How to Become a Neurosurgeon: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on January 20, 2024

Becoming a neurosurgeon takes many years of education and training, but it’s an extremely rewarding career helping patients with complex conditions affecting the brain, spine, and nerves. First and foremost, aspiring neurosurgeons must have a strong interest in science, especially biology and anatomy. Additionally, they need to be able to perform well under pressure and have excellent hand-eye coordination for performing delicate surgeries. The journey begins by earning a bachelor’s degree, typically in a scientific field such as biology or chemistry. Afterward, future neurosurgeons must complete four years of medical school to earn their MD, followed by one year working as an intern. The next step is a five to seven year residency focused specifically on neurosurgery. Finally, becoming board certified demonstrates a neurosurgeon’s advanced training and qualifications to practice independently. With intense dedication throughout over a decade of education, neurosurgery residents gain exceptional skills to treat patients through operations on one of the body’s most complex systems.

What is a Neurosurgeon?

A neurosurgeon is a medical specialist who treats diseases and conditions affecting the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and extra-cranial cerebrovascular system. Neurosurgeons perform delicate surgeries on these vital structures and play a critical role in providing both lifesaving care and improving quality of life for patients.

Education and Training

Neurosurgeons undergo extensive training to acquire the knowledge and technical skills required to perform complex neurological surgeries. After finishing four years of medical school, aspiring neurosurgeons complete a 5-7 year neurosurgery residency program where they get hands-on training in diagnosis and surgical treatment. Many also complete an additional 1-2 year fellowship program to subspecialize in a specific area like pediatric neurosurgery or neuro-oncology. Throughout their careers, neurosurgeons participate in continuing medical education to stay up-to-date on the latest advancements in the field.

Neurosurgical Procedures

Neurosurgeons perform operations to treat brain tumors, aneurysms, blood clots, head injuries, degenerative spine conditions, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and more. They use specialized equipment like microscopic cameras, endoscopes, surgical navigation systems, and robotics to access and operate on delicate neurological structures through small openings. Common neurosurgical procedures include craniotomies to remove tumors, aneurysm clipping, installation of deep brain stimulators, and spinal fusion surgery. The complexity of the nervous system means these operations can last many hours and require a steady hand and intense concentration.

Educational Requirements to Become a Neurosurgeon

Neurosurgery is one of the most challenging and competitive medical specialties. Becoming a neurosurgeon requires extensive training over many years. Here are the key educational steps.

The road to becoming a practicing neurosurgeon is long and challenging. It requires an immense commitment over at least 7-10 years of postgraduate medical training. However, it is also an extremely rewarding specialty focused on helping patients with debilitating neurological conditions.

Postgraduate Training for Neurosurgeons

Becoming a neurosurgeon requires extensive postgraduate training after finishing medical school. This includes the following steps:

The postgraduate pathway to becoming a practicing, board-certified neurosurgeon takes dedication over 7-10+ years, but allows trainees to gain proficiency in one of medicine’s most challenging and rewarding fields.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Neurosurgeon

Becoming a neurosurgeon requires a specific set of skills and personal qualities that allow someone to excel in this demanding specialty. Here are some of the most important traits and abilities of effective neurosurgeons:

By cultivating these types of critical skills and personal qualities, aspiring doctors can establish rewarding careers as neurosurgeons, making life-changing impacts on patients. Gaining expertise in this specialty takes many years of dedicated education and training. But the effort pays off in the ability to restore health, functionality and quality of life through leading-edge brain and nervous system surgery.

Neurosurgeon Salary

Neurosurgeons are some of the highest paid doctors. According to salary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual pay for neurosurgeons is $396,990 per year or $190 per hour. However, salaries can vary quite a bit depending on factors like location, experience, and employer.

Experience LevelAverage Annual Salary
Entry-Level (0-5 years)$250,000 – $400,000 per year
Mid-Career (5-10 years)$400,000 – $500,000 per year
Experienced (10+ years)Over $500,000 per year

Typically, those just starting out in neurosurgery who have less than 5 years of experience make between $250,000 and $400,000 annually. Neurosurgeons with over 10 years of experience tend to make over $500,000 per year on average. Those working at top hospitals and academic institutions typically fall on the higher end of salary ranges. Geographic location also impacts salaries significantly. According to Doximity’s 2020 Physician Compensation Report, neurosurgeons make the most on average in the North Central region ($482,000) and the least on average in the Northeast ($368,000).

