Brain surgeons, also known as neurosurgeons, primarily perform complex surgeries on the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. They must possess a medical degree, complete a neurosurgery residency, and obtain state licensing. Job growth for all surgeons is faster than average through the year 2026.
Brain surgeons examine, diagnose, and surgically treat disorders of the nervous system. Training to become a brain surgeon requires a 6-7 year neurosurgical residency following four years of medical school, but qualified brain surgeons receive some of the highest salaries of all medical health professionals. This career is physically and intellectually demanding and requires excellent hand dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
|Required Education||Medical degree|
|Required Training||Neurosurgery residency|
|Licensure & Certification||State medical license required; optional board certification by the American Board of Neurologic Surgery|
|Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)||14% (all surgeons)*|
|Median Salary (2019)||$599,283 (surgeon - neurology)**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Salary.com
Neurosurgeon Job Description and Duties
Neurosurgeons perform surgery on the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves to remove tumors, relieve chronic pain, and treat wounds, vascular disorders, and diseases such as Parkinson's and epilepsy. They also use surgery to relieve hydrocephalus, which is the abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Brain surgeons may focus on the correction of deformities and treatment of diseases of the spinal cord such as degenerative spine disorder and scoliosis. Other areas of sub-specialization include pediatric neurosurgery and radiosurgery, which is the targeted use of radiation to treat tumors.
The median salary for neurosurgeons was $599,283 in 2019, and half of all brain surgeons reported salaries between $451,148 and $758,339, according to Salary.com. This is much higher than the mean annual salary of $255,110 for all surgeons reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2018 (www.bls.gov). The risks involved in brain surgery lead to relatively high medical malpractice insurance costs for this specialty.
Duties of a Brain Surgeon
In addition to performing procedures, neurosurgeons oversee and coordinate the efforts of large teams of surgeons and nurses in the operating theater. Neurosurgeons interpret results of diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging, CT scans, and PET scans to diagnose patients.
Techniques of microsurgery, the use of an operating microscope to perform surgery, require excellent hand-eye coordination and concentration. Brain surgeons must be sensitive to the needs of a diverse group of patients afflicted with neural disorders. They also keep up with new discoveries by reading medical journals and attending academic conferences.
Neurosurgeon Schooling and Training Requirements
How long does it take to become a brain surgeon? Before starting residency training, aspiring neurosurgeons must complete four years of undergraduate school followed by four years of medical school. Neurosurgeons then take six to seven years of neurosurgical residency training. In the first year, commonly called Post Graduate Year One or the internship year, residents undergo training in basic clinical skills in areas such as trauma and critical care followed by three to six months of training in clinical neurology. Over the next six years, residents complete a total of at least 42 months training in core clinical neurosurgery.
Residents often spend a year doing neurology research to fulfill program requirements. Several programs also require residents to pass the primary examination of the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS). In their last year, residents typically take on senior or chief resident responsibility. To become a board-licensed neurosurgeon, qualified graduates of accredited neurosurgery programs must complete written and oral exams administered by the ABNS and submit practice data for review.
Brain surgeons can save the lives of patients by skillfully performing surgeries of a highly complex nature, such as surgeries to address degenerative spine disorders and scoliosis. They must have a medical degree, years of residency training, state licensing, and sometimes board certification. Brain surgeons often earn more than other surgeons, and the median annual salary in 2019 was $599,283, according to Salary.com.