An Overview of Neurosurgery in the United States

In the 21st century, there is a wide range of challenges associated with Graduate Medical Education (GME) governance and backing. These challenges include, to mention but a few:

  • Fast aging and gradually varied patient population
  • Disadvantaged urban and rural residents
  • Growing incidence of chronic diseases and disability
  • A pressing need for a more lucrative healthcare system
  • Inventions in healthcare delivery
  • Influences of GME on state-level strategies technology

Systematized neurosurgery welcomes the prospect of sharing the perspective on neurosurgery. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons remains dedicated to a particular course. That is, ensuring that the United States of America trains adequate neurosurgeons to deliver patient-focused and excellent neurosurgical care. In this article, we are going to discuss the dynamics of how to become a neurosurgeon.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the United States faces a severe shortage in the physician workforce. These has forced the government to offer scholarships for the students that qualify to study abroad. This situation continues to deteriorate with the expansion of health insurance coverage to more than 30 million more Americans after the passing of the Affordable Healthcare Act in 2010. Besides, the baby-boomer generation continues to dive deeper in their retirement age.

Neurosurgery Statistics

There are nearly 3,689 active board accredited neurosurgeons for more than 5,700 hospitals in the United States. These professionals serve a population that exceeds 311 million individuals.

Of these American hospitals, nearly 1,600 offer care for traumas, while those in qualified primary stroke centers make up 1,000. Some of these cases are sometimes handled by pre-med interns. Those in children’s hospitals are 200 in number.

Neurosurgery treats health problems such as Parkinson’s disease, degenerative spine disease, stroke, and other movement illnesses. The population continues to age, and many of our residents face severe and devastating neurological problems. The supply-demand disparity between patients and neurosurgeons will become even more critical.

Neurosurgical training is exceptional. In the US, the number of certified neurosurgical internship programs is 102. It trains approximately 1,200 neurosurgical interns. Annually, the number of graduates who complete their placement adds up to nearly 160.

Neurosurgeons who undertake a post-graduate placement training take a lengthy period, which is currently seven years. After this, they take an additional one or two years for subspecialty fellowship training.

The precision of a neurosurgical placement appeals to a smaller pool of candidates as early as during the pre-med internship. This is because of several factors, including, to mention but a few:

  • the span of training
  • increasing budgets of medical school
  • long working hours
  • complex caseloads 
  • additional on-call time
  • high expert charge insurance premiums
  • lawsuit risks
  • reducing compensations
  • rising practice costs

The current neuro-surgeon to population ratio is nearly 1:61,000, which is likely insufficient by neurosurgery’s account. This is especially when articulating the innovative neurosurgical treatments and an aged neurosurgical population.

Who is a Neurosurgeon?

A neurological surgeon is also known as a neuro-surgeon. It’s a highly trained medical professional specialized in the cerebrovascular system, the brain, peripheral nerves, and spinal cord surgery. The New York University School of Medicine states out the characteristics of individuals desiring neuro-surgeon skills and how to become a neurosurgeon.

The traits include:

  • mechanical skill and deftness
  • familiarity with scientific disciplines such as physiology and anatomy
  • spatial and constructive orientation – helps in understanding the three-dimensional relations amid the spinal cord, blood vessels, nerves, and the brain.
  • A commitment to and affinity with patients
  • Expertise within the group and scheme of work

Neurosurgeons possess the ability to treat disorders such as tumors, congenital abnormalities, and degenerative ailments of the spine. Others include spine or brain infections, trauma, and vascular diseases.
This explains the amount of knowledge and skills required, as well as the lengthiness of the educational track including the need to study abroad sometimes.

Neurosurgical Manpower

Patterns of neurosurgical practice are somewhat dissimilar from those of many doctors. Thus, it is a vital thought when assessing the capability of our neurosurgical labor force. Neurosurgery is a minor field, making up only 0.5% of all doctors.

As of January 2012, as stated by the ABNS, there were around 3,689 practicing board qualified neurosurgeons for over 5,700 hospitals in the United States. These hospitals offer services to a population of over 311 million individuals.

In addition, there is an efficiency of deep brain inspiration for treating movement illnesses and obsessive-neurotic ailment. This makes it likely that there will shortly be a marginally aggressive, rescindable, and effective neurosurgical action for neurobehavioral diseases such as obesity and habit.

Also, these parallel systems have proved the primary potential for treating other mental disorders, for example, depression. Due to the commonness of these ailments, there is a likelihood for more neurosurgeons to meet the call for neurosurgical care.

The multifaceted subject of determining a perfect staff size for neurosurgeons in the US depends on the definition of personnel needs. The demand for neurosurgery services by patients, hospitals, that is, staffing for neurosurgeons, and other measures all affect the resolve.

Typically, the labor force decision-making in neurosurgery is dominated by the ratio of one neuro-surgeon for every 100,000 population. This ration was initially proposed in the government-funded report by the Study on Surgical Services for the United States (SOSSUS) finalized in 1977.

