Challenges of Being a Neurosurgeon

Neurosurgeons perform spinal cord repair, among other surgeries.
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Neurosurgery is a specialized area of neurology, which is the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries affecting the brain, spinal cord an nervous system. Many earn high incomes for their expertise, but such benefits are accompanied by a number of day-to-day challenges.

High Stress

    According to a 2008 article in the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, or AANS, newsletter, neurosurgeons are among the most-stressed medical professionals. All surgeons face some level of stress. Neurosurgeons, who work on very delicate areas of the brain, spine and nervous systems, face a particularly high level of stress. Slight errors can cause paralysis or fatality. Also, neurosurgeons who work in emergency units must do their work on a moment's notice without much preparation.

Limited Variety

    A benefit of specializing in a certain area of medicine is that your expertise in that area grows over time. A challenge for neurosurgeons, however, is continuing to learn and maintain focus when procedures become routine. While rare conditions do exist in the field of neurology, neurosurgeons typically perform a few types of surgery on patients with common brain or spinal conditions, such as spinal cord pain. General surgeons, by contrast, may see a wider array of surgeries on many parts of the body.


    Medical technology has advanced greatly in the early 21st century. This is generally good for the field and patients. It presents challenges, though, for neurosurgeons used to doing their work with their hands. Computer navigation and virtual surgery devices are among the technologies used by neurosurgeons. Learning to make incisions and perform surgery with virtual tools can be time-consuming and frustrating for veteran neurosurgeons, according to a December 2010 article in the Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery Journal.


    The rigors of internships and residencies in neurosurgery are described as "baptism under fire" in AANS newsletter. Residents routinely work 80- to 120-hour weeks, and become actively involved in patient assessments, treatments and participating alongside surgeons in the operating room. Established neurosurgeons commonly work a 50- to 60-hour week as well. Many also work on-call shifts at local hospitals and respond to emergencies. Given the stress of the job and the time requirements, maintaining balance with personal and family lives can be difficult for a neurosurgeon.

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