Becoming a neurosurgeon involves a substantial commitment in scholarship, time, stamina to complete the extensive program plus long and delicate surgery and the ability to make stressful decisions. Neurosurgical training begins after graduation from medical school through a highly competitive residency program. Harvard University Medical School, Department of Neurosurgery, in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital, offers outstanding opportunities for clinical surgery across all subspecialties with a strong emphasis on research at a top-ranked university and hospital for medicine and neurosurgery.
The Selection Process
Admission to the residency training six- to seven-year program is highly selective. The department recruits applicants who want to work as a team and are committed to academic neurosurgery. While the department considers the candidate's grades, board scores and previous research efforts, the primary consideration is the candidate's future potential. As an encouraged precursor to residency, but not a step to acceptance, medical students interested in neurosurgery have the option of applying to the department to do third- or fourth-year clerkship rotations in neurosurgery where they observe and participate in the process while exploring neurovascular, neuroncology, spine, pediatrics and functional neurosurgery.
The surgical-faculty staff at Harvard University's Neurosurgery Department in Cambridge, Mass., are top-ranked for their surgery and research. Faculty clinical interests vary greatly, such as brain, pituitary and spinal tumors, stereotactic neurosurgery, brain tumors, trigeminal neuralgia, Arnold-Chiari malformation, pediatric neurosurgery, neurooncolgy, human genetics, cerebrovascular malformations, neurofibromatosis, epilepsy, spasticity, hydrocephalus and cervical diseases. Faculty research interests are also extensive, such as proton beam radiotherapy, neurendocrine disorders, spine biomechanics, neuroncology, gene therapy, immunotherapy and pediatric neurotrauma and development.
Hospital and Surgery Facilities
The Department of Neurosurgery at MGH is one of the largest in the hospital, with more than 2,500 neurosurgeries per year, treating about 70 to 90 patients daily. As of 2013, there were 32 neurosurgeons, 15 of whom are residents with four dedicated operating rooms and a 17-bed neurosurgical intensive care unit. The staff specializes in all aspects of neurosurgery, including brain, spinal cords and peripheral nerve diseases. There are nine subspecialties within the department, such as brain tumors, cranial base diseases, pediatric neurosurgery and neurotrauma, treating a wide-range of injuries, diseases and disorders, such as neurogenetic diseases, neuroendocrine disorders, tumors and trauma. The hospital and department were top-ranked for 2013-14 by U.S. News and World Report.
The Residency Program
The residency program has expanded, too, with new faculty members and doubling of laboratory space. Residents are exposed to a large variety and quantity of cases, providing the residents with greater responsibility in surgery and case management. Residents are expected to combine clinical training with superb research, such as at the Molecular Neuroscience Laboratory, the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory or the Laboratory for Sensorimotor Integration. Residents in post-graduate year (PGY) one complete three months with neurosurgery, three months in neurology and six months in general surgery. In PGY two and three, residents expand into radiosurgery, endovascular, pediatric and spine surgeries. Residents in PGY four and five engage in research, while PGY five, six or seven are spent in pediatrics, spine or as chief resident, depending on the resident's program.