Brain surgery is one of the toughest and most competitive fields of medicine. It is also one of the highest compensated. Becoming a brain surgeon is not an easy or quick process, but can be very lucrative and rewarding for candidates that do well and have the skill set to succeed.
What is a Neurosurgeon?
According to the NYU School of Medicine, there are some important traits that stand out in most people who desire to become a neurosurgeon:
Neurosurgeons don’t just work on the brain, exclusively. They must understand the whole system and the conditions that can affect it. Treating diseases of the nervous system, brain, spine and spinal cord, and peripheral nerves are part of the job and providing both non-operative and surgical treatment to patients is also a part of the job.
Neurosurgeons may treat disorders like congenital abnormalities, trauma, tumors, vascular disorders, infections or the brain or spine, stroke or degenerative diseases of the spine. With all of these different conditions and systems and the skill that is required to operate within them, there is a lot to know and a lot to understand, which is why the educational track is such a long one.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Neurosurgeon
The minimum educational level for a neurosurgeon is a doctoral degree with a residency in neurosurgery.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Neurosurgeon
The first step in becoming a neurosurgeon is to complete a successful and comprehensive bachelor’s degree program that includes the necessary core science and liberal arts learning curriculum of chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics, English, and advanced mathematics including statistics. These courses are imperative for any student wishing to get into medical school and many of them are tested on the Medical College Admissions Test, which will be taken the junior year of undergraduate study, in most cases. Properly studying and grasping these courses will help the student succeed in their future education and in their career.
Medical schools look at both a student’s cumulative GPA and GPA in the sciences when considering admissions. For this reason, it is important that an aspiring medical school student pay attention to their grades and courses in order to apply with the best GPA possible. Many medical schools have a minimum GPA and an average GPA published on their website in order for students to know what to strive for. This information can also be found elsewhere on the internet for specific medical programs.
During undergraduate study it is also important for a student to get experience that will set them apart from other medical school applicants and will help them succeed in their desired career path. This experience may include volunteering at a hospital or getting another form of patient care time. It may also include leadership or research work, working alongside people in the chosen field and other opportunities. Whatever they are, the student should be able to show their dedication and work ethic which will be represented in the letters of recommendation that they submit along with their medical school application.
Medical College Admissions Test
The Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, is designed to test the aspiring physician’s base scientific knowledge and their ability to problem solve and think critically. The test is usually taken the junior year of undergraduate study and the scores from the different sections are submitted to medical schools along with the student’s other application materials. Many schools share their incoming student MCAT score average on their website so undergraduates can be aware of how well they need to score to compete with other applicants and the schools expectations.
In order to get their highest possible MCAT score, a student should take advantage of the resources that are available to them including study materials available at their school, online resources, pre-tests and practice tests, online and in-person tutoring, etc. These resources are designed to make sure the student succeeds on the test and gets the best score possible, which will open the doors to medical colleges.
Medical school is a very challenging four years of study that is split into two parts. The first part, which takes up the first two years of the schooling, is focused on course and lab work that will prepare the student intellectually for patient interaction. This course and lab work is in the biological and natural sciences, physiology, chemistry, medical ethics and the art and practice of medicine. In order to ensure that the student has grasped and retained all the necessary components of this portion of training, the must take and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination, Step 1, which is administered the second year of medical school. A passing score on the USMLE, Step 1, indicates that the student is ready to begin supervised patient visitations and gain clinical experience.
The second part of medical school, the second two years, is called Rotations. During this time the student will have the opportunity to experience a variety of medical specialties and a variety of medical settings that will further their understanding of patient care, situations and scenarios, and the teams that come together to help those that are sick. During rotations the student will likely find that they gravitate towards certain specialties or environments that fit their particular interests and skillsets. It is important that this time inform their decision of specialty or subspecialty so that they find complete satisfaction as a physician.
After part two of medical school the student will take the United States Medical Licensing Exam, Steps 2 which tests specifically that the student has gained the clinical skills and clinical knowledge that they need to move into unsupervised medical practice.
At the end of residency, students will seek out and apply for a neurosurgery residency program. According to the NYU School of Medicine, students seeking a neurosurgical residency program have an 80% chance of being accepted. They also state that, “Applicants can increase their likelihood of matching at the program of their choice by having excellent medical school grades, USMLE test scores, participation and publication of research, and letters of recommendation.”
A neurosurgery residency can last an average of seven years with some requiring eight years of training.
There are some sub-specialties of neurosurgery including pediatric, peripheral and spine surgery, each which require additional, focused training after or near the end of residency.
Each state has licensing requirements for physicians that need to be strictly followed. It is important that the physician keep up on all state requirements for continuing education, testing and renewal in order to maintain their practice and specialty.
In addition to state licensing, there are specific board requirements to be board certified as a neurosurgeon. The American Board of Neurological Surgery publishes their requirements for certification, the steps of the process, examination materials and all certification news and announcements on their website so physicians can be sure to complete the necessary steps and submit the correct information to obtain and maintain their board certification.
Understanding the Career Path
Neurosurgery is one of the most highly paid specialties in the medical field and is extremely competitive. It requires specific and specialized surgical skills and knowledge in order to be successful. Many neurosurgeons work in private or group practices and many often work at least 60 hours a week.
Neurosurgeons are one of the highest paid physicians in the entire medical field. In 2009, the average income for a neurosurgeon was $660,664 annually. The top 10% of neurosurgeons earn over $1 million a year.
Some things that affect salary include the geographical location of the physicians practice, the type of practice they are in and how they are employed. For example, a neurosurgeon in a lower paying state, who works for a community hospital as an employee is likely to make less than a neurosurgeon who is part of a group or solo practice in a state has higher average annual salaries.