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Anesthesia Technician Education, Schools and Career Overview

Anesthesia is used to render patients unaware and insensitive to pain prior to surgery or other potentially distressing and invasive procedures. Anesthesia technology is a delicate and measured science given that anesthesia must be administered in precise amounts and in accordance with strict guidelines so as to successfully anesthetize patients in a way that is safe and free of complications.

Anesthesia technicians and technologists work as part of a team that also includes anesthesiologists and anesthesia assistants and perform their duties under the supervision of licensed anesthesiologists. These specially trained healthcare professionals have a thorough knowledge of various anesthetic agents, as well as extensive skill in using and maintaining anesthesia instruments, equipment, and supplies.

Anesthesiology technicians work in surgical and clinical care settings, including operating rooms, intensive care units, obstetrics departments and delivery rooms, post-anesthesia care units, emergency rooms, dental offices, ambulatory surgery departments, research laboratories, endoscopy clinics, diagnostic units including radiology departments, and catheterization laboratories.

Anesthesia Technician Duties

Anesthesia technologists assist anesthesiologists and other health care providers in delivering anesthesia into the circulatory or respiratory systems of their patients: 

  • Administering anesthesia may involve the use of one or more of a number of different anesthetic agents that have different effects.
  • Anesthesia technicians and technologists assist in administering general and local anesthesia, as well as monitored anesthesia care (MAC) and regional anesthesia.
  • They obtain, prepare, apply, and maintain the equipment and materials necessary for safe and effective administration. This includes monitoring both the patient and the anesthesia delivery system at all stages of the process; before, during, and after the anesthesia is administered.

Administering anesthesia to a patient involves a number of steps, all of which must be performed carefully and to exact specifications in order to ensure the proper dose is administered so that the patient suffers no ill effect as a result. The primary function of anesthesia technicians and technologists is to provide support to anesthesiologists, who are physicians that specialize in the proper application of anesthetic agents in a medical setting. Although they do not administer anesthesia themselves, anesthesia technicians and technologists perform duties that are essential to delivering these medications to patients safely and effectively.

Anesthesia Technician Specializations

Here’s an idea of the type of specializations you might work as an anesthesia technologist:

  • General anesthetic agents suppress nervous system activity in the brain, rendering the patient unaware, insensate, and effectively unconscious. The patient retains no memory of events that occur while the general anesthesia has effect. General anesthesia is typically used during major surgery and other invasive procedures that would cause extreme pain and anxiety to the patient if he or she were awake. Delivering the proper amount of anesthesia that will suppress the patient’s consciousness and sensation without dangerously suppressing respiration and heart rate requires care and attention. Body weight and other physical factors must be taken into account, and anesthesia technicians must carefully calibrate anesthesia equipment and monitor vital signs while the patient is under the influence of general anesthesia.
  • Local anesthetic agents suppress sensation in the specific part of body in which it is applied and in the immediate surrounding area. Such agents may be delivered by needle injection or, less frequently, through topical application. Patients remain aware and awake after the administration of local anesthesia; only the localized area surrounding the point of anesthesia application is affected. The experience of being treated with local anesthesia is frequently described as producing a numbing feeling. Local anesthesia is commonly used in dental offices for minor but potentially painful procedures such as cavity filling, tooth removal, and basic oral surgery. It is also frequently used in emergency rooms prior to the suturing of open wounds. 
  • Regional anesthesia blocks sensation to a larger area of the body than local anesthetic agents do. It accomplishes this by preventing the transmission of nerve impulses between that area of the body and the spinal cord. A commonly referenced example of regional anesthesia is an epidural, an injection administered into the spine of a pregnant woman during labor. An epidural relieves some of the pain of childbirth by dulling sensation to the lower part of the body while still permitting the mother-to-be to assist in the delivery by pushing. 
  • Dissociative anesthesia suppresses the transmission of impulses between the brain’s cerebral cortex and the brain’s lower centers, including the structures of the limbic system. Although it blocks pain impulses, dissociative anesthesia, unlike general anesthesia, does not render the patient completely insensate. Instead, it instills deep relaxation and places the patient in a state similar to a trance. The patient’s eyes may remain open while under the influence of dissociative anesthesia, but he or she feels no pain and generally retains no memory of the procedure. The advantage of dissociative anesthesia is that it both takes effect and wears off much more quickly than general anesthesia. Dissociative anesthesia also poses fewer risks than general anesthesia when administered to children, elderly individuals, and patients with unstable vital signs and low blood pressure. Consequently, it is particularly appropriate for use in procedures performed on trauma victims and in brief procedures, such as bandage changes, that may nonetheless be distressing and painful to the patient. Ketamine is the most commonly used dissociative anesthetic agent and is administered through an IV or intramuscular injection.

How to Become an Anesthesia Technician

Prerequisites may vary depending on the anesthesia technology training program a prospective student applies for. It is highly recommended that those who intend to pursue one of these programs have a strong aptitude for math, science, and technology-related subjects, as well as a keen enjoyment of these topics. 

