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Education and Training: College, medical school, and a year-long internship followed by six years of neurosurgery residency
Average Salary: $339,738 per year
Job Outlook: Very good

A neurosurgeon is a specialist doctor who diagnoses, prevents, and cures disorders of the central nervous system. Neurosurgeons perform surgical operations related to the brain, spine, skull, and the peripheral nerves. Typical medical conditions treated by neurosurgeons include brain tumors, chronic pain, brain cancer, brain hemorrhage, skull fracture, spinal cord injuries, etc. Most neurosurgeons deal with patients having spinal disorders such as herniated discs and spinal stenosis, which might result due to ageing, trauma, or congenital defects.
A neurosurgeon typically treats neurological problems by either prescribing medications or performing surgical procedures. Neurosurgeons often use the computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for diagnosing problems. Common surgeries performed by neurosurgeons include lumbar laminectomy, discectomy, and foraminotomy. A number of these surgeries are performed by using a microscope and therefore a neurosurgeon should have excellent hand-eye coordination. Neurosurgeons should also be comfortable using complex and advanced technology to perform image-guided, delicate surgeries.

Education and Training Requirements

Neurosurgeons are highly trained medical professionals. Extensive training and years of experience go a long way in building a neurosurgeon’s reputation.
Like any other specialist medical professional, a neurosurgeon needs to complete four years of college education, followed by four years of medical education, and a one-year internship in general surgery. Subsequently, neurosurgeons are required to complete 6-7 years as neurosurgical residents. Neurosurgeons get trained in neurology, neuropathology, neuroradiology, and critical care medicine. The typical eligibility requirements for a residency program in neurosurgery are listed below:

  • M.D degree from an LCME recognized medical school

  • At least 32 weeks of medical training

  • At least 72 weeks of clinical training

  • Clinical training in at least one of the five core medical areas: obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry

  • The American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS) conducts various examinations throughout the training period and on successful completion of these examinations, the neurosurgeons are awarded the ABNS Board Certification. Neurosurgeons can also opt to get Fellowship trained, wherein they receive in-depth training in a super-specialty of neurosurgery. Fellowships involve research and clinical experience in the specific area for 1-2 years.
    Neurosurgeons are required to continuously update their knowledge by attending Continuing Medical Education courses. This is imperative to maintain their license to practice.

    Getting the Job

    Neurosurgeons need to put in a lot of hard work to become successful in their career. The education is long and strenuous and the internship is equally rigorous. Even when neurosurgeons get into practice, a typical day could last 10-12 hours with occasional night and weekend calls.
    The experience gained during the 7-years of residency is crucial for a successful career as a neurosurgeon. Being a successful neurosurgeon requires a lot of perseverance and a good academic record.
    Neurosurgery is a high pressure and stressful career option and it requires a calm-headed and mature outlook to handle challenging situations.

    Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

    Neurosurgery is one of the highest paying jobs for a medical professional. It also offers immense satisfaction as neurosurgeons often perform life-saving surgeries. The job outlook for a neurosurgeon is quite positive as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a sharp increase in employment of surgeons and physicians (22% from 2008 to 2018) as compared to other professions.
    A neurosurgeon needs to constantly stay in touch with the latest technology and the advancements being made in the field of neurosurgery. They need to study journals and research papers to brush up their knowledge. Moreover, to maintain their license to practice, neurosurgeons need to pursue continuing education opportunities available with organizations such as the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.
    Neurosurgeons grow by gaining expertise in specialties and building a reputation for excellence within their peer community and with their patients.

    Working Conditions and Environment

    The working environment for neurosurgeons is quite pleasant with most of the patient interaction and surgeries happening inside well-equipped hospitals. However, work hours can be long and at times, neurosurgeons end up spending 50-60 hours (or even more, depending on the practice) in a week. Certain surgeries might take 3-4 hours, whereas the more complicated ones might even exceed 10 hours. Neurosurgeons might also be required to attend to emergencies during off-hours and weekends. However, the perks and the satisfaction offered, in the end, are unparalleled.

    Salary and Benefits

    A neurosurgeon is one of the highest paid professionals, with a total median annual compensation of $339,738 (in 2008), as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Self-employed neurosurgeons generally have a higher annual median compensation as compared to the salaried neurosurgeons. Entry-level neurosurgeons typically get $280,000 or more, but this figure might differ based on the area of employment and specialization. The benefits vary depending on the number of years of experience, location, and reputation. Self-employed neurosurgeons need to provide for the health insurance and retirement on their own.

    Where to Go for More Information

    American Association of Neurological Surgeons
    5550 Meadowbrook Dr.
    Rolling Meadows, IL 60008-3852
    (847) 378-0500

    American Academy of Neurological Surgery
    Department of Neurosurgery, UCSF
    505 Parnassus Ave., M-786
    San Francisco, CA 94143-0112
    (415) 353-3933

    Congress of Neurological Surgeons
    10 North Martingale Rd., Ste. 190
    Schaumburg, IL 60173
    (847) 240-2500

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