How to Become a Neurosurgeon in 5 Steps

How to Become a Neurosurgeon – Overview

A neurosurgeon is a skilled surgeon who treats diseases and injuries affecting the brain and spinal cord. Neurosurgery is one of the most complex yet crucial specialties in medical science.

Neurosurgeons are responsible for surgically treating various disorders that cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems.

These include the brain and spinal cord and the nerves in the rest of the body.

What Does a Neurosurgeon Do

A neurosurgeon is trained to treat disorders and injuries to the body’s nervous system using surgical procedures.

The nervous system is an incredibly intricate and complex communication system in the body.

Nerves and nerve cells transmit messages between the brain and other body parts. These nerves keep every organ and system connected with the brain.

The nervous system is incredibly important to us as it is needed for almost every bodily function. This system allows us to react, remember, think and plan.

Numerous disorders affect the nervous system. These may include birth defects, tumors, trauma, degenerative disease and even infections.

As a neurosurgeon, you will have the necessary skills and training to surgically treat these disorders, injuries and diseases.

Becoming a Neurosurgeon in 5 Steps

There are five basic steps to becoming a neurosurgeon in the United States. Like other medical fields, neurosurgery requires intense passion, drive and commitment.

These are the five steps to become a neurosurgeon:

1 – Earn an undergraduate degree

Your foundation for becoming a neurosurgeon is strengthened during your undergraduate years. Aspiring neurosurgeons are advised to enroll in an undergraduate science degree course.

Make sure to choose biochemistry, microbiology and human anatomy in your curriculum.

For instance, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science to meet the admission criteria for medical schools.

Admission to medical school is highly competitive and requires completion of pre-medical courses. GPA requirements vary by school, and a strong GPA is important, but there is no universal minimum GPA requirement for all medical schools.

You must also take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) during your first year of study.

Once you do this, you must prepare an application for admission to your choice of medical school. For this, you can send the application for admission by mail or online.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) offer this service.

2 – Enroll in accredited medical school

The next step to becoming a neurosurgeon is to earn either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. To do this, you must enroll in a reputed, accredited medical school.

You will most likely attend medical overview classes and experiential units during the first two years of medical school.

Aspiring neurosurgeons can design their studies to include advanced classes. These may include clinical research, medical diagnostics, disease management and surgical practice.

You can also emphasize clinical rotations. This way, you get hands-on experience in examining and treating patients under the direct supervision of experienced neurosurgeons.

3 – Acquire a medical license

Once you graduate from medical school, you should take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).

This exam is hosted by the Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Board of Medical Examiners. The USMLE test can also be taken in the first year of your neurosurgery residency.

Residency programs usually rely on USMLE scores to choose eligible students for residency. This exam is a legal requirement for aspiring doctors and surgeons in the US if they wish to practice medicine in the United States.

4 – Complete internship and neurosurgical residency

After earning your medical degree, you must complete a general surgery internship, typically one year, before entering neurosurgery residency. Neurosurgical residency typically lasts 7 years.

During the internship, you must learn patient management and develop other essential skills required to become a skilled neurosurgeon.

In your residency, you will work under the direct supervision of licensed, skilled neurosurgeons. This is incredibly useful to learn the skills that will be useful in your career as a neurosurgeon.

Residents participate in neurosurgical procedures throughout their residency, with increasing responsibility over time.

5 – Acquire a state license and get board certification

When you complete your neurosurgical residency, you must apply for licensing. You will need to approach your state’s medical board for this.

The application for a license usually requires paying a nominal fee and submitting school transcripts and test scores along with them.

Once you have acquired your medical license and have been practicing for years, you can apply for board certification.

You must approach the American Board of Neurological Surgery and meet their specified requirements. After passing the requisite exam, you will receive the prestigious board certification to boost your career.

What is the Average Salary for Neurosurgeons

On average, a neurosurgeon in the US can earn anywhere between US$ 507,801 and US$ 853,301. The median salary for neurosurgeons is anywhere around US$ 674,401. (1)

The salary amount varies according to different factors, such as education, certifications, experience, additional skills, etc.


Neurosurgeons are among the most revered professions in the world. To become one, you must have leadership skills and a knack for problem-solving and improvising.

The average annual salary of neurosurgeons is also in the higher range, which makes this a lucrative career.

See Also

Must-Have Qualities of a Doctor

Side Hustles for Physicians

How to Become a Pediatric Surgeon

How to be a General Surgeon

How to Become an Orthopedic Surgeon

Current Version
December 1, 2021
Written By
Shubham Grover
March 31, 2024
Updated By
Franco Cuevas, MD

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