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This interview was conducted with a prominent Neurosurgeon in the Northeast.  We did the interview anonymously because he fully disclosed how much money he was making.  

What do you do for a living? Neurosurgeon

I’m a neurosurgeon.

How would you describe what you do?

Neurosurgery is a specialty that involves the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and their supporting and surrounding structures.

What does your work entail as a neurosurgeon?

Three days a week I operate on the brain, the spine, or peripheral nerves. Two days a week I’m in the office seeing patients. I also teach medical students and I give lectures to residents.

How did you get started?

I became interested in medicine because I had a brain tumor when I was nine months old, so I was around a lot of doctors. I also watched the Donna Reed Show where Donna Reed’s husband was a pediatrician and I thought he had a nice life. And that’s the truth.

What do you like about what you do?

I help a lot of people. They come back to me and they say, “Thank you for helping me. I feel much better.” “Thank you for helping me. My pain is gone.” “Thank you for taking out my brain tumor.”

[The misconception is]That you have to be really smart to be a brain surgeon. I know a lot of people who are not smart, who are just hard workers and got through their residency. So, I think the joke, Well, hey, it’s not brain surgery isn’t necessarily accurate. I think it’s something that takes years to learn and it takes a lot of studying…But I don’t think that you have to be really smart.

I have four partners in my group who get along great. I can make my own schedule. I don’t have to work as hard if I don’t want to. One of my partners is much younger and has four younger kids, and he’s able to work less. We’re able to, in a sense, set our own schedules.

What do you dislike?

I dislike dealing with insurance companies who either deny payment for legitimate claims or delay payment for legitimate claims. In Pennsylvania they pay less for certain procedures than the same Blue Cross/Blue Shield company would pay for another city three hours away, like Cleveland or Columbus, which are comparable sized cities to Pittsburgh. The pay is between 50% and 100% higher in Columbus or Cleveland than it is in Pittsburgh. And that’s because Blue Cross/Blue Shield has the overwhelming majority of contracts in Pennsylvania, or at least in Western Pennsylvania, whereas in Ohio, there are lots of competing insurance companies.

How do you make money or how are you compensated?

I get paid for surgery. Of course, different people’s insurance pay different amounts. Medical assistance pays less. Medicare pays a little bit more. Private commercial insurance like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Health America, United, Aetna pays a little bit more, but pretty much everything is based on Medicare.

I would recommend neurosurgery. Nationally there is a big shortage of neurosurgeons now and there will continue to be a shortage of neurosurgeons for at least the next 20 years. The number of training programs has not increased in the last 15 years and more and more neurosurgeons are retiring earlier because of high medical malpractice costs and because of the stress of the profession. So, the number of neurosurgeons now, in the year 2007, is the same as the number of neurosurgeons in 1991, yet the population of the United States has obviously grown by a third since 1991. So, neurosurgeons are busier than ever…

One insurance company will be 116% of Medicare, another insurance company will be 111% of Medicare, so everything is a multiplier of Medicare. So, it makes you a little uncomfortable that the federal government, which sets Medicare reimbursement rates, really is setting the reimbursement rates for everybody else.

How much does a neurosurgeon make?

It depends.  Neurosurgeon salary can be anywhere from $400,000 to over a million.  It’s really a function of how hard you work and how your practice is set up.

How much money do you make as a neurosurgeon?

About $600,000.

What education or skills are needed to become a neurosurgeon?

Four years of medical school, a year of internship, and then neurosurgical residency is an additional six years. So, my training was seven years after medical school.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Micro-brain surgery done under the microscope for aneurysms or certain deep tumors. Uses of computers for a lot of surgery is standard now, so I think using a computer for brain surgery and using a microscope for brain surgery are the most challenging aspects of the job.

What is most rewarding?

Personally, I think just having the patients come back and say, Thank you for helping me. I have a wall full of thank you notes. A lot of people thank me, but when somebody actually sends me a thank you card, I put it up on my wall. And after 20 years, my wall is pretty much full with thank you cards.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

The entry into medical school is pretty much now the same as it was 20 years ago. You need about a 3.6 GPA and you need to have reasonably good medical MCATs, Medical College Admission Test scores. And then once you get into medical school, then you can decide on any medical or surgical specialty. And you rotate through the different specialties and you see what you like or which professor inspires you. But you have to want to work hard because residency is hard, but even when you go into practice, a normal work day is 10 to 12 hours a day, and there’s always some night and weekend call. I have four partners, so I’m on call every fifth night and every fifth weekend, which doesn’t mean I operate at all those times. It means I have to handle phone calls and emergencies. So, a lot of hard work and good grades in college and to get into medical school.

