What is an Anesthesiologist Assistant Degree?

Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine dedicated to the relief of pain and total care of the surgical patient before, during, and after surgery.

Anesthesiologist assistants are highly skilled healthcare professionals who work under the direction of an anesthesiologist — a licensed specialized physician — to implement anesthesia care plans. Their responsibilities include taking patient health histories to identify any issues that may affect the anesthesia care plan, administering diagnostic tests, preparing patients to be monitored, and assisting with preparatory procedures, pre-testing and calibrating of anesthesia delivery systems and monitors, and life support.

Student learning outcomes in anesthesiology assistance programs include patient care, integration of basic medical knowledge into clinical practice, clinical management, professionalism, and communication.

Program Options

It is important to select an anesthesiologist assistance program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Master’s Degree in Anesthesiologist Assistance – Two Year Duration
Applicants to a master’s program in anesthesiologist assistance must have earned a bachelor’s degree. There is not a specific degree required for undergraduate study.

Common majors include:

Regardless of students’ chosen undergrad major, most schools require that applicants have completed a specific number of pre-med credit hours in areas such as general biology, microbiology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, genetics, virology, physics, kinesiology, mathematics, psychology, and the humanities.

Although aspiring anesthesiologist assistants do not have to complete medical school, they do have to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE). Most students begin studying for one of these during the second or third year of their undergrad program.

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems – tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems – tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior – tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills –tests reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

The GRE is divided into three sections:

  • Analytical Writing Section – tests ability to communicate complex ideas in a concise and effective way, evaluate claims and evidence, support ideas using logical reasoning and relevant examples, and use standard English to prove an argument
  • Quantitative Reasoning Section – tests basic math topics in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, as well as ability to problem solve and analyze and interpret data
  • Verbal Reasoning Skills – tests reading comprehension, ability to analyze sentences and writing passages, and understanding of key concepts and vocabulary-in-context

After earning an undergraduate pre-med degree and passing the MCAT or GRE, students are ready to commence their master’s level studies in anesthesiologist assistance. The program balances lectures, laboratories, and clinical experiences.

Here is a sample curriculum:

  • Anatomy for Anesthesiologist Assistants with Laboratory – anatomical terms, structures, and relationships, emphasizing functional significance and problem solving situations
  • Clinical Anatomy – applying the anatomy that directly impacts clinical situations; enhancement of diagnostic skills through an understanding of radiologic tests, identification of common chest X-rays, and a basic understanding of transesophageal echocardiography (TEE); students will learn to recognize the four basic chamber TEE views and diagnose the most common lesions and abnormalities in patients undergoing cardiac surgery; an ultrasound machine will be used to identify anatomy for a variety of clinical procedures, including intravenous line placement, central line placement, arterial line placement, and peripheral nerve block placement; students will learn the principles of how to operate and manipulate the ultrasound monitor, and will learn the relevant anatomy and anesthetic implications and management for the most common peripheral nerve blocks used today; clinically significant anatomy case studies in anesthesia will be presented and discussed
  • Professionalism for the Anesthesiologist Assistant – professional behavior towards colleagues and patients, psychological considerations in providing anesthesia care, and ethical considerations in medicine; diversity, legal obligations of anesthetists, the rights of their patients, and the social and community contexts of healthcare; the need for lifelong commitment to self education in the practice of anesthesia and positive advocacy of the anesthesiologist assistant profession
  • Patient Monitoring and Instrumentation with Laboratory – the clinical application of anesthesia instrumentation; monitors and devices used in the operating room are studied with respect to principles of operation, calibration, and interpretation of data
  • Methods of Anesthesia – intraoperative monitoring for complicated patients and complex surgical procedures; advanced and supplemental monitors and devices used in the operating room are studied with respect to the principles of operation, calibration, and interpretation of data; focus on diagnosis and practical applications of electrocardiography (ECG), echocardiography, and other cardiovascular monitoring techniques used in the operating room
  • Senior Seminar – this course is designed to prepare the student for the job market and placement; topics include student loan payback, financial literacy after graduation, and leadership opportunities for the graduate; clinical updates in basic life support (BLS) for the healthcare provider, advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS), and pediatric advanced life support (PALS)
  • Physiology for Anesthesiologist Assistants –basic and applied human systems physiology with emphasis on topics and areas of special concern to the anesthetist
  • Anesthesia and Coexisting Disease – pathophysiology of the most common diseases and their medical management relevant to anesthesia; successfully managing and avoiding complications stemming from pre-existing conditions
  • Introduction to Anesthesia – this course prepares students for practice in anesthesia by introducing basic concepts and necessary skills; it provides intensive instruction regarding medical terminology and abbreviations, medical record and medical history interpretation, and documentation
  • Orientation to Simulation and Clinical Application – a skills lab based course to prepare students for anesthesia patient care in the operating room; classroom, simulation laboratory, and actual operating room environments are used to teach preoperative assessment, intravenous placement techniques, airway management, intraoperative patient care and post-operative management; basic life support (BLS) certification in CPR / AED / choking procedures is a course requirement
  • Anesthesia Clinical Experience, Level 1 – with each semester, clinical experience increases; laboratory work focuses on refining patient management skill, establishing independence in performing basic tasks and introducing advanced skills; students gain additional clinical experience in the operating room, performing basic clinical competencies with minimal assistance from clinical instructors and attempting advanced competencies with frequent assistance
  • Anesthesia Clinical Correlation – how to effectively research and apply current anesthesia journal articles, and to prepare for the certification examination administered by the National Commission for Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants (NCAA); students will spend an entire semester studying specific topics of the 16 focus areas that included on the NCAA certification examination; the semester concludes with clinical examination
  • Anesthesia Clinical Experience, Level 2 – this level of clinical experience is comprised of clinical clerkships, where students are in the operating room five days per week to receive extended exposure to all clinical subspecialties; students complete four-week or eight-week rotations at hospitals to gain experience with general surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, trauma surgery, neurosurgery, cardiovascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, and others; students are expected to perform basic clinical competencies with minimal to no assistance from clinical instructors, while attempting advanced competencies with frequent assistance
  • Pharmacology for Anesthesiologist Assistants – introduction to the basic concepts in pharmacology, including principles of drug action, receptor theory, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics; emphasis will be on those classes of medication most commonly encountered within the practice of an anesthesiologist assistant, including anesthetic agents (inhaled, intravenous, local), analgesics, cardiovascular agents, and intravenous fluids
  • Physiological Model-Based Simulation – laboratory practice of basic manual skills in anesthesia machine checkout (items to be checked or verified), anesthesia materials and equipment setup, and performing anesthesia for uncomplicated surgical cases using clinical models and simulators; anesthesia machine troubleshooting and crisis management