Those who come to an anesthesia technician training program with a strong foundation will have taken as many advanced biology, anatomy and physiology, and mathematics classes as possible at the secondary school and college level. Pursuing certification in First Aid and Basic Life Support from the American Heart Association is also a good idea. When thinking about extracurricular activities and work experience, aspiring anesthesia technicians and technologists should consider volunteering at a hospital or earning a certification as an EMT (emergency medical technician).

Anesthesia technician degree programs

Anesthesia technicians and technologists must have a high school diploma or the equivalent and a degree in anesthesia technology from a two-year college. This is the minimum educational requirement for anesthesia technician or technologist certification through ASATT (The American Society of Anesthesia Technicians and Technologists). However, in order to qualify for the widest range of positions available and to have greater potential for salary and professional growth, it is worth considering a four-year bachelor’s degree in anesthesia technology or a related field. It is also possible to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree in a different field and then pursue a graduate degree in anesthesia technology or obtain a professional certificate from an educational institution that offers an anesthesia technology program.

Anesthesia technician and technologist certification

To become a Certified Anesthesia Technician, one must successfully pass an examination administered by the American Society of Anesthesiology Technicians and Technologists. The ASATT sets certain standards for professional and educational credentials for anesthesiology technicians and determines the qualifications for anesthesia tech certification.

In order to become certified, an anesthesia technician must demonstrate breadth and depth of knowledge and skill in the area of anesthesia care. He or she must know how to assemble, calibrate, and prepare anesthesia delivery equipment for use in anesthesia administration. He or she must also be proficient in the inspection, maintenance, and troubleshooting of such equipment. Because anesthetic agents are potentially dangerous when misused or improperly applied, an anesthesiology technician who seeks certification must have firm knowledge of all safety and handling guidelines and regulations related to gases and other anesthetic substances.

The basic educational and experiential requirements for a Certified Anesthesia Technologist are the same as those for a Certified Anesthesia Technician: a high school diploma or the equivalent, a two-year degree in anesthesia technology, and two years of clinical work experience. In addition, a degree or educational certificate in health care administration and two years’ experience in health care administration in anesthesia or other allied health field are required in order to become a Certified Anesthesia Technologist.

Anesthesia technician and technologist schools

Programs in anesthesia technology are offered by a variety of educational institutions. You will find anesthesia technology training programs at traditional four-year colleges and universities, at community colleges and professional schools that offer two-year degrees, and through institutions that offer online course and other distance learning opportunities.

Career advancement for anesthesia technicians

More advanced occupations in the field include chief nurse anesthetist (CNA) and anesthesiologist. Consider looking for four-year programs at the start of your educational journey to be exposed to more of these opportunities down the line, but it’s never too late to go back to school and try at any point.

Anesthesia Technician Skills and Qualities

Anesthesia technician needs to know how to apply and monitor basic life support systems. They need to be proficient in the use and care of the monitoring equipment used to measure the physiological responses of the patient during the administration of anesthesia. A thorough understanding the composition and effects of various anesthetic gases and agents is also necessary to perform the job competently. Anesthesia techs must know what anesthetic agent is appropriate for each type of patient and each surgical procedure. They must be aware of the hazards of the materials being used and have sufficient knowledge to take the necessary precautions. This includes knowledge of biological, electrical, and explosion hazards in areas, such as operating rooms, where anesthetic agents are in use, as well as the proper handling and storage of bulk and cylinder gases. Anesthesia technicians should have a complete knowledge of human anatomy and physiology as it relates to the administration of and recovery from anesthetic agents.

Anesthesia technicians also need keen communication skills, as they work as part of a team whose functioning is crucial to patient health and well-being. They also need to be able to work and make decisions independently and operate efficiently in stressful situations. The effective anesthesia technologist will be able to prioritize activities and functions related to anesthesia administration and patient care, as well as delegate tasks. They should also enjoy working with people, as anesthesia technicians interact frequently with patients, as well as with doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and other members of the anesthesia patient care team.

Career Outlook and Salary for Anesthesia Technicians and Technologists

Many health care jobs are expected to be in demand in the coming years due to a healthier aging population and medical advancements and other factors. In general, here’s an idea of the job growth and salary for anesthesia techs in the coming years; while the BLS doesn't highlight anesthesia techs specifically, you can look at anesthesiologist figures as well as related careers:

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Anesthesiologists$265,990$123,580>$208,000
Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other$46,690$27,560$72,390
Medical and Clinical Laboratory TechniciansN/AN/AN/A
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Anesthesiologists30,59017.8%
Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other124,39019.4%
Medical and Clinical Laboratory TechniciansN/A14%
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

 


Sources:

  1. Anesthesia Technician Salary, payscale.com, May 2015. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Anesthesia_Technician/Hourly_Rate
  2. Interview with American Society of Anesthesia Technologists and Technicians representative, May 19, 2015.

 

Anesthesia Technician Schools