Anaesthetists are the largest group of specialist doctors in hospitals and provide wide-ranging support to patients who are undergoing surgical, medical or psychiatric procedures

As an anaesthetist, you'll assess patients' health and discuss which type of anaesthetic is suitable for them, administer appropriate anaesthetics before surgery, monitor their wellbeing during surgery and provide care after medical procedures. You'll also deal with emergencies in theatre.

You'll treat a wide range of conditions using the appropriate form of anaesthetic including general, regional or local. Patients can include babies, pregnant women, the elderly and those undergoing operations.

You'll spend the majority of your time in the operating theatre, although you may also work in other areas of the hospital, including wards.

Responsibilities

As an anaesthetist you'll need to:

  • assess whether a patient is fit enough to undertake an operation before surgery takes place
  • agree on an anaesthetic plan
  • reassure patients about what will happen during and after the operation
  • initiate anaesthesia, providing safe pre-operative care and pain relief to patients using anaesthetics and analgesics
  • continue anaesthesia in the operating theatre
  • monitor patients while they're under anaesthesia to make sure they remain in a stable condition
  • reverse anaesthesia and relieve and manage post-operative pain to support patients' recovery
  • work with a range of other health professionals, such as surgeons, operating department practitioners, theatre nurses, radiographers and radiologists, to ensure patient wellbeing
  • perform administrative tasks in areas which relate to the care of patients, including summaries of patient treatment and the writing of discharge letters
  • attend multidisciplinary team meetings both on and off-site
  • participate in an agreed on-call rota and take on an equal share in providing emergency cover
  • train, teach and supervise more junior staff in both critical care and anaesthesia.

Salary

  • The basic starting salary for anaesthetists in Year 1 of the foundation training programme is £27,146, increasing to £31,422 in Year 2. Doctors in specialist training can earn a basic salary of £37,191 to £47,132.
  • Specialty doctors (formerly called associate specialists) can earn between £39,060 and £72,840.
  • Consultant anaesthetists can earn salaries of £77,913 to £105,042 (after around 19 years in the role).

Allowances are paid for working nights, weekends and being on call. You'll also automatically be enrolled in the NHS pension scheme. Consultants may apply for local and national Clinical Excellence Awards.

Figures relate to the pay and conditions of medical doctors within the NHS, which is the largest employer of anaesthetists in the UK.

Income data from NHS Health Careers - Pay for doctors. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours can be long and, due to the nature of the work, are not always 9am to 5pm. Hours can include evenings and weekends, as well as on-call hours.

Realistically, a typical day can start before 8am and will often involve unsocial hours. However, once established, it's possible to arrange part-time hours or job sharing.

Although no two days are the same, anaesthetists often find a level of routine in their working hours which draws on their many skills and gives them a good level of job satisfaction and work/life balance.

What to expect

  • You'll usually work in a hospital environment - in operating theatres, wards and special units.
  • Jobs in anaesthesia are available at hospitals throughout the UK and in the private health sector. The job can be emotionally and physically demanding as you'll be providing anaesthetics and pain relief to patients of all ages, from babies through to the elderly, sometimes in emergency situations. However, it can also be highly rewarding.
  • An NHS uniform is the norm in surgical theatre in most hospitals.
  • You may need to travel to attend training or meetings. There are opportunities to work abroad for qualified anaesthetists.

Qualifications

To become an anaesthetist, you'll need to start by taking a degree in medicine recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC). This usually takes five to six years to complete, although if you've already got a degree in a subject other than medicine (usually a 2:1 or above in a science-related subject) you can apply for a four-year accelerated graduate entry medicine programme (also known as a graduate entry programme).

Following graduation you'll enter foundation training in UK hospitals, which lasts two years. After the first year of training you'll become a fully-registered medical practitioner. In the second year, you can apply for postgraduate training in anaesthesia.

There are two postgraduate training routes into anaesthesia, which last seven to eight years. Each route starts differently:

  • The direct route is through core training (CT) lasts two years and focuses on anaesthesia and intensive core medicine.
  • The Acute Care Common Stem (ACCS) route generally takes three years to complete. This route involves two years of generic ACCS training and one year of training specifically in anaesthetics.

For both routes, you'll then need to take a further five years of anaesthetic training. During your training, you must also pass the Fellowship of the Royal College of Anaesthetists (FRCA) examination or an equivalent.

By the end of your postgraduate training you'll gain a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) in anaesthesia, which enables you to register on the specialist register in anaesthetics and apply for consultant-level posts. There's also an option to study for a dual CCT in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine. For more information, see the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA): Careers and Training.

Find out more about the qualifications and training required to become a hospital doctor.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • a comprehensive knowledge of anaesthetics and procedures
  • the ability to organise and prioritise your workload
  • strong communication skills, both written and spoken
  • steady hand-eye coordination
  • a knowledge of your clinical and professional strengths and limitations
  • team-working skills
  • the ability to work well under pressure
  • a compassionate attitude towards patients
  • leadership qualities
  • the ability to manage personal stress and fatigue
  • decision-making and problem-solving skills
  • situational awareness.

You'll also need to be professional, flexible and work ethically to a code of conduct.

Work experience

Entry to medical school is competitive and you'll be expected to have done some work experience or a placement in areas relevant to medicine to get a place.

During medical school, it's helpful to get additional work experience in a health environment. Volunteering or work experience as a healthcare assistant, porter or other related role will give you greater insight into healthcare and will show your commitment to medicine as a career. Whilst on medical school placements and your elective, talk to anaesthetists to gain a greater understanding of their role and the part they play in the wider healthcare team.

Contact your local hospitals to try and get some work or shadowing experience. Some NHS Trusts will advertise volunteer opportunities through Do-it.

Medical students are able to join the Association of Anaesthetists at a reduced rate. A number of universities have anaesthesia societies which offer careers events, mentoring schemes and other support for medical students. A list of some of these societies can be found at RCoA - Medical School Anaesthesia Societies.

Employers

The NHS is the largest employer of anaesthetists in the UK. There are also opportunities to work in the private sector and in the armed forces.

Qualified anaesthetists can also work overseas with aid agencies and other medical organisations.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

As a qualified anaesthetist, you'll be expected to continue to learn and develop your skills and knowledge throughout your career. Continuing professional development (CPD) is essential if you want to remain on the GMC register. CPD activities can include attending courses, conferences, meetings and workshops, as well as undertaking research and peer-reviewing journal papers. Resources to help with your CPD are available from RCoA - Continuing Professional Development.

If you wish to integrate more formal teaching into your work, you can study for a qualification in medical education.

Many anaesthetists have an interest in a sub-specialty and will go on to focus on this one area, for example chronic pain management, intensive care medicine or paediatric anaesthesia. You may also specialise in specific sorts of pain, such as childbirth.

Career prospects

Although there can be some competition for entry-level roles, once established your job is relatively secure due to the highly skilled nature of the work and its importance in medical and surgical procedures.

The role can be fulfilling and offer opportunities for growth, specialisation and advancement. In the first five to ten years of your career you can expect to progress in both experience and pay, often leading to consultant-level roles.

As a consultant you'll gradually gain more experience in your clinical duties and take on more responsibilities. You'll have the opportunity to move into managerial roles, such as lead consultant for the team (clinical lead), and could end up leading an entire hospital department. Some anaesthetists go on to have responsibility for intensive care medicine as well as anaesthesia.

Opportunities also exist for teaching and training medical students, doctors in training and students in related professions such as nursing and midwifery, as well as undertaking research. You're encouraged to develop an interest in research and teaching during your training if you're thinking about a career in academia.