How Do I Become a Neurosurgeon?

The road to becoming a neurosurgeon is necessarily a long one. Although no single personality type or trait describes all neurosurgeons, some common themes do emerge:

  • The ability to collect, recollect and use scientific information is essential.
  • An understanding of anatomy, physiology and other disciplines is also required.
  • So is a constructional and three-dimensional orientation. Neurosurgeons operate in and around the brain, spinal cord, nerves and blood vessels, and the ability to analyze and understand these spatial relationships underlies all successful neurosurgical procedures.
  • Some mechanical ability is also needed. All operations, by definition, require some degree of manual dexterity, from tying knots to placing aneurysm clips.

In addition to these skill sets, a successful neurosurgeon must also embody certain personal qualities, including:

Dedication, understanding, and empathy toward your patients, and

Professionalism - the ability to work well within a group or system.

Neurosurgical Education

The first step in the path to becoming a neurosurgeon involves a pre-medical undergraduate education. This usually includes a core curriculum consisting of:

  • A year of chemistry with the appropriate laboratory courses
  • A year of organic chemistry with laboratory courses
  • A year of biology with laboratory courses
  • A year of physics with laboratory courses
  • A year of English
  • A year of calculus or other advanced math classes, including statistics

For American students, the next step typically is to attend an accredited U.S. medical school.

Toward the end of medical school, medical students interested in a career in neurosurgery will apply for a residency training program at an academic medical center through The National Residency Matching Program (NMRP), the central application source for residency applicants. Statistically, a current U.S. medical school graduate, applying for the first time, has an excellent chance - greater than 80% - of obtaining a residency position in neurosurgery.

Applicants can increase their likelihood of matching at the program of their choice by having excellent medical school grades, USMLE test scores, participation and publication of research, and letters of recommendation. Applicants may also to choose to complete away electives.