The human nervous system is an intricate and vital network, orchestrating both voluntary and involuntary bodily functions. At the forefront of its study and care are neurosurgeons, whose role in healthcare is indispensable. These medical professionals are known for their exceptional precision and attention to detail, skills crucial for conducting complex surgeries.

Wondering about the path to becoming a neurosurgeon? If questions like “How long does it take to become a neurosurgeon?” or “What’s involved in neurosurgeon training?” pique your interest, you’re in the right place. Join us as we explore the rigorous yet rewarding journey from being a medical student to becoming a proficient neurosurgeon, illuminating each critical milestone and addressing your queries along the way.

What Is a Neurosurgeon?

A neurosurgeon is a medical doctor with specialized training in surgery of the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. They are adept at a variety of surgical procedures to treat conditions such as cerebral aneurysms, strokes, head and spinal cord injuries, and tumors in the brain and spinal areas. Their expertise also covers the treatment of neurological conditions like epilepsy, hydrocephalus, and degenerative spinal disorders, among others.

What Does a Neurosurgeon Do?

Neurosurgeons play a multifaceted role in healthcare. Beyond diagnosing and surgically treating disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, they engage in comprehensive patient care. This includes utilizing advanced diagnostic tools like MRIs and CT scans to accurately pinpoint conditions and performing intricate surgeries, such as spinal fusions and brain tumor removals. Their responsibilities extend to:

  • Developing pain management and symptom control strategies through medication.
  • Providing detailed consultations to patients and their families, ensuring they understand treatment options and expected outcomes.
  • Collaborating closely with an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals during both the planning and execution of surgical procedures.

Moreover, neurosurgeons often contribute to medical research and innovation, staying abreast of the latest techniques and treatments to continuously enhance patient care.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Neurosurgeon?

Because neurosurgeons treat conditions and diseases of the delicate nervous system, becoming a neurosurgeon is a lengthy and rigorous process involving intense education and training. The path to becoming one can take 13 to 16 years after finishing high school. Here are the educational and training milestones you need to reach on your journey: 

Get a bachelor’s degree

The first step to becoming a neurosurgeon is getting a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. While there’s no requirement on what major you should pursue, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, biological sciences, or a related field can provide a foundation on which to build your medical knowledge.

Take and pass the MCAT

Before enrolling in medical school, you must take and pass the Medical College Admission Test or MCAT, as it’s a requirement for most medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. This test was designed to assess your knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts as well as your critical analysis, reasoning, and writing skills. 

Complete medical school 

Medical school is the next educational milestone in your journey to become a neurosurgeon. Medical school usually lasts four years, during which you’ll take courses in anatomy, pathology, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, and other medical subjects. You’ll also undergo rotations in hospitals and clinics in various medical specialties, including neurology and neurosurgery. 

Complete medical residency.

Neurosurgery residency is one of the most challenging and intensive medical residencies. Moreover, the neurosurgery residency is the longest residency, lasting six to seven years. During this time, you’ll learn to perform complex neurosurgical procedures and medical surgeries under the supervision of experienced neurosurgeons. 

Secure a fellowship

Although you’ll learn to perform complex neurosurgical procedures during neurosurgery residency, like many neurosurgeons, you can choose to complete a fellowship as well, which means one or two years of additional training in a neurosurgery subspecialty. A fellowship offers you the opportunity to work with leading experts in the field, gain hands-on experience, as well as engage in research.

Become licensed

An essential step to practicing medicine as a neurosurgeon is to become licensed by the state you want to practice in. Licensing processes may vary from state to state, but typically, they require verification of your education and graduate training as well as submitting proof of the completion of the three steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)

Become certified

After completing residency and fellowship, you can become certified by passing the written and oral examinations administered by the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABSN). To maintain certification, you must participate in continuing medical education and periodically pass additional exams. While not mandatory, board certification is an important credential that demonstrates your commitment to the field and can help you build trust with patients.

Essential Skills of a Neurosurgeon


To become a neurosurgeon, you must undergo intensive education and training, as well as develop technical, cognitive, and interpersonal skills. You need technical skills to perform various surgical procedures, cognitive skills to interpret complex medical information to diagnose patients, and interpersonal skills to empathize and communicate with patients and their families. 