Degrees Similar to Anesthesiologist Assistant

Cardiovascular Technology
Degree programs in cardiovascular technology prepare students to work as cardiovascular technologists (CVTs). These technicians assist doctors with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions of the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular). The curriculum is threefold in nature. Students learn (1) the structure, function, and pathology of the heart and blood vessels, (2) the diagnostic tools and procedures used to test them, and (3) the care of cardiovascular patients.

This degree program is designed to give students the knowledge and experience for safe, compassionate, evidence-based, competent, and ethical nursing practice.

Physician Assistant
This program prepares students to work as a physician assistant or PA. Under the supervision of a physician, PAs take medical histories, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, and provide preventative healthcare. They may also assist in surgery and conduct research.

There is no distinct pre-medicine degree. ‘Pre-medicine’ or ‘pre-med’ is merely a term that students planning to go to medical school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring doctors enter med school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees. A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-med student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to medical school.

Radiological Science and Technologies
Degree programs in radiological science and technologies prepare students for careers as radiologic technologists. These professionals, also known as radiographers, use medical diagnostic equipment, tools, and instruments to capture images of the organs, bones, and tissues inside the body. They also analyze and interpret these images in consultation with doctors and other medical team members.

In addition to learning imaging procedures and image interpretation, students take foundational courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, and pathology. They also learn how to maintain imaging equipment, prepare patients for imaging procedures, and protect patients from harmful radiation.

Respiratory Care
Respiratory care programs prepare students for careers as respiratory therapists. The curriculum focuses on how to diagnose and manage cardio-pulmonary disorders. Training includes performing CPR, using ventilators, and providing oxygen therapy.

Surgical Technology
Surgical technology certificate and degree programs teach students how to be effective members of operating room teams. Students learn how to equip operating rooms for specific procedures, how to prepare patients for surgery, how to sterilize surgical instruments, and how to assist doctors, nurses, and patients. Coursework includes anatomy and physiology, surgical patient care, and health law and ethics.

Skills You’ll Learn

Here are some of the competencies associated with the study of anesthesiology assistance:

  • Adaptability – in the operating room, things can change in an instant, which calls for the ability to make the proper adjustments
  • Attention to detail – the invasive nature of surgery calls for meticulous attention to detail
  • Calm nature, focus, and stress management – the medical and health implications of the work can make it stressful; the capacity to stay in control and focused is essential
  • Communication and collaboration – surgery involves multiple medical professionals working together; the operating room is an environment that demands clear and concise communication, because a single misunderstanding or misinterpretation can have dire consequences
  • Dedication, integrity, and reliability – members of the medical team must be able to rely upon one another’s unique skills; dedication to and passion for the work is the best way to keep these skills sharp
  • Manual dexterity – anesthesiologist assistants work with a variety of instruments that require a steady hand and a deft touch
  • Physical stamina – the work involves standing for long periods of time
  • Willingness and capacity to learn – anesthesiology and surgical technologies are constantly evolving; those that work in the field must be teachable

What Can You Do with an Anesthesiologist Assistant Degree?

Due to the extremely specialized nature of the field of anesthesiology, the vast majority of students who complete training to become an anesthesiologist assistant work under the medical direction of a qualified anesthesiologist in hospitals and surgical clinics.

Employment opportunities following several years of experience may extend to universities which offer degree programs in anesthesiologist assistance.


Find out what graduates typically earn.

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