Neurosurgery focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of the autonomic, central and peripheral nervous systems. It focuses on the entire nervous system, not just one part of the body, meaning that a neurosurgeon may operate on the brain, spine or extremities. It's a career that has many benefits for the intellectually curious who have both the personal and physical stamina for long surgical procedures.
Neurosurgeons have to deal with long hours, standing for long periods and the stress of life-and-death situations, but they are well compensated for their efforts. According to Becker's Hospital Review, the average salary for a neurosurgeon in 2010 was $767,627. A pediatric neurosurgeon made an average salary of $643,188 during the same period. The amount made by individual surgeons can vary because of the surgeon's experience, geographic location and whether the neurosurgeon works for a hospital or in a private practice.
Being a Hero: Emotional Rewards
Although one wrong move can ruin a patient's motor or speech skills, or even kill the patient, there are emotional rewards that come with the pressure of neurosurgery. Successful operations will improve the quality of life for another person, giving that person opportunities, such as the ability to walk, talk or even feel emotion. Neurosurgery can also free people from severe pain or save their lives. One procedure, known as hemispherectomy, removes half the brain to control seizures or dispose of brain tumors without any effect on personality or memory. Since neurosurgeons are the only ones who study the nervous system as a whole, they are the only ones who can diagnose and treat some problems. It's rewarding to see a patient get up and walk again or be able to talk to or even recognize her children again.
Becoming a neurosurgeon requires 11 to 16 years of training, which tends to limit the number of specialists emerging in the field. In 2009, there were only about 3,500 practicing, board-certified neurosurgeons in the United States. Each year, 160 residents qualify for the 170 new training positions. It's a field where a job is almost guaranteed for anyone who makes it through the rigorous training due to ongoing shortages. Neurosurgeons who are willing to work in rural or low-income areas have even better job prospects, since these areas usually have trouble attracting doctors.
No two operations are the same, so a neurosurgeon should enjoy the intellectual challenge of dealing with constant learning and change. Neurosurgeons are decisive and take full responsibility for their decisions in surgery. It's a balancing act between quality of life and risk versus the benefits of types of surgery. Neurosurgeons also participate in cutting-edge research, helping to find ways to help or even cure patients who are seriously ill or injured. Neurosurgery offers sub-specialization in pediatric neurosurgery, interventional neuroradiology, spine or vascular surgery and neuro-oncology. It's also possible to specialize in pain, trauma, functional and stereotactic neurosurgery, a three-dimensional technique.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.
- BLS: Physicians and Surgeons: Occupational Outlook Handbook
- Becker's Hospital Review: 16 Statistics on Surgeon Compensation by Specialty
- Scientific American: When Half a Brain is Better than a Whole One
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physicians and Surgeons
- Career Trend: Physicians and Surgeons
Darlene Peer has been writing, editing and proofreading for more than 10 years. Peer has written for magazines and contributed to a number of books. She has worked in various fields, from marketing to business analysis. Peer received her Bachelor of Arts in English from York University.