How to Begin a Professional Career as a Neurosurgeon

How to Begin a Professional Career as a Neurosurgeon
Neurosurgeons: A Quick Look
Median Salary $368,000 per annum
Entry-level education Doctoral degree
On-the-job training Internship/Residency
Primary employers Hospitals
Number of positions (U.S.) 691,400 (all surgeons)
Job Growth (2010-2020) 18% (Faster than national average)
New positions (2010-2020) 123,300 (all surgeons)

How to Begin a Professional Career as a NeurosurgeonWhat Is A Neurosurgeon?

Neurosurgeon is a doctor who specializes in treating and performing surgery on the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. Read more.


The median salary of a neurosurgeon in the United States is $368,000.

While pay will vary from program to program, here are the figures for some of the top neurosurgery residencies in the United States:


Here are the reported salaries for residents in the Harvard Neurology Residency Program:

Year Salary
Year 1 $54,220
Year 2 $56,462
Year 3 $57,834
Year 4 $60,563
Year 5 $62,919
Year 6 $67,677
Year 7 $70,890
Year 8 $74,460

Upstate Medical University

Here are the reported salaries for neurosurgery residents at Upstate Medical University of the State University of New York:

Year Salary
Year 1 $48,152
Year 2 $51,766
Year 3 $54,168
Year 4 $56,380
Year 5 $58,988
Year 6 $61,394
Year 7 $61,894

Mayo Clinic

Here are the reported salaries for neurosurgery residents at the Mayo Clinic:

Year Salary
Year 1 $47,259
Year 2 $49,151
Year 3 $51,186
Year 4 $53,325
Year 5 $55,626
Year 6 $57,741
Year 7 $59,662
Year 8 $61,965
Year 9 $64,200
Year 10 $66,415

Temple University School of Medicine

Here are the reported salaries for residents at Temple University School of Medicine:

Year Salary
Year 1 $49,337
Year 2 $51,064
Year 3 $52,436
Year 4 $54,288
Year 5 $55,515
Year 6 $57,740
Year 7 $60,028

University of Rochester Medical Center

Here are the reported salaries for neurosurgery residents in the University of Rochester Medical Center:

Year Salary
Year 1 $47,250
Year 2 $49,019
Year 3 $51,742
Year 4 $53,562
Year 5 $55,384
Year 6 $57,203
Year 7 $58,510

Becoming A Neurosurgeon

Becoming a neurosurgeon requires many years of study and hands-on-training, and usually takes 15-17 years. This includes obtaining a bachelor’s degree, completing medical school, completing an internship, completing residency training, and in many cases, completing a fellowship. Read on to find out How to Begin a Professional Career as a Neurosurgeon. Read more.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for physicians and surgeons is very good, with a projected job growth rate of 24%. Read more.

Neurosurgeon Salary

Neurosurgery is one of the highest paying specialties in the medical professions. The median neurosurgeon salary in the United States is $368,000. The top 10% of neurosurgeons earned $643,000 or more. All neurosurgeons in the U.S. spend at least 5 years as a neurosurgery resident. This pay significantly less than what residents will earn once they become fully qualified neurosurgeons.

How To Become A Neurosurgeon

As highly specialized physicians, all neurosurgeons must complete a 4 years undergraduate degree and 4 years of medical school in order to earn their M.D. designation.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Neurosurgeon

The path to becoming a neurosurgeon is not for the faint of heart. It’s a highly specialized field that requires an exceptional level of skill, intelligence and mental focus. In the U.S., it takes approximately 15-17 years to become a neurosurgeon. This includes:
  • 4 years completing an undergraduate degree
  • 4 years in medical school
  • 1 year hospital internship
  • 5-7 years of neurosurgery residency
  • 2-3 years of training in a fellowship either after residency or as a senior residency, in order to pursue a sub-specialty.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Neurosurgeon

Step 1: Bachelor’s Degree

While there is no specific undergraduate program for becoming a neurosurgeon, anyone interesting in becoming a neurosurgeon would start their education off by pursuing an undergraduate degree in preparation for medical school. This usually involves completing pre-med coursework focused heavily on biological sciences in order to meet admission requirements for med school. Most medical schools in the United States also require a strong Grade Point Average (GPA), usually at least 3.5 or above. Applicants will also have to complete the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and score at a competitive level in order to be considered for medical school.

