Medical School Plus Residency Required for Specialization

You may think a neurosurgeon just performs brain surgery, but typically these medical doctors spend about 70 percent of their time diagnosing and treating back and neck pain, herniated discs and even leg pain. It's a demanding specialty, especially for working moms, but one with great rewards for both doctor and patient.

Job Description

Neurosurgeons perform surgery as well as non-operative procedures on patients of all ages who suffer illness or injury related to the central nervous system. While many people think of a neurosurgeon as a "brain surgeon," neurosurgeons more commonly perform spinal and spinal cord operations. Some neurosurgeons specialize in specific types of problems, such as cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back). Others specialize by age group. Pediatric neurosurgeons, for example, limit their practice to infants and children.

Performing surgery is just part of the job. Neurosurgeons may recommend anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy or other conservative, non-invasive treatment. They will work with you and with other healthcare professionals to determine the best course of care.

Education Requirements

Becoming a neurosurgeon requires a serious commitment to years of education and training. The first step is to complete a rigorous pre-medical education at the undergraduate level, typically culminating in a bachelor's degree. The core curriculum for pre-med programs includes advanced math such as calculus and statistics, English and laboratory courses in biology, physics and chemistry. Grade point average (GPA) is very important. The average GPA for students accepted to medical school in the U.S. is 3.55; for top-tier schools, the average can be 3.75 and even higher. Pre-med students must also achieve an acceptable score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a six-hour exam that tests science knowledge and critical-thinking skills.

Medical school means four additional years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. Students attend lectures and take laboratory courses in the first year, including classes in anatomy, pathology, biochemistry and histology. Clinical studies begin in the second year, and students complete clinical rotations during the third and fourth years. Students gain knowledge and experience in a number of specialties and can begin focusing on areas of interest. Medical students receive grades for coursework and clinicals, and they must pass a national exam before graduation.

At the end of the third year of medical school, students begin the process of residency applications. Graduation from medical school is not sufficient to practice medicine in the United States. New doctors must complete a minimum residency of one year, during which time they work under the supervision of a licensed physician and gradually assume more responsibility. Most medical school graduates complete at least three years of residency. The amount of time necessary to complete a residency is varied. Residencies in pediatrics, internal medicine and family practice, for example, require three years. General surgery requires five years. Neurosurgery requires seven years. After successful completion of residency training, a medical doctor can practice medicine or undertake additional training with a fellowship in a sub-specialty that can last a year or more.

The extensive education and training required means that neurosurgeons do not begin practicing until they are in their 30s. They may also have significant student debt, as the path to becoming a doctor can be costly. Undergraduate tuition in the U.S. averages $25,290 per year in-state students at public institutions. Private school tuition averages $50,900 annually, meaning some schools cost much more. The cost for medical school ranges from an average of $34,592 per year for public school to $50,000 and up for a private school. Medical residents typically earn $40,000 to $50,000 a year while completing their residency training.

Continuing education is required for neurosurgeons to maintain their state licensure and board certification. Seminars and classes are offered by medical schools and professional organizations.

About the Industry

Neurosurgeons typically consult with patients in an office setting. Neurosurgeons must be affiliated with a hospital to perform surgery. Some neurosurgeons also teach in medical schools and supervise residents. Although women currently account for 49 percent of medical school graduates, only five percent become neurosurgeons.

Years of Experience

The salary range for a neurosurgeon averages $103,279‒$789,182, depending on experience. With bonuses, profit-sharing and commissions, top neurosurgeons can earn more than $800,000 annually. Average salaries based on years in the field are:

  • Entry-level: $300,200
  • Mid-career: $398,950
  • Experienced: $414,750
  • Late career: $442,400

Job Growth Trend

The demand for physicians and surgeons in all specialties is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade. Strong job growth is projected because of the growing and aging population.

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