The Skills to Become a Neurosurgeon

Neurosurgery proves so demanding that only the highest-ranked medical students pursue it as a career.
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Neurosurgery proves so demanding that only the highest-ranked medical students pursue it as a career.

Let's face it -- not just anyone can be a brain surgeon. Operating on the most vulnerable organ in the body, neurosurgeons carry tremendous responsibilities. They must undergo 16 or more years of education and training. Prospective neurologists need a host of skills including a strong work ethic and an ability to think critically.

Critical Thinking

Prospective surgeons must be able to make time-sensitive decisions. Neurosurgery has only been practiced since the early 1900s, making it one of the newest surgeries in modern medicine. Brain surgeons have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis and use problem solving skills for unconventional cases. Neurosurgeons rely heavily on their problem-solving skills to figure out new ways to diagnose and treat neurological diseases. Only about 170 new training positions open each year, so only the most outstanding medical students can become neurosurgeons.


Teamwork proves an essential part of any surgeon's job. Neurosurgeons do not work alone, but they are constantly surrounded by nurses, surgery techs, medical students and other doctors. According to orthopaedic surgeon Stephen W. Hardin, effectively working with other health care providers can improve the safety of the patient, the success of the operation, and overall patient satisfaction.

Physical Stamina

The U.S. has only 3,500 neurosurgeons, so they are severely overworked. Surgeons can work more than 60 hours in a week. Hours are irregular; for example, a surgeon may have to wake up in the middle of the night to perform an emergency surgery. Neurosurgeons perform lengthy surgeries, some lasting more than 12 hours. These operations are stressful and require the surgeon to stand on her feet with few or no breaks. Physical stamina is essential for hopeful neurosurgeons to cope with the strenuous working schedule of a medical resident. You should be able to work efficiently with little or no sleep.

Motor Skills

Brain surgeries deal with nerves and the spinal column, so one wrong move could cause paralysis or permanent brain damage. Neurosurgeon candidates need particularly good hand-eye coordination and a steady hand. With advanced instruments, you must be able to work in small spaces using technical maneuvers.

Reading Comprehension

Interpreting graphs and charts are a major part of neuroscience. Doctors order brain scans to find evidence of tissue scarring, clots and tumors. After training, you must accurately interpret X-rays and images to diagnose neural conditions, then use those images to determine a treatment option.

Technology Savvy

When asked about neurosurgery, Dr. Iain H. Kalfas stated that it's "one of the most technologically involved surgical specialties." A neurosurgeon of 12 years, Dr. Kalfas pointed out that new discoveries are made every year, and many of these discoveries incorporate new technologies into the operating room. Neurosurgeon candidates must be technology savvy and ready to learn about new high-tech surgical tools.

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.

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