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What Do I Need to Study in College to Be an Anesthesiologist?

by Gale Thompson, studioD

An anesthesiologist is a licensed physician who specializes in the pain management of surgical patients. During a surgical procedure, an anesthesiologist administers anesthetics to prevent patients from experiencing any pain. The main responsibility of an anesthesiologist is to make sure the patient is receiving the optimal anesthetic safely, and they must be familiar with the patient's medical history to make the correct decisions. Anesthesiologists must complete a medical degree from an accredited medical school and complete four years of residency before being allowed to practice. Required college courses prepare students for the Medical College Admission Test and the medical school curriculum.

Introductory Biology, Chemistry and Physics

A premedical student planning on becoming an anesthesiologist may come from any major. However, regardless of major, students have required coursework to complete before applying to medical school. Prospective anesthesiologists begin by taking two semesters each of general biology, chemistry and physics, with labs. These courses will cover initial topics in cell biology, physiology, acids and bases, the periodic table and characteristics of energy and matter. Students are also required to take one semester of organic chemistry with lab as well. Although many students use more advanced coursework to prepare for the MCAT, the Association of American Medical Colleges states that these core courses are all that are necessary to do well on the exam.

Advanced Science Courses

Once the introductory coursework is complete, prospective anesthesiologists move on to more advanced science courses to apply to medical school and further prepare for the MCAT. Courses such as anatomy and physiology with lab dissections, biochemistry, cell biology, microbiology and genetics are highly recommended by medical schools before applying. Because of the strong emphasis on the sciences, many premedical students major in biology, biochemistry, or neurobiology, which contain many of these required courses. It is important that a student has a solid foundation in the cellular and biochemical workings of the human body before entering medical school.


Math courses, such as statistics and calculus, are important for medical school admission. The Dartmouth College Faculty Advising Handbook states that two mathematics courses are required by 20 percent of schools, but recommended by most of them. Additionally, the handbook recommends a course in statistics in addition to calculus because the 2015 MCAT will include questions that use statistical methods and information. Although these courses may be exempted through Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credit, most medical schools wish to see at least one math course taken at the college level.

Science Electives

Elective options give premedical students the chance to prepare for their future specialties. Medical schools provide students with a general medical knowledge of the body and its systems, but students generally choose their specialty in a residency program. Anesthesiologists must have an advanced knowledge of how the body systems will react to chemicals or drugs, therefore neurobiology courses, immunology, endocrinology and pharmacology courses are recommended electives.

Social Sciences and the Humanities

Medical schools want well-rounded students who can communicate and think critically. Therefore, they require some courses from the social sciences and humanities, in addition to the large scientific workload. Introduction to Psychology, Anthropology or Sociology are common social science requirements, in addition to Abnormal Psychology. Other courses, such as English composition and literature and communications will assist students in their verbal and oral communication skills. These non-science courses will be essential in preparing for the Verbal Reasoning section of the MCAT, which makes up one-third of a student's score and assesses analytical thinking and application of new information.

About the Author

Gale Marie Thompson's work has been published in "Denver Quarterly," "Los Angeles Review" and "Best New Poets 2012." Thompson holds a BA in English and creative writing from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is working on a PhD at the University of Georgia.

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