The Journey to Becoming an Interventional Pain Management Physician: From College to Medical School to Residency and Fellowship

Describing what education it takes to become an interventional pain physician and anesthesiologist from college to exams to medical school, internship, residency, and fellowship.

Marco Duran, MD

3/1/20243 min read

doctor holding red stethoscope
doctor holding red stethoscope

Embarking on the path to becoming a medical professional is a challenging yet rewarding journey. For those aspiring to specialize in interventional pain management, the road begins with a solid foundation in education, followed by medical school, residency, and ultimately, fellowship. In this article, we will explore the steps involved in this transformative process.

Step 1: College Education

The first step towards a career in medicine is obtaining a bachelor's degree. While there is no specific major required for admission to medical school, aspiring physicians often pursue a degree in a science-related field such as biology, chemistry, or biochemistry. However, it is important to note that medical schools value well-rounded applicants, so students from diverse academic backgrounds are also considered.

During their undergraduate years, aspiring medical professionals should focus on maintaining a high GPA, participating in extracurricular activities, and gaining relevant experience through internships or research opportunities. These experiences not only enhance their academic profile but also provide valuable insights into the medical field.

Step 2: Medical School

After completing their undergraduate studies, aspiring physicians must attend medical school. Medical school typically lasts for four years and is divided into two phases: preclinical and clinical.

The preclinical phase focuses on building a strong foundation in basic sciences such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology. Students attend lectures, engage in laboratory work, and participate in small-group discussions to develop a comprehensive understanding of the human body and its functions.

Following the preclinical phase, students transition to the clinical phase, where they gain hands-on experience by rotating through various medical specialties. During these rotations, students have the opportunity to interact with patients, observe procedures, and work alongside experienced physicians. This exposure helps them explore different specialties and determine their area of interest.

Throughout medical school, students must also prepare for and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 2 exams. These exams assess their knowledge and competency in basic medical sciences and clinical skills.

Step 3: Residency in Anesthesiology

After graduating from medical school, aspiring interventional pain management physicians must complete a residency program in anesthesiology. Anesthesiology residency typically lasts for four years and provides comprehensive training in perioperative care, pain management, and critical care.

During their residency, aspiring physicians work closely with attending physicians and fellow residents to develop their clinical skills. They gain hands-on experience in administering anesthesia, managing pain, and caring for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures.

Residency also involves rotations through various subspecialties within anesthesiology, including neuroanesthesia, pediatric anesthesia, and cardiac anesthesia. These rotations allow residents to gain exposure to different patient populations and develop a well-rounded skill set.

During the course of their residency, residents are required to complete the USMLE Step 3 exam, which assesses their readiness to practice medicine independently.

Step 4: Fellowship in Interventional Pain Management

Upon completion of their anesthesiology residency, aspiring interventional pain management physicians can pursue a fellowship in the field. A fellowship in interventional pain management typically lasts for one to two years and provides specialized training in diagnosing and treating chronic pain conditions.

During the fellowship, physicians work closely with experienced pain management specialists and gain expertise in various interventional procedures such as epidural steroid injections, nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation, and spinal cord stimulation. They also learn to develop comprehensive pain management plans tailored to individual patients.

Additionally, fellows have the opportunity to conduct research, present their findings at conferences, and publish scholarly articles. This research experience enhances their understanding of pain management and contributes to the advancement of the field.


Becoming an interventional pain management physician requires dedication, perseverance, and a commitment to lifelong learning. The journey from college to medical school to residency and fellowship is a rigorous one, but it lays the foundation for a fulfilling career in helping patients manage chronic pain and improve their quality of life.

By following these steps and embracing the challenges along the way, aspiring physicians can embark on a transformative journey towards becoming skilled interventional pain management physicians. From there forward there of course will be additional challenges as physicians navigate hospital or practice politics, and perfecting their craft (which is a constantly moving target).