It’s a dream for many young people and a handful of older adults; becoming a doctor. Healthcare isn’t a simple field to break into, and most jobs require several years of education. That education isn’t cheap, and it may be too stressful for some people.
If you think you can handle the grind and find the money to pay for it, being a doctor is a rewarding profession, and you may get to save some lives.
The tough part for many aspiring doctors might be choosing the right specialty to study. You want to pick a specialty that you’ll enjoy, but you want to make sure you get the best paycheck possible as well.
Granted, money is rarely the reason anyone chooses to become a doctor. You have to want to help people and have a passion for it, or you’ll find it’s impossible to endure the years of studying.
Consider all the specialties you’ve got to choose from and pick a few that sound interesting. Do your homework and research each field to see if it interests you. Don’t get in a hurry to pick because there are a lot of specialties to choose from of them including:
The one we’re focused on here is neurology, and more specifically, becoming a neurosurgeon. Neurosurgeons perform surgery on various parts of your nervous system including your brain.
Obviously, this isn’t a job to be taken lightly. Even a minor mistake could cost a patient the use of their limbs. So, weigh your options heavily and choose wisely.
If you pick neurosurgery, prepare for a long road or studying and being broke a lot. You’re looking at four years of pre-med, four years of medical school, and a minimum of six years of residency. That’s a minimum of 14 years of studying and training. Keep in mind that most surgical residents don’t get paid enormous salaries since they’re technically still students and haven’t proved they can do the job yet.
If you look at it from the patient’s perspective, it’s more comforting to know the person that is going to open your skull has been training to do the job for nearly two decades.
Knowing you can make this kind of difference in a person’s life is rewarding on its own and the paychecks will get bigger with time. However, the price you pay to help people and acquire the bigger paychecks is steep.
So How Much Money Does a Brain Surgeon Make?
That question is a hard one to answer with an absolute dollar amount. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surgeons average around $251,890 annually. Orthopedic, neurology, and cardiology specialist tend to make more money than other surgeons. Some neurosurgeons average closer to $600,000 per year.
Salaries for brain surgeons in the past years ranged from $421,000 to $790,000 according to the BLS. Contributing factors to the wide range of salaries included location and reputation. Brain surgeons with high success rates in large hospitals earned the highest incomes. It’s not about advertising or public relations; it’s about changing or saving lives. That makes a lot of difference to patients and employers.
However, the risks that go with brain surgery suck away a good chunk of those his annual salaries. Since a minor mistake can cost a patient their life, malpractice insurance tends to run higher for surgeons.
Surgeons that specialize in brain surgery and heart surgery pay the highest malpractice insurance premiums of any medical specialty.
What Does a Brain Surgeon Do?
The answer to that question might seem obvious, but it’s more complicated than you might imagine. One reason it’s complex is that people often assume brain surgeons operate on the brain exclusively.
In reality, neurosurgery is an umbrella term for several mini-specialties within the field. Many people labeled brain surgeons never work inside a human skull.
Your nervous system runs throughout your body, so a neurosurgeon may end up working on other parts of you. Some brain surgeons specialize in helping patients by working on medical cures for some diseases that affect the nervous system and the brain.
Some of the things a brain surgeon may do include:
- Surgery on the brain
- Surgery on the spinal cord
- Operations involving nerves
- Remove tumors near or on parts of the nervous system
- Treat patients with neurological trauma such as a broken neck
- Surgically relieve chronic pain
While most of the surgeries they perform may be on or near the brain or spinal cord, their skills might be put to use removing a tumor that’s growing near the bottom of your spine.
Some brain surgeons may not perform invasive surgeries at all. Some specialize in radiosurgery which uses radiation to target and treat some tumors that may grow in areas a scalpel can’t reach safely.
There’s a lot more to this medical specialty that doesn’t involve cutting anything. Lead or chief surgeons must have the business and people skills to organize and oversee groups of surgeons that work under them.
These other surgeons may need advice or assistance along the way in and out of the operating room. This type of position gets reserved for the most experienced surgeons, but you can call it a goal.
Brain surgeons interpret the various tests used to scan our nervous systems like MRI, CT, and PET scans. Beyond all the studying, reading, and analyzing, all surgeons need near perfect hand to eye coordination.
Whether they’re performing a procedure like those we see on TV or using a microscope to do microsurgery, steady hands are critical to the profession.
Should I Become a Brain Surgeon?
We talked about the lengthy educational process necessary to make an attempt at becoming a neurosurgeon, but let’s look a little deeper at why brain surgeons get to command such large salaries. Aspiring doctors have to focus on physical and biological science plus math while earning a bachelor’s degree. So, you get to study all the hard stuff.
The goal is a high score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) which is designed to gauge your knowledge of physical and biological science.
A high MCAT does not guarantee you’ll get accepted into any medical schools. The MCAT along with your application essay and any letters of recommendation must form a perfect package before you get approved.
If you get accepted into a medical school, you’ll spend the first two years studying the basics of medicine like pharmacology and gastroenterology.
It’s not all about medicine, and some classes are designed to teach you about empathy and understanding your patients. In short, the first two years of medical is more studying and testing to get you ready for real-world work.
Your final two years of medical school usually involve a more clinical setting. You’ll work in hospitals and practices with doctors and nurses.
Ideally, students rotate through many of the primary specialties while doing their clinicals which helps the medical school find your strong points and your weak ones. It also gives you the opportunity to experience different branches of medicine.
Unfortunately, you’re still not technically a medical doctor when you complete four years of medical school. You move from medical school into a residency program which usually lasts six to seven years.
You’ll work in most of the mini-specialties that fall under neurology including emergency medicine, adult surgery, pediatric surgery, and possibly elective surgery.
At this point, you’re still not ready to earn a brain surgeon’s salary. It varies depending on the state you’re doing your residency in because some states require residents to complete the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam before they start their residency while others don’t expect it.
If your state requires a license during your residency, don’t assume you just need to get it done and start work.
Some Tips on Advancing Your Career in Brain Surgery
Several things may improve your salary and chances of getting a good position once you’ve completed all the necessary steps to become a board-certified brain surgeon. Brain surgeons aren’t required to be board-certified, but the BLS and most hospitals agree that it helps and opens new doors. Some hospitals won’t hire brain surgeons unless they get board-certified.
Once you start clinicals, try to get into a neurological clerkship. It’ll look good on your resume and give you a closer look at brain surgery while you’re completing your clinicals.
Aim for a fellowship when you start your residency for the same reasons. You’ll get more experience, and it will help improve your salary once you become a licensed surgeon.
We painted a less than ideal picture of becoming a brain surgeon, but the rewards outweigh the trials. It’s hard work and requires a high level of dedication.
The process prepares you for everything, so you’re ready to perform procedures when it’s over. Keep in mind that saving lives and improving the quality of life for people is more rewarding than a brain surgeon’s salary.