How much time off do you get/take?

Well, we have requirements for continuing medical education. So, we have to go to approximately two meetings a year and those are usually in nice places. I’m going to San Diego in three weeks. I just came back from Washington D.C. in the spring. So, you get sort of a chance to go on a nice vacation to a nice place for a meeting. And then usually the amount of time you take off, other than the meetings, is about four weeks a year.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That you have to be really smart to be a brain surgeon. I know a lot of people who are not smart, who are just hard workers and got through their residency. So, I think the joke, “Well, hey, it’s not brain surgery” is an understatement. I think it’s something that takes a lot of years to learn and it takes a lot of studying, and you have to keep up with your field, you know, read two or three journals a month, take your courses, go to the meetings go to continuing medical education things. But I don’t really think that you have to be really smart. I mean, I know a lot really smart neurosurgeons but I also know a lot of neurosurgeons who are not real smart. I mean they’re not geniuses.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I’d like to, at some point, stop operating and just teach residents full-time. I’d like to be able to do more laboratory research, which is hard to do unless you’re doing it full-time. I did laboratory research for a year and a half during my residency and if you’re doing it full-time, you can do it. But to do research in a laboratory when you’re actually practicing neurosurgery is essentially impossible. So, I’d like to be able to teach residents full-time because I think that’s very satisfying and do some clinical research.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

I would recommend neurosurgery. Nationally there is a big shortage of neurosurgeons now and there will continue to be a shortage of neurosurgeons for at least the next 20 years. The number of training programs has not increased in the last 15 years and more and more neurosurgeons are retiring earlier because of high medical malpractice costs and because of the stress of the profession. It’s a stressful profession. So, you have 98 residency programs graduating 136 residents a year and there are about 150 neurosurgeons leaving practice each year because of health or retirement or what-have-you. So, the number of neurosurgeons now, in the year 2007, is the same as the number of neurosurgeons in 1991, yet the population of the United States has obviously grown by a third since 1991. So, neurosurgeons are busier than ever because the population is growing and the number of neurosurgeons has remained just about the same as it was almost 15 years ago.

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{ 312 comments… read them below or add one }

Ness March 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm

I would consider this career if I didn’t have hypotension, I wouldn’t want to risk anyone’s life because I got dizzy or passed out. I’m really happy to see that people so young want to and can do it, to all those individuals, thank you. God bless you in your lives and careers, you won’t regret it once you begin receiving the thank you notes and cards.
-a 16 year old

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jona March 8, 2014 at 8:24 am

its really nice to read all the inspiring comments, im 15 and am currently in year 11 in england and im not sure if i should take my parent’s offer and go to america and study until i finish high school there and go into a medical school, i am really interested in medicine and only average when it comes to exams but i really enjoy learning things relating to biology especially the brain, im also looking at other options but still undecided if i should stay in england or not, it would be nice to hear some advice……….>.<……
thank you

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Victor Pena March 16, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Dear Jona,

I can relate to several of the factors you are facing at this time in your education, in a round-about way. Although I am from Mexico immigrated to New York where I did middle school, high school and completed a university degree in Biology. Then I made the decision to study medicine abroad (at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland). After graduation I stayed in Dublin working for 7 years and then did a fellowship in London… and I then returned to the U.S. to be near my relatives.

As you can see, I’ve crossed many of the bridges you might choose to cross, albeit in a different order! So this is what I can tell you about that:

At your stage focus on enjoying the sciences and working hard in every subject. Every point you can get to optimize your graduating numbers is an excellent investment. At the same time do not neglect the development of your other facets such as sports, arts, and community service. Universities on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly seeking people who are well-rounded, interested in their world and in serving in a constructive way. No matter whether you are interested in medicine, biology or any other scientific field, you will need to work very hard so try to figure out what you feel a passion for, what you are able to do hours on end because you love it. That should give you a clue as to what you are cut out to do.

If you are offered the opportunity to study “college” (university) in the U.S. then consider it because it can be fantastic. The key is to do the necessary research and apply to the very best ones you might have a shot at. Unfortunately for the U.S. high school education standards are not the best. American university standards are significantly higher, especially when looking at highly competitive institutions (and Ivy League of course).

