An Anesthesiologist Assistant (AA) (not to be confused with anesthesiologist technician) is a highly skilled professional who works under the direction of a licensed anesthesiologist in a hospital, clinic or surgery center. These health care specialists operate anesthesia equipment, monitor patients before and after surgery and provide quality anesthesia care. They are trained to assist in life-saving measures, such as CPR, and life support. AAs are considered an extension of the physicians, as they perform critical tasks that ensure the safety of the patient while under the effects of anesthesia.
As an integral member of the Anesthesia Care Team, there are a variety of responsibilities:
- Take a complete health history of the patient
- Perform physical exams to identify any issues that may affect the anesthesia care plan
- Prepare the patient to be monitored, using non-invasive and invasive methods, as determined by the physician
- Assisting in the preparatory procedures, such as pulmonary artery catheterization, electroencephalographic spectral analysis, and echocardiography
- Perform functions in the intensive care unit and pain clinic
- Induce, sustain and adjust anesthesia levels
Anesthesiologist assistants must first complete a four year college degree, taking a pre-medical curriculum with course work in general and organic chemistry, advanced college math, general and advanced biology and physics. This degree may be obtained at any college or university in the U.S. offering the aforestated math and science courses. It is the next step where the choices are limited as there are only ten accredited Anesthesiologist Assistant schools in the United States:
- Emory University- Atlanta, GA
- Case Western Reserve University- Cleveland, OH; Houston, TX; Washington, DC
- South University- Savannah, GA
- Nova Southwestern University- Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, FL
- University of Missouri- Kansas City, MO
- Quinnipiac University- Hamden, CT
- University of Colorado- Aurora, CO
Currently, these are the only schools with AA educational programs according to the latest standards established by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). These schools have an anesthesiology department within their respective medical school departments and have met the criteria of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).
Qualified student applicants must possess a baccalaureate degree and complete all of the premedical course work required by the typical american medical school.
Though minor differences between programs may exist, generalized admission requirements for students seeking entrance into an AA program include:
- Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a premedical sciences track
- Two semesters of biology with laboratory
- Two semesters of vertebrate anatomy and physiology (or other advanced biology) with laboratory
- Two semesters of general chemistry; 1 semester of organic chemistry; a second semester of organic chemistry or biochemistry with laboratory
- Two semesters of general physics with laboratory
- Two semesters of advanced college mathematics including calculus
- Either the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) or the Graduate Records Admission Test (GRE)
The AA program is a 24-28 month master’s level degree. Students complete 600 hours of coursework in the classroom and laboratory, a minimum of 63 didactic hours and 2,000 hours of clinical training. During the clinical portion, students will administer as many as 600 different anesthetics during a variety of surgeries. Clinical training also prepares students to monitor patients, operate anesthesia delivery systems and life support systems and accurately assess patients.
Students must pass a six-hour certification exam administered by the National Commission for the Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants (NCCAA). Anesthesiologist Assistants are also required to complete 40 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years and pass a qualifying exam every six years.
According to CAAHEP, the starting salary is between $95,000 and $120,000 for full time positions. Most jobs are found in major hospitals where the projected job growth is expected to be 29% through 2022. This is an excellent profession for changes/additionals to its work force.