It takes years of training to become a brain surgeon, or neurosurgeon, and often leaves the doctor with a good deal of debt. A student must first get a bachelor’s degree, then attend a pre-medical program, and take an exam called the MCAT. After that, the student must attend four years of medical school to become a doctor of medicine, or MD, and go through a year of surgical internship. The doctor must then specialize in surgery through five or more years of residency at a hospital and take an exam to become board certified as a neurosurgeon. Often, the doctor will continue to specialize in a certain area, such as microneurosurgery or pediatric neurosurgery.
Neurosurgery is the field of surgery centered on the brain, spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system. These operations can be used to diagnose conditions within the nervous system, to treat diseases or disorders, and to remove diseased tissue. Surgery on the brain or spinal cord is almost always highly risky and can cause death, paralysis, psychosis, and brain damage, including loss of speech, memory, or motor skills.
It is no surprise, then, that neurosurgery has one of the longest training periods of any medical profession. In order to become a brain surgeon, one must be licensed as a doctor, have steady hands, work well under pressure, have an outstanding knowledge of the body and brain, training in medicine, training in surgery, and training in the specialty of brain surgery. As this is a very competitive field to get into, many students looking to become a brain surgeon begin by taking science courses and volunteering at hospitals in high school. Medical schools appreciate a wide range of experience, however, and will look at leadership qualities and achievements outside of medicine as well, such as involvement in the Peace Corps.
Many students choose to complete their pre-medical requirements as an undergraduate so that they can apply to medical school directly after getting their bachelor’s degree. Other students may take pre-medical courses independently or enter a two year pre-medical program after getting their bachelor’s. These prerequisites typically include organic and inorganic chemistry with labs, biology with labs, physics, biochemistry, genetics, and other courses in humanities. All students should study well and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), as their scores will help determine which medical school they get into. If not in the United States, the standardized entry exam may be different.
Once accepted into a medical school, the student will spend two years learning sciences in the classroom and the nuts and bolts in clinical education. The second two years also include learning in a classroom setting, but are more focused on rotations in a hospital, so that the student can get a clinical education through experience. If the student wants to become a brain surgeon, she must then go through a year of surgical internship after graduating and earning the title of MD. During this year, the intern gains experience in all areas of surgery through field experience, though she is still not licensed to practice medicine independently.
Upon successful completion of this rigorous year of work, the doctor will then perform an additional five or more years of work as a resident. The resident will specialize, decide whether to be a doctor in research or practice, perform neurosurgery, get clinical experience in neurology, conduct research, and study neuropathology and neuroradiology. Once the requirements are met, the doctor can finally take an exam and submit the necessary materials to get certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, or an equivalent board if in another country.