Brain surgery, or neurosurgery, is one of the most technically challenging disciplines in medicine. The nervous system -- your brain, spinal cord and nerves -- is composed of billions of cells making trillions of connections; these cells generally do not grow back. As a neurosurgeon you will perform surgery on the brain, skull, neck, back, spinal cord and the blood vessels supplying these organs in order to preserve the delicate network driving thought, behavior and movement.
The lifestyle of a neurosurgeons can be extremely demanding. Days typically start before dawn and may last late into the night. Neurosurgeons are required to spend time on call, where they must be available to treat emergencies that arise. Understanding of the function of the brain and treatment options evolves rapidly, and neurosurgeons need to spend a great deal of effort to keep current. Because of the profound effects of damage to the brain, neurosurgery can be both extremely rewarding and difficult emotionally.
As a neurosurgeon, you may treat many conditions, including strokes; bleeds in the brain or spinal cord; ruptured disks between spinal vertebra; damage to the bones of the skull or spine; tumors in or near the brain or spinal cord; traumatic brain injuries; genetic defects in the ventricles or lining of the brain; disorders of the pituitary gland; aneurisms; implantation of electrodes in active or inactive abnormal areas; and infections of the nervous system.
The nervous system is extremely complex. Neurosurgeons specialize in the practice of treating a single aspect, according to the American College of Surgeons. A neuro-oncologist specializes in the detection, removal and concurrent treatment of brain tumors. A spinal surgeon is a neurosurgeon who specializes in the delicate surgery to repair damage around the spinal cord. Some neurosurgeons specialize in surgery to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders by removing overactive, nonessential areas of the brain. Surgeons also specialize in the treatment of vascular problems, such as clots of bleeds in the brain. Available specializations are rapidly changing as technology evolves.
After completing an M.D. degree, you must complete a residency in neurosurgery to become a neurosurgeon. Residencies last between six and eight years. You will also typically complete a one- or two-year fellowship to specialize in a sub-specialty of neurosurgery. After each of these steps, you will be required to pass an oral exam in front of a board of specialists to receive the license or certification required to practice neurosurgery and sub-specialties.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies neurosurgeons under the general heading of surgeons and notes that the median annual salary for general surgeons as of 2010 was $343,958. The median salary for neurosurgeons, however, was $575,000 in 2010, according to Education Portal. The salary may be as low as $165,000 to much higher, depending on your choice to pursue high-risk patients and use expensive new technology, according to Super Scholar. The malpractice costs for neurosurgeons are also much higher than for other surgical practices.
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