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How to Become a Neurological Surgeon in 2023

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by Yousmle Staff in Residency

Do you want to know how to become a neurological surgeon? Are you interested in a medical career that provides not only patient care but also offers unique opportunities for advanced and exciting medical procedures?

If so, a neurological surgery career may be the perfect choice for you. In this blog post, I will explain what a neurological surgeon does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.

Summary:

  • Neurological surgeons specialize in treating conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, and the nervous system
  • Neurological surgery residency training is six to eight years, with the option of fellowship training afterward
  • Going to a top medical school may help a bit. However, how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter more
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs appear to have no advantage to becoming a neurological surgeon (even has a slight disadvantage)

Table of Contents

What Are Neurological Surgeons?

Neurosurgical surgeons diagnose and treat conditions affecting the nervous system such as brain tumors, spinal cord injuries, and nerve problems. They are also known as neurosurgeons or neurological specialists. Despite having the title surgeon, neurological surgeons provide both surgical and non-surgical treatments.

Neurosurgical surgeons use various surgical techniques, including minimally invasive procedures, to treat patients. They also collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as neurologists and rehabilitation specialists, to develop comprehensive treatment plans for patients. Neurological surgery is a complex and demanding field requiring a high level of skill, expertise, and knowledge.

Is a Neurological Surgeon a Doctor?

Are neurological surgeons doctors? The answer to this question is yes; neurological surgeons are doctors.

A neurological surgeon is a specialized physician who has completed medical school, an internship in general surgery, and a residency in neurologic surgery. During this time, neurosurgical surgeons train to diagnose and manage patients with conditions related to the nervous system.

Neurological Surgeon vs Neurologist: What’s the Difference?

Both neurosurgeons and neurologists treat conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. However, there are some key differences between them.

Neurologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders. They diagnose conditions like migraine, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Neurologists perform, order, and interpret diagnostic tests to prescribe medication and other treatments to manage symptoms.

Neurosurgeons are medical specialists with training in surgical procedures. They perform operations to treat conditions like brain tumors, spinal cord injuries, and hydrocephalus.

In summary, while they both focus on conditions affecting the nervous system, the major difference is that neurosurgeons have the training and skills required to perform surgical procedures. In contrast, neurologists focus on the diagnosis and medical management of these conditions.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Neurological Surgeon?

Becoming a neurological surgeon is no easy feat and requires considerable time and energy. But if you’re up to the challenge, the results can be gratifying.

It takes a minimum of 14-16 years after high school to become a neurological surgeon. That includes four years of pre-medical education, four years of medical school, one year of internship in general surgery, and five to seven years of residency in neurological surgery. Along the way, you’ll have to take various standardized exams, including the SAT, the MCAT, and the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming a neurological surgeon is entering and completing an undergraduate program. This means taking the SATs and doing well enough to be accepted into a college or university. Once accepted into an undergraduate program, you’ll have to complete a minimum of four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and other general education courses.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT, a standardized exam that measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You’ll have to complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Neurological Surgery Residency (6-8 Years)

After you’ve completed medical school, you’ll have to match into a neurological surgery residency. To do this, you’ll have to take the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams. These exams measure your knowledge and skills in the areas of clinical medicine. Once you’ve passed these exams, you’ll be eligible to apply for residency.

Once you’ve matched into a neurological surgery residency, you’ll have to complete one year of internship in general surgery, followed by five to seven years of dedicated neurosurgical training. During this training period, you’ll learn how to manage different conditions affecting the nervous system, both surgically and non-surgically.

Fellowship (Optional; Usually 1-2 Years)

After completing your residency in neurological surgery, you can continue your training in a specific area of the field. Neurological surgery fellowships allow physicians to gain subspecialty expertise. Fellowship choices include spine surgery, neurosurgical oncology, and pediatric spinal deformity fellowships. Most fellowships last one to two years, helping you gain more experience and sharpen your skills in a specific area of neurological surgery.

After Neurological Surgery Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

Upon completing your residency, you can apply for a medical license, a must-have to practice. You’ll also be able to take the Neurological Surgery Board Exam to become a board-certified neurological surgeon. While passing the neurological surgery boards is voluntary, many employers will see this as important – or even necessary – for you to be employed as a neurological surgeon.

