How Much Do Neurosurgeons Make and What Does It Take to Become One

The “it’s not brain surgery” joke might be funny until brain surgery actually becomes your career choice.

Being a neurosurgeon is anything but easy. Years of education and rigorous training are followed by a lifetime in one of the highest-pressure professions in the world.

The job is demanding and stressful, and it has an impact on your personal life. The path towards it is complicated and it takes a long time to complete.

Of course, there are many rewarding aspects of being a neurosurgeon, money being only one of the main ones. But it makes sense to wonder – exactly how much do neurosurgeons make? Let’s take a look at the numbers, and then get into what life of a neurosurgeon looks like.

How Much Do Neurosurgeons Make on Average?

A neurosurgeon’s salary can vary between $103,279 ‒ $789,182, with the median salary in the US being $397,757. The main factor that determines a neurosurgeon’s salary is their level of experience. Here’s an overview of average salaries depending on the career level:

  • Entry-level – $341,658
  • Mid-career (5 years’ experience) – $406,092
  • Experienced (10 years’ experience)- $462,377
  • Late career (20+ years’ experience) – $490,243

Of course, actual salaries can be much lower or higher than this, when you factor in profit sharing, commissions, and bonuses. The income of the top 10% of late-career neurosurgeons can even be more than $883,000.

This makes a career in neurosurgery one of the best paid ones in the field of medicine. This is mostly due to the effort necessary to become a neurosurgeon, the job’s demanding nature, and the extremely high level of responsibility that neurosurgeons have.

Even though this is by no means a small amount of money, many people still argue that the job is underpaid. Neurosurgeons deal with some of the world’s deadliest and most complex disorders, and the pressure in higher than in most other professions, both from the field of medicine and outside of it.

So if you’re thinking about a career in neurosurgery, money shouldn’t be the main reason to pursue it. Since the financial benefits might not outweigh the stressful lifestyle, you shouldn’t go for this career unless it is truly your calling.

So what does the life as a neurosurgeon look like? Keep reading to find out.

What Is It Like to Be a Neurosurgeon?

Imagine waking up in the morning knowing that someone’s life or their ability to perform everyday tasks sits in your hands. Now imagine doing the same tomorrow, the day after, and so on for the entire span of your career. Not many people would be able to handle this kind of unrelenting pressure.

Neurosurgeons have a responsibility to be at their best every time. There is no room for error or for bad days. This takes a toll on the surgeons, and it affects their personal and family life. Dealing with high-stakes situations becomes routine, but it never gets less stressful or demanding.

Of course, the job is also one of the most rewarding ones out there. Knowing that you helped save someone from aneurism, brain tumor, or a variety of other diseases affecting the central nervous system can truly bring joy to your life.

What Do Neurosurgeons Do Exactly?

Many people believe that neurosurgeons mostly deal with brain-related disorders. However, their scope is much wider, and it includes spinal operations of all sorts. In fact, neurosurgeons diagnose and perform more spinal than brain injuries.

What’s more, surgeons do so much more than just performing surgery. They can also recommend non-invasive procedures, physical therapy, or different medications. In most cases, they work with other doctors to determine the best way of dealing with specific issues. Every patient’s treatment needs a unique approach.

If this lifestyle sounds appealing to you, and you’d like to learn more about becoming a neurosurgeon, here’s what your path towards the career will look like.

Becoming a Neurosurgeon

A career in neurosurgery is reserved for those willing to commit fully to years of education and training. The first step is completing a pre-medical undergraduate program ending with a bachelor’s degree. A core pre-med curriculum involves:

  • Organic chemistry with laboratory courses
  • Biology with laboratory courses
  • Physics with laboratory courses
  • English
  • Advanced math classes, including calculus and statistics

Upon graduating, you need to undertake another 4 years of medical school. To get in, your GPA is very important, with the minimum being 3.55 for most US-based medical schools. You also need to pass the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), which consists of six hours of various tests.

Upon finishing the 3rd year of medical school, most aspiring doctors start looking for residency. In every field of medicine, residency is necessary for building a career. With the seven-year requirement, neurosurgery has one of the longest residency periods in medicine.

After completing the residency, you can start working as a neurosurgeon. You can also go with sub-specialty training, which might last for a year or longer. Most people don’t start their career until their 30s, due to the extensive period of training and education. What’s more, every neurosurgeon needs to maintain their licensure through continuous education that involves various classes and seminars.

Should You Become a Neurosurgeon?

Many people want to know “how much do neurosurgeons make” without taking into account other, even more important things. The income is definitely high enough for most people to live a comfortable life, but it comes at a price.

As mentioned, you should pursue a career in neurosurgery only if you’re willing to devote yourself to more than a decade of extensive education and training. And once you’ve completed it, you need to be ready to give 100% in every situation, which can be extremely stressful. Aside from formal education, this requires a fitting mindset and good interpersonal skills. If you can develop those, and believe that neurosurgery is something you want to do for the rest of your life, all of this will be worth it.