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“You need to see a neurosurgeon.” Those words would likely make any person pause. Unlike the quip, it is brain surgery. Neurosurgery is a critical medical specialty — treating everything from tumors to strokes, Parkinson’s to cerebral palsy, aneurysms to spine fractures. The average neurosurgeon has spent at least 15 years in school and training after graduating high school — four years in college, four years in medical school and seven years in a neurosurgical residency. And that is the bare minimum, not including extra years of schooling to get a second degree — such as a master’s or doctorate — and subspecialty fellowship training after residency.

So, what exactly is the process of becoming a neurosurgeon? How do we “make” a neurosurgeon? Once a neurosurgeon is done with training, how do we ensure they continue practicing lifelong learning to stay at the top of their field? Our field is committed to ensuring that patients who need neurosurgical treatment are cared for by competent, empathetic and qualified neurosurgeons, implementing initiatives throughout medical education to ensure these goals are achieved.

Through this series, we will discuss how we “make and maintain” a neurosurgeon. How do we recruit a qualified and diverse workforce? How do we break down barriers for residency applicants to ensure that students match into programs where they will succeed? How do we adapt our training programs to changes in science and technology and adapt to ever-changing regulations? How do we learn from mistakes and teach future generations always to ask how we can be better? What are we doing to verify the quality of subspecialty fellowships for those who want additional training in a neurosurgical subspecialty? Once a neurosurgeon finishes training, how do we assess them? Our first several blogs in this series will highlight the work across the country in these many avenues.

Neurosurgery is dedicated to the practice of lifelong learning. So even when the formal education is completed, we continue to grow in our practices and careers. The second half of this series will follow neurosurgeons who can share their experiences. This includes self-reflection and assessment and a focus on continuous lifelong learning, considerations of adding new procedures with innovations in the field, moving beyond neurosurgery into other roles in medicine and a continuous reflection on our profession. Hence, we continue to evolve and evaluate the needs within our specialty and recruitment and maintenance of diversity in neurosurgery.

Just as science evolves, so must our field to ensure that we continue to provide the best neurosurgical care to our patients, founded on a solid educational background and with a mindset for continuous improvement.

Editor’s Note: We hope you will share what you learn from our posts in the Making and Maintaining a Neurosurgeon series. We invite you to join the conversation on Twitter by following @Neurosurgery and using the hashtag #Neurosurgery.

Krystal L. Tomei, MD, MPH, FAANS, FACS, FAAP
Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital
Cleveland, Ohio

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