There is a critical need for neurosurgical accessibility, and it is worth noting. However, in most of our vast nation, several states have nil to two neurosurgeons for every 100,000 populaces. The lack of a single neuro-surgeon in some American states might spell disaster. This is mostly for patients who need emergency neurosurgical care, especially when time is of the core.

Operational Statistics

The operative statistics below have been published by the department of neurological surgery of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Between 2018 and 2019, there was a total distribution of 3,390 cases in VA, UW, and Meriter Hospitals. The distribution of major cases accounted for 2,724 cases. Major adult cases made up 59% (2,328) of the total, while major pediatrics and congenital adult cases accounted for 11% (442). All minor cases made up 30% (1,160).

Minor Cases

These cases comprise of spasmolytic and diagnostic angiography, muscle or nerve bx, and implantation for DBS or VNS. Others include the elimination of most CSF shunts, exclusion of all the electrodes of DBS and pumps of SAS, and all strip electrodes of the subdural EEG. The extraction of epidural spinal cord stimulators is also included.

Of the total cases, 24% (972) did not include an intern. A fellow performed many of these cases. Stereotaxic examples include percutaneous trigeminal rhizotomy, DBS, targeted bx for tumor (frame or frameless), degenerative ailment, and infection.

Training to Become a Surgeon: Requirements

A neuro-surgeon must have a minimum educational level of a doctorate with a placement in neurosurgery.

Bachelor’s Degree

Completing a successful and comprehensive bachelor’s degree program is the first phase of becoming a neuro-surgeon. The program entails the compulsory fundamental science and liberal arts education curriculum of organic chemistry and biology. Other courses include advanced mathematics, physics, English, statistics, and chemistry.

These courses are crucial to any student interested in joining a medical school, which is mainly tested on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). In most cases, you will take these tests are taken in the junior years of undergraduate study.

With proper study and understanding of the named courses, you will succeed in your future education and your career. When considering student admissions, medical schools reflect on both the cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) as well as the sciences GPA. 

Therefore, if you are a would-be medical school student, it’s essential to focus on your grades and courses for the best GPA.You can get information on the minimum and average GPA on the internet or medical schools’ websites.
When pursuing your undergraduate studies, its vital you acquire experience which will distinguish you from other applicants. Also, it will be a boost to your desired career path’s success. You can obtain this experience via voluntary services in hospitals or other forms of patient care time.

This experience might also consist of research work or leadership, working along with people in the preferred field, and other openings. Whichever type you chose, showing your dedication and work ethic will be evidence in your recommendation letters during application.


MCAT is designed to the examination of the would-be surgeon’s base scientific acquaintance and their capacity to solve problems and critical thinking. Taken in the undergraduate study, this test is submitted during the application, accompanying other application documents. For many medical schools, the MCAT scores are available on their website. This acts as a directive to students for showing school expectations and competition base.

Students must attain the highest scores possible in MCAT. Therefore, you should exploit the available resources, including the school’s study materials, in-person tutoring, and pre-tests. Others include online resources, online training, and practice tests, to mention but a few.

The resources are designed to ensure the students’ success on their tests as well as attaining high grades. This success opens opportunities for medical schools.

Medical Schools

Medical schools involve four years of challenging studies, divided into two groups. The first one includes the initial two years of education, focusing on course and lab work for the intellectual preparation of the students for patient interaction.

This learning and lab work are in the natural and biological sciences, chemistry, and physiology. Others include the art and practice of medicine as well as medical morals. The student must show he or she understood and recalled all the required elements of this part of the training.

So, students must do and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), Phase 1, which is run in the medical school’s second year. When a student gets a passing score on the USMLE, Phase 1, it shows their readiness to start monitored patient visits and attain clinical knowledge.

Rotations are the next two medical school years in the second section of medical education. Here, the student gets the chance to experience a diversity of therapeutic areas and medical settings. These increase their understanding of states and conditions, patient care, and monitoring teams that take care of the sick. During rotations, the student will probably find that they settle on particular areas or settings suitable to their specific interests and expertise.

This time must enlighten their field choice or subspecialty so that they get complete gratification as a doctor. After section two of medical school, the student will sit for the USMLE, Phases 2. The test assesses explicitly that the student has learned the clinical skills and clinical acquaintance that they require to shift into unmonitored medical practice.


When completing the pre-med internship, students will look for and apply for a neurosurgery placement program. As stated by the New York University School of Medicine, students in the hunt for this program have an 80% opportunity of acceptance.

The NYU School of Medicine m87emphasize that outstanding medical school grades, letter approval, and USMLE test scores are directly influential to applicant’s acceptance. Research contribution and publication are also a determining factor.

On average, a neurological surgeon placement might last to seven years. However, some require the experience of up to eight years.

There are, however, some sub-specialisms of neurosurgery that need further intensive training after or while almost completing the placement. Such include the spine, pediatric, and peripheral surgeries.
According to the American Board of Neurological Surgeons (ABNS), there are specific requirements for each training program.

In the US, there are 102 credited neurosurgical internship programs schooling approximately 1,200 neurosurgical residents. Annually, about 160 graduates finish their internship. The span of post-graduate placement training for neurosurgeons is among the longest, now at seven years.