As to whether you should move while still in high school or not may be a bit technical: Once you have a university or two you are excited you should find out if your odds to get in are higher as a foreign student, a U.S. resident, or a state resident (if you can attend a high school with the same state). If there isn’t a clear advantage, and you are attending a reasonable U.K. high school then you might as well stay put for now, nail the SAT exams, tidily finish high school there and come to the U.S. for college.

In terms of your academic interests, you don’t need to worry about figuring out too much too soon but start pondering in a relaxed manner the following points:

1) Do you enjoy dealing with people, hearing their problems, and do you usually drop everything to help somebody?

2) Do you prefer to be left alone to get real work done in isolation? Is it a hassle to try to “figure people out” when working with others as part of a team?

3) Do you have a “type A” personality where you are always doing something, you are competitive and overall somewhat tightly wound?

4) Do you enjoy the challenge of dealing with multiple urgent problems rapidly and often simultaneously or do you prefer to methodically delve into *one* single problem at a time, without a rush and dig deep to find an answer that has evaded others?

5) Do you enjoy working with your hands to build things or do you lean towards more mental puzzles and problems?

These are just a few thinking points to get you started on figuring out your *vocation.* You need to start exploring small scale versions or what it might be like to deal with emergencies, have responsibilities, do research, deal with sick people, e tc. The best and most fun way to do so is to volunteer at a hospital, do summer research in high school or a local university, get involved in community projects, get certified as a lifeguard or emergency medical technician or volunteer as a fire fighter (which is common in the U.S.). These experiences will, more likely than not, rule things out. That is, if you can’t stand the smell and the look of sick people while volunteering then you can confidently say that medicine isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you are intrigued and moved by seeing someone suffer and you see it as a challenge (“There has GOT to be a way SOMEBODY can help this poor woman in pain!”) Then medical sciences may be for you. Likewise with dealing with emergencies, blood, crazy shifts, people’s problems, etc.

The key to all of this (as I have said in my previous posts) is to “KNOW THYSELF.”

Best of luck Jona and I look forward to reading your future thoughts.

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Arathy February 28, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Thank you so much!
I am 16 and AS EVERYONE KNOW it is my turning point now ..I would like to be a neurosurgeon oneday.your advices are something much special for me….thanks alot again :D

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Jheanel February 7, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Thank you so much for this information. I am a 14 year old girl, and I am interested in becoming a neurosurgeon in the future. I had many doubts, but you helped me to clear them up. So once again, thank you very much.

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Dave Meet November 16, 2013 at 8:39 am

Hello Victor , I am 13 and have a dream Of becoming a neurosurgeon . I am Scared that i wont be able to do so . As it requires lot of studies . Can you help me out by saying or gving a concept map of how to enter neurosurgery? I t would be a great pleasure . Thank You

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AZ November 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Victor Pena I have read all your comments and they are just great. Can’t tell how your words touched my heart and that’s why I have decided to take your humble advice on choosing the right profession for me. I’m confused between MEDICINE and DENTISTRY. I like both of them but sometimes my interest builds up more in dentistry and sometimes more in medicine. To be more honest, I don’t like either of the field as a whole, instead I like some sub-specialties for example in medicine I like oncology but I hate gynecology similarly in dentistry I like orthodontics very much but on the other hand I don’t like prosthodontics much. I know that I’ll have to study all the subjects before specialization and may be I manage to do it but I still cannot decide between medicine an dentistry. Where on one hand I’ll become an oncologist on the other hand I’ll be an orthodontist and both of them are very different… may be you can help.

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Fikayo October 24, 2013 at 9:49 am

I have no intentions whatsoever to follow a career in medicine (I needed this information for my project) but seeing so many people on this site looking forward to something this good just fills me with so much hope for our generation (I’ll be seventeen in November). I wish you all the best and I pray God helps you in all you do! :) :D

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taimoor October 21, 2013 at 5:14 am

i want to be a neurosurgeon in america and do residency there as well and would love to be a neurosurgeon and im from the sub-continent is it possible for me to become a neurosurgeon in america?

