In the days before modern anesthetics, surgery was typically traumatic to the patient and required the surgeon to work as quickly as possible. The development of safe and effective methods of anesthetizing patients allowed doctors to perform surgeries that would previously have been unbearable for the patient due to either the intensity of the pain or the duration of the operation. Today, a doctor specializing in anesthesiology, or an anesthesiologist, or a registered nurse with specialized training, called a nurse anesthetist, can administer anesthesia.
Nurse Anesthetists Have History
The nurse anesthetist specialty is the oldest recognized specialty, dating to the late 19th century. It is an advanced practice option, meaning that candidates must first become registered nurses and acquire nursing experience before they can apply to a graduate program. Although they are not licensed to practice medicine, certified registered nurse anesthetists have approval in all 50 states to administer anesthesia and monitor patients until the anesthesia has worn off. More than three-fourths work in physicians' offices or general hospitals, but some work in dental offices or outpatient care facilities.
Anesthesiologists Provide Treatment
Anesthesiologists are fully licensed physicians who have chosen to specialize in anesthesia. Although certification is voluntary, many anesthesiologists seek board certification from the American Board of Anesthesiology. They may also complete fellowships to become certified in a subspecialty, such as pediatric anesthesiology, hospice or sleep medicine. As physicians, anesthesiologists may provide other medical treatments, such as prescribing medications for patients suffering from chronic pain.
How They're Different
Educational requirements differ a great deal for nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists. Since anesthesiologists are licensed physicians, they normally have 12 years of postsecondary education: four years to earn an undergraduate degree, four years of medical school and four years of residency. Nurse anesthetists typically receive six to seven years of education. They first earn a bachelor's degree, and then complete a two- or three-year graduate program to earn their master's degree. Another major difference is in earnings. As of May 2012, the average annual salary for nurse anesthetists was $154,390, according to the BLS, while anesthesiologists averaged $232,830 annually.
How They're Similar
Both anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists provide pain relief before, during and after surgery. Either may also offer their services during diagnostic procedures or labor and delivery. Both are responsible for monitoring the patient's reactions and vital signs while under anesthesia and during recovery.
- American Society of Anesthesiologists: How to Prepare for a Career in Anesthesiology
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Physicians and Surgeons Do
- American Association of Nurse Anesthetists: Questions and Answers -- Career Possibilities in Nurse Anesthesia
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 -- Nurse Anesthesiologists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 -- Nurse Anesthetists
- O*Net Online: Summary Report for Nurse Anesthetists
- O*Net Online: Summary Report for Anesthesiologists
- The American Board of Anesthesiology: Home
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images