Ever since your mom took you to the doctor when you fell off your bike and gashed your knee open, you’ve been fascinated by medicine. That scar on your knee may have faded with time, but you still have a burning desire to be a doctor. Not just any doctor, either -- you’re leaning toward either neurosurgery or neurology, specialties that have considerable similarity but also some significant differences.
Up to the point where they enter residency, neurosurgeons and neurologists follow the same educational path. College comes first -- most physicians-to-be concentrate on heavy-duty science and math courses -- followed by four years in medical school. After a one-year internship, the neurosurgeon spends five to seven years in a residency, beginning with general surgery and then progressing into neurosurgery. Neurologists spend at least three years learning medical management of neurological problems. Either physician might also complete an extended period of training known as a fellowship. Total time in the educational process -- at least 12 years for a neurologist and 13 years for a neurosurgeon.
Although many people think of neurosurgeons as brain surgeons, these specialists actually spend most of their time treating spine problems, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. They diagnose and treat conditions of the entire nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and nerves anywhere in the body. Neurosurgeons perform surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists, remove brain tumors or perform spinal surgery. They also treat patients who don’t need surgery but have conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or low-back pain.
There’s considerable overlap between the work of neurologists and neurosurgeons when it comes to medical management. Neurologists also diagnose and treat conditions of the entire nervous system, but do not perform surgery. Either doctor might manage a patient with epilepsy, a stroke, chronic pain or cerebral palsy. A neurologist might act as the patient’s primary physician and make a referral to the neurosurgeon if surgery is indicated or act as a consultant to the patient’s family doctor, pediatrician or internist. Neurologists also perform complex neurological testing such as electroencephalograms, which monitor the electrical activity in the brain.
Job Outlook and Salaries
Medicine is a career with good prospects. Job demand for physicians and surgeons is expected to grow 24 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You should also expect to make a good living. Although the BLS does not track earnings specifically for neurosurgeons or neurologists, the American Medical Group Association, or AMGA, reports neurologists earned $246,500 in 2011. Becker’s Spine Review reports that neurosurgeons earned salaries ranging from $706,418 to $936,162 in 2010, depending on geographic location, work setting and experience.
- American Association of Neurological Surgeons: Health Information You Should Know
- American Academy of Neurology: What is a Neurologist?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- American Medical Group Association: 2011 Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey
- Becker’s Hospital Review: 5 Things to Know about Spine & Neurosurgeon Compensation
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.