The Anesthesiologist Assistant (AA) is a skilled person qualified by advanced academic and clinical education to provide anesthetic care under the direction of a qualified anesthesiologist. The anesthesiologist who is responsible for the AA is available to prescribe and direct particular therapeutic interventions in the operating room and the intensive care setting.
By virtue of the basic science education and clinical practice experience, the AA is skilled in the use of contemporary state-of-the-art patient monitoring techniques in anesthesia care environments. The AA performs complementary and supplementary anesthetic care and monitoring tasks that allow the directing anesthesiologist to use his or her own skills more efficiently and effectively.
The Anesthesiologist Assistant is prepared to gather patient data, to assist in the evaluation of patients’ physical and mental status, to record the surgical procedures planned, and to help the directing anesthesiologist administer the therapeutic plan that has been formulated for the anesthetic care of the patient. The tasks performed by AAs reflect regional variations in anesthesia practice and state regulatory factors.
In addition to the duties described in the occupational description above, anesthesiologist assistants provide other support according to established protocols. Such activities may include pretesting anesthesia delivery systems and patient monitors and operating special monitors and support devices for critical cardiac, pulmonary, and neurological systems. AAs may be involved in the operation of bedside electronic computer-based monitors and have supervisory responsibilities for laboratory functions associated with anesthesia and operating room care. They provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation in association with other anesthesia care team members and in accordance with approved emergency protocols.
Anesthesiologist assistants work as members of the anesthesia care team in any locale where they may be appropriately directed by legally responsible anesthesiologists. The AAs most often work within organizations that also employ nurse anesthetists, and their responsibilities are identical. Experience to date has been that AAs are most commonly employed in larger facilities that perform procedures such as cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, transplant surgery, and trauma care, given the training in extensive patient monitoring devices and complex patients and procedures emphasized in AA educational programs.
However, AAs are used in hospitals of all sizes and assist anesthesiologists in a variety of settings and for a wide range of procedures. As of 2006, starting salaries for recent graduates are $95,000 up to $120,000 for the 40-hour work week plus benefits and consideration of on-call activity.
Length. These postbaccalaureate programs are essentially 24 to 27 months.
Prerequisites. The programs require an undergraduate premedical background (premedical courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and math) and a baccalaureate degree. Although any baccalaureate major is acceptable (if premedical requirements are met), majors typically are biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, or one of the allied health professions, such as respiratory therapy, medical technology, or nursing.
Licensure, certification, and registration
The National Commission for Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants (NCCAA), which was founded in 1989, provides the certification process for AAs in the United States. The Commission includes anesthesiologists and anesthesiologist assistants. NCCAA contracts with the National Board of Medical Examiners to assist with the certification process, including task analyses, development of content grids, item writing and editing, and administration of examinations. The certification process incorporates a 6-year cycle of certifying examination, examination for continued demonstration of qualifications, and registration of continuing medical education.
Careers. Curriculum inquiries should be directed to the individual programs. Inquiries regarding AA careers should be directed to