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Kelvon Avery September 14, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Ok. I have many questions but I’ll try to make this simple as possible. I’m 16, Junior in High School and I plan on going to college to be a Surgeon. I want to know is Medical School & the college courses for Surgeons hard? I want to either become a Anesthesiologist or a Neurosurgeon. Is the classes for both surgeons difficult? I just want to be successful and be prepared before I attend college. Also, I’ll be 18 when I graduate high school so how many years would it take until I actually become a surgeon? I’m looking for surgeons in this field to respond. But any comments are welcome.. Thanks!

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Katrina August 19, 2013 at 1:58 am

Since I was a kid, I have always been facsinated with how the brain works. I want to deeply understand how the brain works that is why I want to become a neurosurgent. Now I’m in my fourth year of med-school.

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Brooklynn July 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm

thank you so much for this! im 13 and going to be a freshmen so i needed to choose my career path, which when i was five i narrowed down to neurosurgeon or lawyer. I skipped kindergarten and went to first grade because i could count to 100 and say my abc’s forwards and backwards haha. but im so exited to plan my courses acourdingly to being a neurosurgeon and I am verry excited to begin persuing my dream. thank you so much for the imput you have given me, have a nice day.

-brooklynn rogers

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Stephane August 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Thank god!
I’m not the only one!
I was seriously thinking I was weird
I mean what 14 year old,in 10th grade wants to be a Neurosurgeon?
It’s like being a flipping unicorn

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autumn January 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Every time someone asks me what I want to be and I tell them neurosurgeon, they look at me like I’m delusional. Then I say ” yeah, big dreams huh?” Because I want them to stop looking at me like a gaping fish. Completely understand where you’re coming from.

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Jheanel February 7, 2014 at 7:24 pm

I would. It is a very interesting career, and it teaches you how to socialize. You should consider becoming one, and maybe, we might work together in the future.

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Za'Nazia September 8, 2013 at 9:44 am

OMG me too I think this is what I will go into. my entire life everyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and now I think I have a solid answer. Glad u understand

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Brooklynn July 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm

thank you so much for this! im 13 and going to be a freshmen so i needed to choose my career path, which when i was five i narrowed down to neurosurgeon or lawyer. I skipped kindergarten and went to first grade because i could count to 100 and say my abc’s forwards and backwards haha. but im so exited to plan my courses acourdingly to being a neurosurgeon and I am verry excited to begin persuing my dream. thank you so much for the imput you have given me, have a nice day.

-brooklynn rogers

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Lindaaaa July 17, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Hi
This was very inspiring read it a few times I’m 14 right now and all I dreamt about when I was little was being a kind of doctor helping people everywhere and doing what I can and I feel like becoming a neurosurgeon is te right way to for me in life and persue what I’ve always deemed about doing the only thing is I’m kind of confused with the whole how long you go to schooll for and that and the GPa yhing cause I live in England and it just confuses me so what’s the diffrents and how long average in England you go for and the grades you need also the schol. Thing most people are saying high school them med school now I’m all confused a little help please victor I should stop writing now any ways thank you for this inspiring article it helped me a lot and inspired me more to become a neurosurgeon hen older just a last bit how log are the breaks like how long is the holidays or weekends and do you have anyways out like nights out with friends once in a while and if upcoming thing like funerals or wedding come up suddently can you take that day of thank you again L

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Victor Pena July 18, 2013 at 9:39 am

Dear Linda,
Thank you for your email.
Firstly I would just like to repeat that I am not a Neurosurgeon. However, I am very familiar with the field because I have several years of experience as a pediatric surgeon in Ireland and England during which time we did neurosurgery and worked closely with pediatric neurosurgeons in more complex cases.
I think my background allows me to understand your confusion Linda:

In the United States one would classically finish high school at 17 or 18 years of age, enter college and major (specialize) in pretty much any subject of interest. This may be Biology, Chemistry or English Literature. However, one must complete a list of “pre-medical” requirements prior to applying to American medical schools. These requirements include: 2 semesters of English, 2 semesters of advanced math (Calculus), 2 semesters of Biology, 2 of Inorganic Chemistry, 2 of Organic Chemistry, 2 of Physics. Then one must take and pass the standardized exam called the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Only then is one able to apply to medical school in the U.S.

The system is significantly different in the United Kingdom (and I am less familiar with it). My understanding is that you have to do VERY well in all your A-Level exams and Leaving Cert and that the better you do the better odds you have of entering a medical school in the U.K. Medical school there is a 5 or 6-year affair.

