If you have narrowed down your career choices between becoming a neurosurgeon vs. a psychiatrist, one thing is for certain -- both career choices are demanding. Both neurosurgeons and psychiatrists are medical doctors, so they share the same basic four years of medical-school training. The difference is in the residency and the focus of practice. While both physicians treat problems in the brain, the neurosurgeon is best known for her scalpel, while the psychiatrist is best known for her medications.
Becoming a Doctor
Whether you plan to become a neurosurgeon or a psychiatrist, you will immerse yourself deep in text books for the next 12 to 14 years. Both types of doctors study until their eyeballs are red to get good grades in undergraduate school so a top-notch medical school will accept them. After another four years spent memorizing anatomy, physiology and biology, you will emerge with your diploma, but you aren't finished there. After completing two of the three steps necessary to get your medical-school license, you'll need to apply for a residency. Further specialization requires another two years of school.
Get ready for an intense, high-demand, four-year residency on your way to becoming a psychiatrist. Most schools' programs take between three and four years to finish, with a different focus and location for each year of training. The University of Colorado School of Medicine, for example, divides their program into four years with each successive year building on tools acquired the year before. Focus areas include core skills training, diagnosis, medications and patient care, different patient treatments and independent work.
A neurosurgeon's residency is just as demanding and long as a psychiatrist's residency, but with a different focus. During your first year at UCLA Medical School, for example, you will gain knowledge of basic surgical skills. Year two's focus is on acquiring skills specific to neurosurgery, with you and your supervisor sharing patient-care responsibilities. During year three, you will complete non-surgical, research-oriented tasks. During year four, your focus will shift to supervisory tasks, and in year five you will assume the chief resident role, supervising the other residents.
Most psychiatrists focus their practice on prescribing medications used to treat mental health and substance abuse disorders, according to the website, PsychCentral. After ruling out medical causes of patient's complaints, they match the symptoms to the appropriate behavioral health disorder and treat the patient with psychotropic medications, monitoring for side effects.
A neurosurgeon also rules out basic medical issues. When the focus is found to be a neurological disorder, such as when there is a brain tumor, however, she also treats her patients using surgical techniques.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.