The Job and What's Involved

Anaesthetists are specialist doctors who prevent patients from feeling pain while undergoing surgery and other medical procedures. Their major role is in providing anaesthesia during surgery, but they are increasingly involved in other aspects of pain management. Examples include working with people who are recovering from surgery, giving birth or suffering from conditions that cause long-term pain, such as cancer. They may:

  • Prepare patients for surgery. They talk to patients and assess them to decide on the most appropriate form of anaesthesia.
  • Administer general anaesthesia, which makes patients become unconscious. They observe patients during operations, monitor their progress and respond to any changes. They then bring patients to full consciousness after the procedure, and make sure that they have appropriate pain-relief medication and fluid replacement as they recover.
  • Monitor patients in intensive care and help to revive patients.
  • Administer local anaesthesia, which makes specific parts of the body feel numb. An example is when relieving pain in childbirth.
  • Prescribe sedation for patients who are about to undergo certain procedures, such as radiology.
  • Train other healthcare professionals, including medical students, junior doctors and nurses.

Anaesthetists may work shifts to provide 24-hour care, seven days a week. They work in hospitals - in operating theatres, intensive care units, recovery units, wards and accident and emergency units.

Anaesthetists in speciality training earn between £28,976 and £45,562 a year. This may be increased by "banding supplements". Salaries for consultant anaesthetists start at £73,403, while the most senior consultants can earn over £173,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Anaesthetists are the single largest group of hospital doctors. There are just under 5,000 consultant anaesthetists in England.

Most work in the NHS, but there are also opportunities in private medicine and the armed forces. Competition for positions is intense.

Education and Training

To become an anaesthetist, it is first necessary to study for a degree in medicine. Medical degrees normally take five years, although there are some four-year and six-year courses.

All entrants to medical training need to take an undergraduate course leading to a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, usually referred to as a 'first MB'. The course normally lasts five years. Medical degree courses are offered by a number of medical schools throughout the UK. See the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website for the full list of courses at

Entry is highly competitive. Most candidates have three A levels/five H grades, with high grades, plus supporting GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent. Most university medical schools require A level/H grade chemistry, although some accept chemistry at AS level. Some medical schools also require A level/H grade biology.

For candidates without science A levels/H grades, a number of universities offer 'pre-medical courses' in sciences, lasting 30 weeks.

Most university medical schools also require candidates to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). Additional admissions tests may be set by some medical schools.

Some relevant work experience, such as shadowing a hospital doctor or helping in a care home, is also useful and will greatly help university applications.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

When doctors have completed their medical degree they undertake a two-year foundation programme of general training. Towards the end of the programme they decide whether they wish to train in anaesthetics or in another speciality.

Training for anaesthetists takes seven years. On successful completion of this training they are awarded a Certificate of Completion of Training and gain entry to the General Medical Council specialist register. They are then able to apply for a senior post as a consultant.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An anaesthetist should:

  • Be accurate, observant and pay attention to detail.
  • Be decisive and work well under pressure.
  • Work well as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Anaesthetists usually have to move between hospitals to progress.

There are opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

The Royal College of Anaesthetists,
Churchill House, 35 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4SG
Tel: 020 7092 1500

British Medical Association (BMA),
BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP
Tel: 020 7387 4499

General Medical Council (GMC),
Regent's Place, 350 Euston Road, London NW1 3JN
Tel: 0845 357 3456

UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT)

Working in the NHS:

England: NHS Careers. PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Scotland: Careers and Opportunities in the NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647

Wales: National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare,
Innovation House, Bridgend Road, Llanharan CF37 9RP
Tel: 01443 233333

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