What Is an Anesthesia Assistant? And How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover how you can become an anesthesia assistant, schooling requirements, salary, and how anesthesia assistant programs at the doctoral level are changing.

[Featured Image]: Nurse anesthetist, wearing a blue uniform and blue mask, standing in exam area, reading charts of a patient.

Anesthesia assistants administer anesthesia to patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. Typically employed in a variety of health care environments, such as hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and private practice offices, anesthesia assistants work alongside nurses, surgeons, and physicians to ensure their patients receive the best care possible.

If you're interested in a high-paying, high-growth nursing position, then you might consider a career as an anesthesia assistant. In this article, you'll learn more about what they do, how much they earn, and their job outlook in the coming years. You'll also find out what you need to do to join the field and explore some cost-effective, online courses that will introduce you to some of the key concepts you'll need to excel in the job.

Anesthesia assistant explained

Anesthesia assistants, called nurse anesthetists in some locations such as the United States, administer anesthesia to patients, monitor their vital signs, and help them manage their pain and post-surgery recovery. Anesthesia assistants hold degrees in respiratory therapy or nursing,  and have completed a certification course for anesthesia  As a result, anesthesia assistants are highly-skilled medical professionals who are tasked with many important responsibilities, command a significantly higher than average salary, and are much sought-after within the medical field.


What does an anesthesia assistant do?

An anesthesia assistant performs their duties in three stages: preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative. Before surgery, you'll need to assess the patient's medical history and current condition to determine if any factors may pose complications with the anesthesia. Throughout the surgical process and after, you’ll also be responsible for:

  • Undertaking a physical assessment

  • Taking part in preoperative teaching

  • Choosing the correct type of anesthesia for each patient

  • Determining the proper amount of anesthesia 

  • Monitoring the patient's vital signs and adjusting the amount of anesthesia as necessary

  • Delivering anesthesia via gas and intravenously to keep the patient pain-free 

  • Maintaining anesthesia intraoperatively

  • Administering medications that help block pain 

  • Preparing for anesthetic management

  • Responding appropriately if complications arise

  • Supervising recovery from anesthesia

  • Proving post-surgical pain management to help ensure a controlled recovery

Anesthesia assistant skills

As an anesthesia assistant, you must be professional, think critically, communicate well, and possess technical nursing skills. During both your schooling and career, you’ll develop an advanced skill set to use specialized equipment and make complex decisions that have a critical impact on a patient's health outcome. Here are some of the core competencies you'll need as an anesthesia assistant:

  • Critical thinking: You need to be able to make quick decisions based on patient observations and test results.

  • Attention to detail: You need to interpret data, such as a patient's vital signs, and adjust accordingly. You also need good technical knowledge when administering precise doses of anesthesia and other medicines.

  • Interpersonal skills: You must work well with others on the health care team, including doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals.

  • Communication skills: You need to be able to explain what you're doing as you administer anesthesia and provide updates about your patient's condition after surgery.

  • Nursing skills: To offer safe, high-quality care as an anesthesia assistant, you must have excellent clinical skills, including physical assessment skills. You also need to keep up-to-date with best practices in the field of anesthesia and new developments in pain management.

How much does an anesthesia assistant make?

According to Talent.com, the average annual salary for anesthesia assistants in Canada is $83,802 as of December 2022 [1]. These professionals earn a higher-than-average salary, which is $72,000 [2]. By comparison, Talent.com notes that nurse practitioners earn an average annual salary of $99,236 [3], while nurse midwives earn $80,000 [4]. 

Nurse anesthetist job outlook

Anesthesia assistants are in high demand. According to Job Bank Canada, employment for anesthesia assistants is projected to grow by 58 percent by 2028, resulting in a shortage of approximately 4,300 jobs [5]. 

Is being an anesthesia assistant a good career choice?

Some benefits of being an anesthesia assistant include higher compensation within the nursing field, a positive job outlook, and both personal and professional satisfaction. While many professions within nursing dedicate themselves to helping patients get better, you’ll have the opportunity to help them literally feel better as they face some of their most trying health scares. 

Your job as an anesthesia assistant is to ensure that patients do not feel pain throughout the surgical care cycle. While this may seem simple enough, it can be quite complicated because each person feels pain differently and has different drug tolerances. You must also know how to handle problems if they arise before, during, or after surgery.

When deciding if being an anesthesia assistant is the right career choice for you, keep in mind that it entails working in high-stress environments with critically ill people who require life-saving care. You’ll be able to make a difference in people’s lives every day.

Some of the benefits include the following:

  • Autonomy: As an anesthesia assistant, you’ll practice independently and in collaboration with other health care team members.

  • Demand: The demand for anesthesia assistants is very high and continues to rise.

  • Intellectually challenging: Your work as an anesthesia assistant is considered intellectually demanding, requiring insight and critical thinking.

  • Professional satisfaction: As an anesthesia assistant, you can typically get great professional satisfaction from providing quality care to patients in pain.

Depending upon your work type, you may work nights, weekends, and holidays, especially if you work in a facility that provides around-the-clock emergency treatment. 

How to become an anesthesia assistant

To become an anesthesia assistant, you need to have experience in acute medical or surgical settings, earn the right education qualifications, become licensed, and then maintain your license with continuing education and relicensing efforts. Here's what you can expect to do on the path to joining this critical health care profession:

1. Obtain the right credentials.

You must obtain an undergraduate degree in respiratory therapy or nursing. After becoming an RN and gaining some practical work experience in the field, you’ll be required to complete an advanced certification program for anesthesia assistants. 

2. Get certified.

After graduation, you will take the CBRC – CSRT Anesthesia Assistant Examination to become licensed as an anesthesia assistant. After passing and getting certified for the first time, you must take the Continued Professional Certification Exam every four years. All provinces and territories require certification for you to call yourself an anesthesia assistant.

3. Gain work experience.

After meeting the education and certification requirements, you can gain hands-on experience as a nurse under supervision. During this training period, you will learn to perform various anesthesia procedures. You should also become familiar with respiratory care equipment, drug effects, and patient monitoring techniques.

Since anesthesia assistant careers require considerable education and training, it can take six to seven years to qualify and a minimum of one year of clinical experience. A degree in nursing can take four years to complete, while the anesthesia assistant program will take another year, plus 12 weeks of clinical study. 

Getting started 

Becoming an anesthesia assistant involves many years of education and clinical training. Rather than pushing things off, consider exploring key concepts related to the field by taking a cost-effective, online course on Coursera today.

To help deepen your understanding of how vital signs and pain correlate within the body, you might consider taking the University of Pennsylvania's Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us course. The University of Michigan's Anatomy Specialization, meanwhile, will introduce you to the major organ systems, their functions, and how they relate to one another within the body.

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Article sources


Talent.com. “Anesthesia Assistant average salary in Canada, 2022, https://ca.talent.com/salary?job=Anesthesia+Assistant.” Accessed December 22, 2022.

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