Depending on the data source used, the average salary for anesthesiologists in the US is anywhere from $303,000 to as high as $423,500. Top-level anesthesiologists can make as much as $600,000!
That’s an incredible salary no matter where you live and work in the US. And, let’s be clear – anesthesiologists do incredible work, and deserve the wages they receive.
However, there’s a little bit of a gap between what anesthesiologists and other medical professionals make. Why is this, and why do anesthesiologists make so much money compared to surgeons and other critical workers?
I’ve done some research for you and have put together a guide that should hopefully clear up a few of the bigger questions surrounding this debate.
Please note that the following article and research are based on my own efforts and findings. I am not a medical professional, and therefore, the details provided below shouldn’t be regarded as professional advice from within the healthcare industry.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s start crunching some numbers.
What do anesthesiologists make compared to other medical professionals?
Quite a bit more – sources differ on how much anesthesiologists actually make per year, in terms of means and medians, but they all break in to the over-$300k of annual salary camp!
The data does vary quite drastically, so it’s important to understand that there can potentially be a wide range of salaries based on type of work, the doctor’s experience level, and the geography.
An interesting side note is that even nurse anesthetists make over $200,000 per year!
Contrary to common perception, anesthesiologists aren’t the highest-paid healthcare professionals in the US. That, according to the BLS, falls to cardiologists, who make a mean salary of around $421,330 each year.
Orthopedic surgeons and pediatric surgeons also command higher salaries than anesthesiologists.
On the other hand, obstetricians and gyecologists, opthalmologists, and neurologists make less money than anesthesiologists.
As you can see, professionals such as nurse anesthetists and general pediatricians make over $100,000 less each year, mean, compared to anesthesiologists.
Surgeons, in fact, who perform life-saving work every day of their working lives, barely break into the top ten here. Why is this, and what is it that anesthesiologists do to command such high wages?
Do anesthesiologists make more money than a surgeon?
While the data can vary depending on the source and how current the data sets are, based on the latest BLS data, anesthesiologists and surgeons make roughly the same amount of money.
Nevertheless, it does beg the question – why do anesthesiologists make so much money? After all, don’t surgeons do all the complicated work?
Well, there are a few reasons why anesthesiologists receive high salaries compared to surgeons:
- It’s complex work only experts can carry out
- It’s life-or-death work
- There’s a lot of education required
- They’re on call 24 hours a day
- They work very long weeks
Let’s explore these reasons in a little more detail.
It’s complex work only experts can carry out
Anesthesiologists perform essential duties that could easily result in patient death with even a slight mistake. While the same can be said for much surgery work, anesthesiologists making mistakes could cause serious trauma to patients, or even kill them, if they are not precise.
This is because anesthesiologists need to carefully mix and provide anesthesia to patients on a case-by-case basis. Too little, and their patient could wake up during surgery, suffer immense trauma, and die.
Too much, and they could still pass away. There’s a highly delicate balance that only anesthesiologists, trained to know how to measure and administer anesthesia, can handle.
Also while we might think about anesthesiologists only having to administer one drug, the reality is often more complicated. For healthy patients, perhaps the task is simpler. However as the US population ages, patients often suffer from multiple health conditions and take multiple drugs to address them.
Anesthesiologists therefore have to be careful about managing drug interactions as the consequences can often be highly toxic and fatal.
As such, it’s reasonable to expect anesthesiologists to receive such high salaries for life-saving, often highly stressful work.
There’s a lot of education required
To become experts in administering anesthesia, anesthesiologists need extensive education, training, and experience. This takes years of dedication out of their lives, meaning one could claim they deserve the financial reward at the end of all their efforts.
Anesthesiologists don’t just have to graduate from medical school – they also have to attend residency and obtain a state license – meaning they could spend years striving for certifications to perform this role.
The length and depth of education required is only reasonable, considering even a slight mis-dosage could kill even a healthy patient in a matter of minutes. This is work worth getting right, and as such, the salary offered is a huge incentive.