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Neurosurgery offers a variety of career opportunities and room for advancement. After completing medical school and a 5-7 year neurosurgery residency program, newly trained neurosurgeons can pursue careers in academic medicine, private practice, or research.

In academics, neurosurgeons may work at university hospitals and medical schools, dividing their time between patient care, teaching, and research. They can advance from instructor to assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. Academic neurosurgeons may also take on leadership roles like residency program director or department chair. According to the Society of Neurological Surgeons, the national average salary for academic neurosurgeons ranges from $531,000 for instructors up to $767,000 for professors.

Neurosurgeons in private practice often work in a group setting or solo practice. They focus primarily on treating patients and performing surgeries in a clinic or hospital setting. According to a Medscape report, the average annual salary for neurosurgeons in private practice is around $622,000. Neurosurgeons in private practice have opportunities to advance by expanding the size and reputation of their practice, learning new techniques and procedures, and taking on leadership roles in professional societies.

Some neurosurgeons pursue careers in research, developing and testing new technologies and techniques related to conditions affecting the brain and nervous system. They may conduct research in university, government, and industry settings. Advancement usually means transitioning into senior research roles and leading major research projects and teams.

No matter the career path, board certification through the American Board of Neurological Surgery is essential for neurosurgeons to demonstrate their competency. Many pursue subspecialty fellowship training beyond residency as well to gain expertise in areas like pediatric neurosurgery, endovascular neurosurgery, or functional neurosurgery. Overall, neurosurgery allows for diverse career opportunities and great potential for advancement.


In summary, becoming a neurosurgeon requires many years of education and training, but it is a rewarding career helping patients with complex brain, spine, and nervous system conditions. The highly skilled neurosurgeon can then enjoy a career at the forefront of innovative treatments like gene therapy, laser ablation, and deep brain stimulation. For those willing to put in the hard work, a career in neurosurgery promises immense personal and professional fulfillment in improving patients’ quality of life.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is an Obstetrician?

An Obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in the care of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. They handle the birthing process from start to finish and provide postpartum care.

What are the responsibilities of an Obstetrician?

Obstetricians are responsible for providing prenatal care to pregnant patients, delivering babies (either through vaginal deliveries or C-sections), providing postpartum care, and treating health conditions related to pregnancy and the female reproductive system.

What is the educational path to becoming an Obstetrician?

The path to becoming an Obstetrician includes earning a bachelor’s degree, completing medical school, and then completing a four-year obstetrics and gynecology residency program.

What is a Residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology?

A residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology is a 3-4 year program where doctors receive advanced clinical training to provide comprehensive OB/GYN care. They gain experience delivering babies, caring for pregnant women, performing surgeries like C-sections, and addressing women’s reproductive health needs.

What is the average salary of an Obstetrician?

As of May 2020, the average annual salary for obstetricians and gynecologists was $239,120 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, salaries can vary based on factors like location, years of experience, and type of practice.

What skills and qualities are important for an Obstetrician?

An Obstetrician needs medical knowledge and clinical skills, communication and interpersonal skills, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and a commitment to care and service.

What are the career opportunities for an Obstetrician?

Obstetricians can work in a variety of settings including hospitals, private practices, women’s health clinics, research organizations, and academic institutions. They can also advance to become head of the obstetrics department or take on more complex high-risk deliveries.

What is the role of an Obstetrician in childbirth?

Obstetricians handle the birthing process from start to finish. They track contractions, administer pain medication like epidurals, assist vaginal deliveries, and may advise or conduct C-sections for high-risk deliveries.

What kind of care does an Obstetrician provide post-childbirth?

Post-childbirth, Obstetricians examine healing, address post-delivery issues, and counsel new mothers on breastfeeding, postpartum depression, birth control options, and more.

What is a fellowship in Obstetrics and Gynecology?

A fellowship is an additional 1-3 years of training in a subspecialty like maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, gynecologic oncology, female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, or family planning. This allows Obstetricians to gain expertise in a narrow niche.