Many people have expressed concerns about the length of training to be a neuro-surgeon. However, an argument by many surgical professors state the possible need to increase the training period. This is due to the effect that the existing duty hour limitations have on the number of cases residents complete.

Besides, the span of the basic neurosurgical internship training does not include any sub-specialty fellowship training. This includes pediatric neurosurgery, spine, vascular, and neurosurgery, among others. These sub-specialties can extend schooling for an extra one to two years beyond the end of the initial residency period.

Just a marginal of programs have more than one resident per level, annually. This means that there is a partial supply of joining and resident neurosurgeons obtainable to offer patient care. Neurosurgical services are categorized by huge elective (yet vital) surgical plans, numerous emergencies, and inpatients in large numbers with excellent ailment acuity.

The training hospitals in which most neurosurgical schooling programs function are shiftily liable for offering care on a twenty-four hours basis for neurosurgical emergencies. Therefore, the role of the resident on the provision core to the immediate improvement of patient care and resident teaching.

As per the prospects of any field requiring both technical and intellectual skills, neurosurgical clinical training is demanding. When training, the neurosurgical interns must gain expertise in handling patients with neurosurgical illnesses. Also, they should develop the expert abilities to deliver patient-centered and excellent neurosurgical care.

The trainee is expected to master the intellectual info crucial to operate the most multifaceted scheme in nature. He or she should have the decision and capacity to identify clinical patterns. This ability comes from observing and handling frequent patients with nervous system illness.

Besides, the resident ought to amass substantial technical skills while performing under direction, many challenging operational processes. These processes are broadly different in nature. Also, they range from synthetic spinal surgery to microsurgery for tumors. It, too, varies from microsurgery for aneurysms to radio-surgical and stereotactic procedures.

There is a need to reduce the burden of care demanded of most practicing neurosurgeons. However, this long, multifaceted program and lessens the probability that related experts and colleagues from other health and surgery disciplines would help.

Besides, the extent of neurosurgical cases collaborates against the capacity to train suitably in a vastly controlled duty hour setting.

Cost of Training a Neurosurgery Resident

The fixed and departmental expenses related to teaching neurosurgical trainees are weighty. As a result, they create a challenge for numerous establishments. A study of a number of programs throughout the US exhibits these statistics. This outlay hangs around $1.2 million per intern throughout a seven-year internship.

A model breakdown of the expenses from a typical neurosurgical internship teaching program shows that each resident requires $1,207,941. It was developed from an academic medical center in the north-eastern part of the US.

GME donations from Medicare, especially for direct medical education (DME) costs, do not come in handy to cover these costs. Therefore, the plentiful of this expenditure is covered by the academic departments on their own. This is mainly true for extensive internship training programs, for instance, neurosurgery. As a result, there is a monetary penalty related to extended plans. 

Licensing a Neurological Surgeon

Every state in the US has accrediting requirements for doctors that ought to be strictly adhered to. The surgeon must keep up on all state needs for ongoing schooling, testing, and renewal. With these, they can be able to uphold their training and specialty.

To acquire board accreditation, neurosurgeons must plan oral examinations within five years of finalizing their internships. As said by the American Board for Neurological Surgery, the procedure of submitting a request and training data and sitting for the test usually entails 18 months. 

In addition to the test, surgeons must provide data for at least 100 trials. The oldest procedure should date no more than two years before the appraisal. Inpatients should be cases for which the surgeon was the accountable surgeon. Outpatient cases, on the other hand, must also be involved.

Cases accomplished through a comradeship are not tolerable. Also, the data must be submitted via Neurolog, placed on the ABNS website. Every case should be confirmed by the chief of staff, head of surgery or neurosurgery, or hospital director in the respective hospitals.

Work Environments for Neurosurgeon

Neurosurgery ranks as one of the most highly compensated areas in the medical field. Also, it is very competitive. It entails precise and particular surgical skills and acquaintance in order to be fruitful. Several neurosurgeons work in group or private practices and frequently operate at least 60 hours per week.

Neurosurgeons account for the highest remunerated doctors in the whole medical field. The annual average income for a neuro-surgeon in 2016 was $660,664. The topmost 10% of neurosurgeons get more than $1 million on a yearly basis.

Salary is affected by several factors, including the physical setting of the physician’s practice, the category of training they are in, and the mode of employment. Take, for instance, a neuro-surgeon in a lower compensating state who works for a public hospital as an operative. He is expected to earn less than a neurosurgeon who works in a group or lone practice in a state with higher regular yearly incomes.


Given the highly dedicated nature of several neurosurgeons’ practices, developing standards or idyllic ratios of surgeons to residents is challenging. Therefore, there are general scarcities of neurosurgeons in many geographic areas of the country. This is to some extent due to the propensity of experts to group around facilities in big urban centers.

However, certain sub-specialties in neurosurgery are as well in short supply. The two clear cases that quickly appear include pediatric neurosurgeons and neurosurgeons obtainable to deliver trauma and emergency care. With such cases increasing with time, the neurological workforce is required.

Therefore, investing in this line of work would be a great choice. After all, there so many opportunities out there.

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