So, as you can see, in the U.S. one first completes an undergraduate college degree (bachelor’s) and then enters graduate medical education (to get a Medical Doctor degree). In the U.K. one enters directly into medicine and finishes with 2 or 3 bachelor (undergraduate) degrees which are equivalent to the M.D. These may be referred to as MBBS (Medicine Bachelor, Bachelor in Surgery) or other ways such as MB, BCh, BAO (Medicine Bachelor, Bachelor in Chirurgy [surgery], Bachelor in the Arts of Obstetrics).

Ultimately, an American MD degree is equivalent to a U.K. medical degree (MBBS or any of the others).

As for post-graduate training, neurosurgery will be very long, very tough, and very time-consuming, no matter where you do it. I have several friends in this training and they do not have very much free time at all.

Medicine is, in of itself, a very demanding and all-absorbing career. Surgery is that much more so. Neurosurgery is even more so. This is a very important fact you must all keep in mind when choosing a career and a speciality in medicine. So, the smartest thing to do is ask yourselves WHY it is that you think you want to do this… really.

As I’ve written before, if it’s the money and glamour then I am sure there will be many many other professions that will give you this. Even though the pay is still very good in medicine, the actual work is often intense, exhausting, and non-glamorous and thankless. If you thrive in being woken up 6 times during one night to answer questions or examine patients or operate, all the while being hungry, tired, wearing the same scrubs for over 24 hours, and knowing that other people are counting on you making potentially life-changing decisions in this state, then surgery is for you.

An unhappy surgeon makes for a very sad and dangerous person. Imagine flying with a pilot who hates his job, doesn’t keep up with advances in his field, daydreams all day, and is just going through the motions! The same applies to surgery. The best surgeons live, breathe and sleep surgery.

And it’s NOT a sign of failure or inadequacy to realize that you don’t necessarily want to live it and breathe it. In the contrary, it is a sign that you truly KNOW yourself and recognize what will (and will NOT) make you happy in this life.

I am NOT trying to drive anyone away from medicine or surgery. But I AM trying to give you a realistic feel for what it might be like.

So Linda, it is perfectly natural for you, at age 14, to want to have fun weekends, to socialize with your friends and to not miss special events and parties. It would be odd if you didn’t. However, with time, we change a bit. Today, I cherish my time at home with my young kids and I haven’t stepped into a bar with friends in eons! (and I don’t miss it!).

But if you are really asking whether one might be able to stay that socially active during neurosurgical training (7 or more years) then my answer would have to be “most probably not.” As for the following 35 of neurosurgical practice, one would continue to have to make sacrifices, probably miss a few birthdays of the kids, last-minute cancellations of evening outings due to long-running surgeries or emergencies, and, unfortunately, surgery doesn’t stop on the weekends! People get head injuries and tumors and increased intracranial pressure every hour or every day of the year, even Christmas and every weekend. And, because your colleagues all want to have some rest, when you are on call in the hospital over a weekend or a holiday, you may be over-worked while everyone else recharges! As an example: for 3 years I worked Monday through Friday (7:30AM to 6PM). On top of these ‘business hours’ I would continue onto the evening and night, right through until the end of the following business day, twice a week. And on top of that, one entire weekend (saturday morning until Monday night) I would spend in the hospital every month. You can imagine what I did the other 3 weekends a month right? That’s right, SLEEP.

Surgery it’s not all bad, however. I have focused on the demands of the job because of your comment. Needless to say, there are few highs as intense as walking out of an 8-hour surgery knowing that you just worked yourself to absolute exhaustion for the sole reason to save a stranger’s life. And tomorrow, you might have to do it again as part of your routine. It’s amazing.

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Romer J. Tubongbanua July 11, 2013 at 6:06 am

Good day! Me too… I really want to become a Doctor, specializing Neurosurgery. I also a Registered Nurse here in the Philippines. And I’m already 3 yrs in this Profession. But the worst thing, still I have NO Regular Job as a Nurse. Due to lack and inadequate job vacancy for Nurses here, and abroad. But then, at the very FIRST, I really want to become a Doctor. And really want to enter at Medical School here. Due to Financial Problem, I can’t enter. My intense to enter med school and to become a Doctor(Neurosurgeon) is on the HIGHEST LEVEL. Honestly speaking, I inspired with my Neurological disorder, which is the Hydrocephalus. I have a Shunt, and already had 5X VP Shunting, due to Malfunction and dislocation of my shunt in the previous years. That’s why, I really Admired my Military Neurosurgeons.