Becoming a neurological surgeon takes at least 14-16 years after high school. It’s a long and arduous process, but if you’re dedicated and passionate about becoming a neurological surgeon, the rewards are worth it.

How Competitive is it to Become a Neurological Surgeon?

Neurological surgery is one of the more competitive specialties in matching into a residency program. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a limited number of positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is neurological surgery in the US? To answer this question, it is important to look at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in that specialty but did not get matched. It considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. So, if you applied to a different specialty as a “backup” but didn’t match because you matched in your first choice, this wouldn’t be included. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 25.7% unmatched rate to neurological surgery. This makes it one of the most competitive specialties, although not of the same competitiveness as specialties like plastic surgery (unmatched % 37.3%), orthopedic surgery (34.2%), or otolaryngology (sometimes called “ENT” for ear-nose-throat; 30.8%).

For more on the competitiveness of neurological surgery relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Neurological Surgeon Annual Compensation

Neurological surgeons have an average annual salary of $601,000. However, this can vary dramatically based on practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Neurological Surgeon Annual Salary

Neurological Surgeons make $601,000 per year on average

How Much Do Neurological Surgeons Make an Hour?

You may also be wondering, how much do neurological surgeons make per hour? And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there aren’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data re: hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including neurological surgery.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Allergy/Immunology$298,000.00$125.9349.3
Anesthesiology$405,000.00$146.24Medium6145.4
Cardiology$490,000.00$177.5457.5
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Dermatology$438,000.00$211.11Low45.445.7
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Endocrinology$257,000.00$110.40Medium48.5
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
Gastroenterology$453,000.00$168.53Medium5647.7
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Nephrology$329,000.00$122.40Medium56
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Neurology$301,000.00$129.09Medium50.845.9
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Oncology$411,000.00$143.43Low59.7
Opthalmology$417,000.00$173.97Medium5147
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Otolaryngology$469,000.00$184.01High53.148
Pathology$334,000.00$147.74Low47.1
Pediatrics$244,000.00$108.16Medium4748
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Psychiatry$287,000.00$131.04Low46.547.1
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Rheumatology$289,000.00$112.3353.6
Urology$461,000.00$172.49High58.146
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (neurological surgery highlighted in red):

Neurological Surgeon Hourly Salary

Neurological Surgeons make $214 an hour on average

Note: when data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was used as an estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Helps in Becoming a Neurological Surgeon

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students’ hard work and dedication.

Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies and demonstrate an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Each medical school may elect up to 20% of their graduating class to be inducted into AOA.

Induction into AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships and can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is particularly notable for the most competitive fields and/or residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 28% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in neurological surgery. In other words, AOA membership provided a great advantage to matching into a neurological surgery residency.

AOA Membership Advantage for Neurological Surgery 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 28% match rate advantage for Neurological Surgery in the 2022 Match

See this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become a Neurological Surgeon?

When pursuing a career in neurological surgery, attending a top medical school can make a difference in matching into your desired specialty. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 4 out of 5.

Moreover, graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding is associated with a 21% increase in the likelihood of matching into neurological surgery as a field. This is potentially because top medical schools have more resources and access to clinical experience, which can help prepare students for the rigors of the specialty.

That said, it is important to remember that the name of the school alone does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages, it is ultimately up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more, including things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school Neurological Surgery match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with a 21% match rate advantage for Neurological Surgery in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become a Neurological Surgeon?

Medical training is long and arduous. Remarkably, many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential neurological surgery residents due to their additional qualifications. But do these additional degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

The truth is that having an additional degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In neurological surgery, the match rate was 1% lower for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances of matching into neurological surgery and may even hurt them (slightly).

Neurological Surgery other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a -1% match rate disadvantage for Neurological Surgery in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the overall match rates of medical students with another degree. The data doesn’t look at the type of degree, the school it was obtained from, and the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some additional career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

Becoming a neurological surgeon is a challenging but rewarding career path. It is perfect for those who love physiology, anatomy, being decisive, and working as part of a team in intense situations. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, neurological surgery can make a real difference in the world of healthcare.

Looking for a Neurological Surgery Residency Advisor?

Looking for a neurological surgery residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.

Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.

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