Some of the essential skills to become an exceptional neurosurgeon include: 

  • Medical knowledge: All capable neurosurgeons need extensive medical knowledge of the brain, nervous system, and spine to treat patients effectively. 
  • Manual dexterity: To become a neurosurgeon, you need manual dexterity to perform intricate surgeries that require precision and control. You must possess good hand-eye coordination and a steady hand. 
  • Decision-making: Neurosurgeons often have to make critical decisions in the operating room and in emergencies, so you must be able to quickly and accurately analyze information to make informed decisions. 
  • Communication skills: As a neurosurgeon, you have to communicate effectively with patients and other healthcare professionals. You also need to clearly explain the risks and benefits of treatment to your patients. 
  • Physical stamina: Neurosurgeons have to perform long surgeries and often work long hours, so they need to be physically fit to endure their shifts. 

Career Growth and Opportunities

While becoming a neurosurgeon is an impressive achievement, there are still many ways to grow in your career as a neurosurgeon. After gaining experience, you can take on leadership roles and become department head or head of surgery at the hospital. 

Neurosurgery also offers good opportunities to build an academic career, as you can become engaged in research by writing papers, presenting at conferences, and collaborating with peers. This way, you can participate in clinical trials and projects that contribute to developing new treatments and technologies. 

Moreover, experienced neurosurgeons can play a pivotal role in shaping future professionals by teaching in medical schools and mentoring residents in clinical settings. This mentorship not only enhances the learning experience for aspiring neurosurgeons but also keeps you abreast of the latest developments in the field.

The Financial Perspective

Pursuing a career in neurosurgery presents a complex financial landscape. Established neurosurgeons command an impressive average annual salary of around $347,870, reflecting the skill and dedication required in this field. However, the journey there is financially demanding, often involving substantial student loan debt accrued during years of undergraduate and medical school education.

Despite these initial financial hurdles, the career of a neurosurgeon not only offers the prospect of high earnings but also the reward of professional achievement and the satisfaction of making a significant impact in healthcare.

Challenges and Considerations

Neurosurgery is a gratifying career as you get the chance to save lives and contribute to new advancements in the field. However, as you determine if this career is right for you, you must be mindful of the challenges you may face in your profession and the factors you need to consider. Some of them being: 

  • Long educational journey: Neurosurgeons undergo a long and demanding educational journey, stretching over nearly fifteen years post-high school. This period, filled with intensive learning and training, can be mentally, emotionally, and financially taxing. 
  • Work-life balance: Neurosurgeons can exceed 70 work hours per week and can work irregular hours due to emergencies, which can make it hard to strike a balance between work and personal life. 
  • High malpractice risks: As a neurosurgeon, you’ll perform complex surgical procedures where even the slightest error can lead to permanent brain damage. The constant risk of malpractice can put immense pressure and stress, which can ultimately lead to burnout. 

The Bottom Line

Pursuing a neurosurgery career is a journey marked by formidable challenges and profound satisfaction. Neurosurgeons hold a critical position in healthcare, utilizing their extensive training to address complex neurological issues. The path demands enduring years of comprehensive education, facing intense work hours, and navigating the risks associated with high-stakes medical procedures.

Yet, the career of a neurosurgeon is immensely impactful. It opens doors to leadership roles, academic contributions, and pioneering advancements in medical science. Beyond the tangible rewards, the profound fulfillment that comes from saving lives and driving innovation in neurosurgery is unparalleled, making it a uniquely rewarding profession.

Your journey to a rewarding neurosurgical career starts with the right foundation. At the American University of Antigua (AUA), we are committed to delivering exceptional education and fostering the essential qualities for success in neurosurgery. Take the first step toward a remarkable career that changes lives—explore our medical school and become part of a community that values excellence and innovation.


Is neurosurgery hard?

Neurosurgery is one of the hardest specialties for many valid reasons. While there’s no easy specialty per se, neurosurgeons have to operate on the notoriously delicate neurons of the brain and spinal cord. These operations require specialized equipment and the utmost precision and detail, as any mishap can lead to life-altering brain damage.  

Is being a neurosurgeon worth it?

The choice to pursue neurosurgery is a deeply personal one, aligning with your career aspirations and values. This field offers immense fulfillment. As a neurosurgeon, you have the profound ability to transform the lives of patients facing serious neurological challenges. In neurosurgery, the landscape is always evolving, promising continuous intellectual stimulation and lifelong learning opportunities. Moreover, the respect and high esteem that neurosurgeons enjoy within the medical community bring an added layer of professional satisfaction and pride.

What is the difference between a neurologist and a neuropsychiatrist?

The main difference between a neurologist and a neuropsychiatrist is their training and focus. Neurologists specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions related to the nervous system, while neuropsychiatrists focus on the overlap between neurological and psychiatric disorders, and how they affect behavior, cognition, and emotions.