They’re on call 24 hours a day
As they are so relied on to handle such sensitive elements of surgery, it’s not unheard of for anesthesiologists to attend work any time day or night. They’re key workers during emergency situations and surgeries, and may need to attend clinics in the middle of the night within a few minutes’ notice.
Given the disruption anesthesiologists can expect to their lifestyles and routines outside of work, it is again reasonable to expect them to receive a healthy salary as compensation.
Many private surgeries and clinics rely on 24-hour support from anesthesiologists because they don’t have any specialists working on-site. This is sometimes the case for smaller hospitals and specialist clinics, too.
On-call work means that anesthesiologists need to answer the call to work almost every day of the year, barring vacation time. It’s often highly stressful and disruptive work that, arguably, is offset by the salary and a passion for what they do.
They work very long weeks
As well as needing to be on call at very short notice, anesthesiologists often need to work longer than most might expect. While the average US employee might work up to 40 hours a week, it’s not unheard of for anesthesiologists to work up to 60 hours in a seven-day period. In fact, they might need to work up to 80 hours if they’re on call or need to attend to emergencies.
That means, on average, an anesthesiologist working six days out of seven could work up to almost 14 hours a day at most. That’s a lot of time spent away from family and non-working life in general!
Therefore, some anesthesiologists might start work at around 6am and only finish around 8pm – not taking into account travel time in between.
What exactly do anesthesiologists do?
We need anesthesiologists to provide us with anesthesia during surgery so that we don’t feel pain and stay relaxed while our bodies are operated on.
Professional anesthesiologists measure and dose patients on anesthesia and monitor life signs and vitals during surgery to ensure they’re safe from trauma or extreme pain.
It’s also true that anesthesiologists work outside of the theater, too. Most anesthesiologists will discuss surgery expectations with patients and their families before and after procedures. This not only helps patients and their families understand what’s going to happen, but also helps anesthesiologists to carefully prepare for the surgeries ahead.
Is working as an anesthesiologist difficult?
The work of an anesthesiologist requires incredible knowledge and vigilance. It’s a role where you need to intensively monitor patient vitals during surgery at all times – otherwise, they could wake up or even pass away.
Therefore, the work anesthesiologists do is very complex and extremely intense. It’s a great job for people who care deeply about helping others and who have analytical, focused minds. It’s also a fantastic career path for people who don’t mind working unsociable hours and to work most of the week to make a highly competitive wage.
There’s a reason why anesthesiologists frequently make the top three list of most paid professionals in the US. There are few other jobs that require such intensive vigilance and sacrifice – much like many other healthcare professionals we should all show gratitude to. They definitely earn their money!
Before You Go…
Anesthesiologists, like other doctors, do very important work and for that reason are well-compensated. If I had to go under the knife for whatever reason, I’d like to know that all the professionals in that operating room are knowledgeable, experts in their work, well-motivated, and are happy with their working conditions!
If you’d like to learn more about the salaries for different professions, do check out our tool for looking at median salaries by occupation. It’s got over 560 occupations in the database and tries to bring you the latest information!
Why are anesthesiologists the highest paid doctors?
While this might be a common perception, anesthesiologists are not the highest paid doctors. Please take a look at our article for more details.
Are anesthesiologists millionaires?
As a general rule, the likelihood of an anesthesiologist being a millionaire is high. Of course this isn’t a given as any level of income can easily be blown away if it isn’t managed properly. Like everyone else, anesthesiologists and doctors need to budget carefully and save and invest their money over time to grow their wealth. It’s also important to note that most specialized doctors would also have a very high level of student debt that would need to be paid off over their careers.
Are most anesthesiologists rich?
Based on the high-level of income, it is fair to say that most anesthesiologists would be rich. However one has to keep in mind that they also have high-levels of debt at the begining of their careers, so being an instant member of the HNWI club isn’t guaranteed.
Do anesthesiologists make 7 figures?
No. Based on the data, anesthesiologists on average earn anywhere between $303,00 to $423,500.