Step 2: Medical School

Anyone aspiring to become a neurosurgeon needs to earn an M.D. degree. The first 2 years of medical school is usually medical overview classes, although in the later 2 years aspiring neurosurgeons can tailor their studies to better match their career aspirations. They may want to pursue classes in surgical practice, medical diagnostics, clinical research, and disease management. Aspiring neurosurgeons will also want to pursue neurosurgery rotations at hospitals.

Step 3: Medical Licensing Exam

Once the candidate graduates from medical school, they must complete the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), in order to be a able to practice medicine. Many residency programs also use these scores as part of the selection process when choosing residents. The Medical Licensing Exam is administered by The National Board of Medical Examiners and the Federation of State Medical Boards. The exam can be taken after med school, or during the first year of a residency program.

Step 4: 1 Year Internship

Before their neurological residency, aspiring neurosurgeons need to complete a 1 year hospital internship. During this internship, the aspiring neurosurgeon will usually have rotations in neurology , neurosurgery, neuropathology, neuroradiology, and critical care. This internship helps new residents become familiar with day to day operations, acquire basic skills in neurological examination and diagnosis, gain experience in a surgical environment, and gain important critical care experience.

Step 5: 6-8 Year Neurosurgery Residency

During their years of residency, aspiring neurosurgeons gain the experience, skill, and training needed to become a fully qualified neurosurgeon. The residency program will gradually provide the candidate with greater levels of responsibility in terms of evaluating patients and performing surgery. There are 99 accredited neurosurgery residency programs in the United States, according to the AMA. Neurosurgery residency programs are usually 7 years in length, although some programs are 6 years, while a few require 8 years to complete. At the more junior and intermediate levels of residency, residents will work under the close supervision of senior neurosurgeons. As they gain experience, they’ll have the opportunity to assume greater responsibility and surgical opportunities. During the 5-7 years of neurosurgery residency, the residents will mature from patient care providers and surgical assistants working under close supervision, to independent, fully competent, high-level neurosurgeons. Note: Neurosurgery is one of the most competitive specialties and neurosurgery residencies generally attract the very top students from medical school.

Step 6: State Licensing and Board Certification

Neurosurgeons must be licensed through their state medical board. Applicants must complete and submit an application, pay the requisite fees, and submit their school transcripts and test scores. Neurosurgeons might also apply for Board Certification through the American Board of Neurological Surgery. Requirements for becoming board certified are available here.

Step 7: Complete A Fellowship

Most neurosurgeons continue their education and training by pursuing a fellowship in a sub-specialty. Some examples of sub-specialties include neutrotrauma/neurocritical care, functional and stereotactic surgery, pedediatric surgery, neuro-oncology, movement disorders, spine surgery and skull base surgery. Completing a fellowship entails another 1-3 years of training and education.

Neurosurgeon job description

What does a neurosurgeon do? Neurosurgeons – commonly referred to as brain surgeons – perform surgery on the brain and spinal cord. They operate on patients who may have suffered trauma to the brain or spinal cord, who have brain or nervous system diseases, or who have neurological disorders. The specific day to day duties of a neurosurgeon will depend on their sub-specialty, but here are some of the more common conditions that neurosurgeons treat:

Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Neurosurgeons diagnose and treat patients with tumors in the central nervous system. Because of the complexity of tumors in the brain or spinal cord, neurosurgeons work with a team that usually includes a radiation oncologist, a medical oncologist, an endocrinologist, and other specialists.

Head Trauma

When patients are admitted to the hospital due to trauma to the head, neurosurgeons may be required to examine patients, and depending on the nature and severity of the injury, may need to perform emergency surgery.


Strokes are the result of blot clots in blocking blood flow to brain cells. Strokes can cause brain damage and are one of the leading causes of death. Neurosurgeons use a variety of methods to treat blood clots and also to prevent future clots from forming.

Congenital Abnormalities

Neurosurgeons treat patients who with neurological abnormalities. There is a wide spectrum of neurological abnormalities, and each condition may require a different form of treatment or surgery.

Alternate Job Titles

  • Doctor - Neurology Surgery
  • Physician - Neurology Surgery
  • Surgeon - Neurology

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for physicians and surgeons in general is very good, with a projected job growth rate of 18% from 2012-2022. This is significantly higher than the projected average job growth rate in the U.S. of 11% over that same time period. According to the National Institute of Neurologic Diseases and Stroke, neuroscience research and the advancement of neurology remains an important budgetary priority in the United States. Based on surveys and trends that point to a growing aging population and the accompanying prevalence of neurological diseases, the job outlook for neurosurgeons is looking very bright indeed.

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