Although any medical degree is going to be necessarily challenging to obtain, given the years of arduous study and training involved, not to mention the expenses associated with attending medical school, certain specializations are bound to be even more complex. Neurosurgery is one such field. Because of the difficulties involved in operating on the brain, head, neck, and spinal cord and the potential for complications, neurosurgeons will need training above and beyond many of their colleagues in the medical profession. But if you’re bound and determined to enter the field of neurosurgery, it certainly can be done. And you’ll come out of the process armed with the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a challenging and rewarding career in the service of those in need. However, you will have to follow a rather specific trajectory. Here are the steps you’ll most likely take if you plan to become a neurosurgeon.
Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree from a pre-med program is the place to begin, although degrees in related majors like biology, chemistry, and other sciences may also be acceptable. In truth, you could even begin with a totally unrelated degree (English, for example), but afterwards you will likely have to apply for a 1-2 year course that includes intensive math and science coursework designed to prepare you for medical school. Luckily, such feeder programs will funnel you directly into the school of your choice should you pass your courses and qualify. You will, of course, have to pass the MCAT first, but then it’s on to four years of medical school. It might be a good idea to take advantage of a free MCAT practice test online to make sure you are ready to ace that test the first time.
During your time in med school you’ll have two years of study followed by two years of clinical training under the supervision of a licensed medical professional. Following this training you’ll earn your medical degree, take your state board exams, and hopefully become a licensed practitioner. At this point you’ll move into your residency with an accredited neurosurgery program. This is where it starts to get really hard. While many residency programs require only 3 or 4 more years of training (or even less in some cases), the complex nature of the field you have chosen means that you’ll have to spend the next 6-8 years learning everything necessary to become a practicing neurosurgeon in your own right. It is not an easy road to take, considering you’ll devote as many as 16 years of your life to learning your trade, so you need to be sure that this is the career you really want.
Of course, once you’ve completed your education and training, you’ll have one of the most prestigious titles in the medical community, not to mention one of the highest salaries, averaging over $600,000 (and potentially topping out at over a million). But in order to succeed at your chosen profession you’ll not only have to complete your training; you’ll also have to display a certain skillset that includes precise surgical skill, critical thinking, and the ability to perform under intense pressure. If you meet the many criteria for taking on such a role in the medical community, you’ll have the opportunity to help patients at the most select spine and sports medicine facilities, as well as the top hospitals in the country and perhaps even around the world. Challenging doesn’t begin to describe the roadmap for a career in neurosurgery, but the rewards are likely to be just as great.