everything’s on track for recovery.
Anesthesiology Residency Pay and Benefits
Resident anesthesiologists have strong job security and are in constant demand.
Although it may be argued that residency pay doesn’t reflect the length of training/amount of hours sacrificed, compared to most other jobs in the US, anesthesiologist residents are offered a competitive salary and benefits package.
The salary of a resident varies depending on the state and program. Someone training in North Dakota could have a salary of over $200,000 per year, whereas another in Hawaii may only earn $91,000 per year.
The national average for anesthetic residency pay is about $159,644 per year, which translates to $76.75 per hour.
The benefits a resident may receive also vary depending on the place of training. Usually, packages include one (or more) perks like health, dental, vision, disability, and life insurance, several weeks of paid vacation, on-site daycare, and paid housing.
Since residents are also on-the-job-students, they receive educational benefits. Depending on their program/place of employment, they may receive educational aids like:
- Paid days off for exams
- Free textbooks/training software access
- Free tech (iPad, laptop, etc)
- Paid exam license fees
At the risk of sounding sarcastic, another benefit of being an anesthesiologist is that they can also use a chair in the operating theater/clinic.
Unlike most surgeons (or surgical residents) tasked with standing over patients, resident anesthesiologist’s are able to sit, observe, and monitor their patients in a team with others.
If the patient is stable and there are no obvious problems, it’s not unheard of for residents/attendings to read books or catch up on other work while fulfilling their duties.
More on that last benefit here: Shadowing An Anesthesiologist (Ultimate How-To Guide)
Are anesthesiology residents stressed?
All things aside, anesthesiology is a high-stress occupation, and training to become one is no easy ride.
The main responsibility of training is to learn to monitor vital signs, ensure no harm comes to patients, and enable busy surgical teams to complete their work. This level of high-stakes management demands expertise and competency, and any anesthesiology training program will expect this from its residents.
A small mistake in this line of work can be life-threatening. For that reason, this job provides anything but easy opportunities to relax.
The potential stress an error on the job could cause is not like that of your average American job.
Personal liability, as seen in this 2013 case of a 19-year-old NYC-based patient ending up in a permanent vegetative state due to improper anesthesia care, is a very real consequence.
Learning to cope and handle stress, while spending your days practicing on real patients in real situations, is a necessary part of the job.
Some residents find it difficult to escape such pressure even in their time off.
The Lifestyle of a Certified Anesthesiologist
While residency years can be undoubtedly tough, does full anesthesiology certification make things any easier?
Once certified, it’s true some anesthesiologists (like this one profiled here – working 2-3 weeks each month) can live decent lives, working flexible hours while maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
But that’s largely down to the individual.
Still, with an average US national salary of $408,100 per year, anesthesiologists are definitely in a good position financially.
That’s something that could help keep stressed and busy residents motivated at least!
Final Thoughts: Is The Anesthesiology Residency Lifestyle Easy?
Although it’s not without its advantages, the life of an anesthetics resident can seem tough. 3-4 years of intensive training, with a high-level of responsibility and duty of care, don’t make it easy.
Get through the training and become certified, however, and the payoff could make it worth it.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.