How to Become a Neurosurgeon

Is a Career in Neurosurgery Right For You?

Neurosurgery, brain operation Surgeon
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A neurosurgeon is a surgeon who specializes in operating on the brain, head, neck, and spinal cord. Because neurosurgeons are some of the most highly-paid surgeons, the field is extremely competitive. Additionally, the complexity and high-risk nature of brain surgery contribute to the level of surgical skills and knowledge necessary to become a successful neurosurgeon.

How to Become a Neurosurgeon

To become a neurosurgeon, one must first complete the basic requirements of becoming a physician: a bachelor's degree, preferably in pre-med or other related biological, physical or chemical science, plus four years of graduate school in an accredited medical school to obtain an M.D. or D.O. degree.

After completing medical school and successfully obtaining a medical degree, med school graduates must then gain acceptance into a neurosurgery residency training program. There are dozens of accredited neurosurgery residency training programs nationwide. The average length is seven years, with a few programs at six years and many requiring eight years of training. Due to the length of the training program, most programs only accept one to three residents each year. As you can see, if you are interested in becoming a physician specializing in neurological surgery, you have a long road ahead. Neurosurgery often attracts some of the best and the brightest of the medical field, due to the extremely challenging and dynamic nature of the field.

Neurosurgeons most commonly operate on patients who are victims of trauma to the head, in addition to treating patients with cancerous or benign brain tumors that need to be surgically removed. However, there are a variety of other issues that are treated by neurosurgeons. New advancements and techniques are being developed to help neurosurgeons treat a number of neurological issues that can be traced to physiological abnormalities that can be repaired via surgery.


Compensation is among the highest of any physician or surgeon. The average annual income for neurosurgeons is about $660,000. The top 10 percent of all neurosurgeons earn about $1,050,000.

Should You Pursue a Career as a Neurosurgeon?

If you are interested in a surgery career, you thrive in an extremely high-pressure environment and can endure the additional years of rigorous training, neurosurgery may be for you. Neurosurgeons must be able to take a call and be available at all hours (within the call rotation schedule) for emergency surgeries. Neurosurgeons must have excellent critical thinking and analytical abilities, plus top surgical skills, optimal dexterity and be able to perform delicate surgeries. There are robotic devices, imaging equipment, and cameras that can assist with the precision of the procedures, so neurosurgeons must also be comfortable with the most advanced, complex technology as well.

Again, the exceptionally high pressure and stress level of neurosurgery careers probably cannot be over-emphasized, so one must be extremely level-headed, calm, and collected under extreme pressure. However, the financial rewards are great, if you can deal with the high-risk and stress of the field, as are the intrinsic rewards of performing such advanced surgeries that are often life-saving.

Related Careers

  • Orthopedic Surgeon (Some aspects of neurosurgery overlap with orthopedic spine surgery specialists)
  • A neurologist is a non-surgical physician that focuses on treating the brain and neurological disorders.