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Anesthesiologist Rondall Lane (left) sedates a man before an operation in 2005.
Anesthesiologist Rondall Lane (left) sedates a man before an operation in 2005.
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Statistics would tell you that it's a good time to be a medical professional -- the top-nine best-paid jobs fall into medical fields. But who's No. 1?

They're the men and women who numb us, sedate us and put us under during unpleasant procedures involving the opening, internal repairing and sealing of our bodies. They are anesthesiologists. So what do they do that earns them so much green?

Although not considered a distinct profession until the 1930s, anesthetists have been around since the 1800s. Anesthetic technology has expanded from general anesthesia, which passes through the entire body to lower the patient into unconsciousness, to local and regional anesthetics. Local anesthetics target very specific areas, such as your gums for dental surgery or the area around a cut that needs stitching. Regional anesthesia targets an area of the body, like your leg or arm. Sedation, which consists of relaxing the patient until she is on the edge of or cradled in the hands of sleep, also falls in the jurisdiction of the anesthesiologist.

Before a surgical procedure, an anesthesiologist will conduct an interview with the patient. In addition to asking about your general health, the medications you're taking, any allergies you might have, and whether you drink or smoke, the anesthesiologist will inquire whether you or any members of your family have had bad reactions to anesthesia in the past. This interview helps the anesthesiologist to choose the anesthesia that's right for your physiology.

During surgery, the anesthesiologist keeps a close eye on your vital signs, including your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. The anesthesiologist's vigilance during surgery is important, because strong anesthesia greatly reduces or eliminates your body's ability to operate vital systems. This is why you always see a breathing tube in a patient's mouth during major surgery on television. After surgery, your anesthesiologist will continue to keep an eye on you as you recover in the hospital.

Anesthesiologists' comfortable salary, a national average of $184,340 in the United States, allows them to pay off the massive bills they incurred while attending undergraduate college and medical school, not to mention their internship and three-year residency. And, considering that anesthesiologists keep us alive and prevent us from feeling those nasty, sharp surgical tools, their salary seems justified.

What about the worst-paying jobs today? Check them out on the next page.