Anaesthetists are all doctors who have completed a full medical training. They then choose to complete further training over nine years to become fully trained consultant anaesthetists. Anaesthetists are the largest group of hospital based doctors. There is a wide range of sub-specialties which make up the overall specialty of anaesthesia.
How are anaesthetists trained?
Medical students study for five years in both a university and a hospital. They then graduate as doctors with the basic medical degree. All doctors then have a further two years of Foundation Stage training in a range of different specialities. This gives a wide basic training and allows them to find out the areas of work they are interested in. Doctors who wish to train in anaesthesia apply to go on a training programme which lasts seven more years to become a consultant.
At first, a new anaesthetist works with a consultant anaesthetist by their side all the time. As the trainee passes competency assessments and gains experience, the level of supervision is very gradually reduced.
Anaesthetists need to complete all the required standards set by the Royal College of Anaesthetists. They also need to pass a difficult two-part exam called the Fellowship of the Royal College of Anaesthetists (FRCA). Trainees need to pass these before they can continue with the last stage of their training.
The standards of training in the UK are very high. The Royal College of Anaesthetists has a duty to set and monitor standards of training. Hospitals which do not provide a high enough level of training to these standards will no longer be allowed to train anaesthetists.
Anaesthetists in training (junior doctors)
CT1/2 – Core training year 1 and 2
These are the early basic training years in anaesthetics.
ST 3/4/5/6/7 – Specialty training years 3-7 of training
The number is the training year which they are in. This training covers all the specialist training these doctors need to become consultants.
Senior anaesthetists are no longer in training and usually work on their own or supervise a trainee.
A consultant has completed all the training requirements in anaesthesia to allow them to be on the GMC specialist register. They work without any senior supervision but must all continue education in anaesthesia each year. They usually specialise in a particular area of anaesthesia. Some may lead teams in different areas of the hospital such as intensive care and pain medicine.
This group of anaesthetists have different levels of experience and may be called either Staff Grade, Fellow, Associate Specialist or Specialty Doctor. For various reasons, these anaesthetists have made a choice not to complete all the higher specialty areas of training, or may be pursuing other interests (such as teaching or research) before continuing their training.
Depending on their skills and experience these doctors may work alone but can ask for advice or assistance if required.
Other titles you may see
These can be anaesthetists of any grade that are temporarily working to cover a position.
Physicians’ assistants (anaesthesia) [PA(A)]
They are trained healthcare professionals who are qualified to give anaesthetics under the supervision of a consultant anaesthetist. This role is new to the UK, but is more common in northern Europe and the United States. The PA(A) will be a health professional or a university graduate who has a specific training programme which leads to a Postgraduate Diploma in Anaesthetic Practice.
How do you know that anaesthetists are working to high standards?
All grades of anaesthetists are appraised each year to best ensure they meet the standards of practice required in the UK. They also use this appraisal to decide what extra courses or training they need to attend to keep them up to date in all the areas that they work in or to learn new skills. This process is overseen by the General Medical Council.