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Anesthesiology was originally the medical specialty of inducing surgical anesthesia, but now has important, often interdisciplinary subspecialties now including pain management and critical care. Other formal subspecialties include pediatric anesthesia, and there are practical subspecialties such as cardiac anesthesia. It is often said that while the surgeon is in formal charge of an operation, the surgeon's view is on the operative area, while the anesthesiologist is responsible for the remainder of the patient's entire body.

Physicians qualified in anesthesia are called anesthesiologists. There is a recognized advanced practice nursing specialty, generally under the supervision of anesthesiologists, and the practitioners of which are called nurse anesthetists.

Since anesthesiologists manage the physiology of a patient under the stress of surgery, and surgical intensive care complements surgery, it was not surprising that critical care, as a subspecialty, is often managed by anesthesiology departments. In like manner, anesthesiology, with its original focus on surgical pain, has become the interdisciplinary home for pain management.