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Kimberley S. June 3, 2013 at 1:32 am

Hi, there are quite a few posts here!! I just finished writing a few essays on getting into the focus neuro program at Duke where I attending starting next year for by bachelors in biochemistry and global Heath with a certificate in neuroscience. Anyway, I really enjoyed all of the reading :) it is nice sometimes to step back and realize there are so many others with dreams like mine (neurosurgery). Especially I just wanted to say your words (Victor) on this post were written so elequently and inspiring it was like a breath of fresh air as recently I just graduated high school and have had some time to just think about the long and hard path I have chosen and many expect for me (especially my parents who soo just want the brag rights which is sad).
Nonetheless, I really do feel like this is the path for me. I’m not in it for the money as really ive never liked it and all i would like to do with it is spread it around especially to those I feel need it for their dreams as few have helped me with mine (yes naive but its something ive always based myself on), and I like the idea of my career being my life because to me this is all I’ve wanted to do and it fills all my passion (and it might just be the overachiever in me but hey it’s who I am). I feel like being a surgeon would solve all my problems, because i love having a purpose and direction. In the long run I just want to be happy and feel like I’ve been successful. I know I’m strong and if this is the right thing for me it will happen. I never thought of a foreign medical school!! I’m very big into culture and life so that might be an option for me.
I’m rambling though, anyway have a great day! And thank you for spending your time on all of us neurosurgeon-wannabes we are all so eager, it’s the type a personality almost toxic sometimes. Haha

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K May 29, 2013 at 7:38 pm

My dad’s amazing recovery after surgery (he had spinal surgery) inspired me to get into medicine. I am currently at a community college and I recently decided to major in biology…will be transferring to a uni in 2 years. I hope to become a neurosurgeon one day!

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ANTHONY MACHARIA April 15, 2013 at 12:22 pm

My ambition is of becoming a Neurosurgeon and I hope that I will once get there.I realised that many people die of related cases which make me sometimes have a lot of pain in me and that is why I thought of undertaking it and save many more lives,hoping that God will help get through.

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JB March 5, 2013 at 7:41 pm

This article has inspired me so much. I first became interested in becoming a Neurosurgeon later last year. Um, I am currently 14 and I was truely inspired by the Ben Carson movie. My parents push me to find more information on Neurosergeons and what they do. This article had everything in it. From the salary to the pro’s and cons. I am already looking towards my college and medical school. Knowing that there are not many Neurosurgeons, especially females pushes me even more. once again Thanks for this great article!

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JL June 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I am also 14 and am very inspired by the Ben Carson story. I have been looking into the field of neurosurgery for a few years now. I have always pushed myself to do the best that I can and eventually It should pay off.

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John February 17, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Finally, faith in my generation is slowly starting to recover because I’ve been conversating with my peers about my future. A considerable amount of them don’t take me seriously and continue to suffer later due to companies more likely to hire very skilled employees. I’m finally glad to see and hear comments about my generation taking up this ideal course. I always wanted to become a neurosurgeon because our brains are capable of storing vast amounts of memory and are able to find interminable discoveries and mysteries that are akin to the oceans and universe. Our generations might cure cerebrovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, or Dementia.

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Franklin Marquette January 15, 2013 at 11:07 pm

I am 14 and I am considering becoming a neurosugeon. I learned a multitude of things from this, it has helped a lot in progressing my knowledge and decision. This was a truly wonderful interview, in depth questions which consequently produced in depth answers. Well Done!
-Thankyou

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Vriano January 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm

This may be a faint memory to you now victor, but how many hours of studying would you be doing in med school or residency? Or would it be easier to say, how much time did you have to yourself? The major thing I’m worried about is the fact, I will never have the time to do the things I would want to do

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Victor Pena January 14, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Dear Vriano,

Please allow me a little exaggerated bluntness in order to make a very important point: If you are worried that your training in medicine will crowd out the “things you would want to do” then consider doing those very things instead of medical training.

Now, I’m not trying to be rude or dismissive, but this is probably *THE* most important question when contemplating a career in medicine. Human life is very short as it is and a lot of things can happen which can totally change your plans… or even end them in an instant. So be sure that whatever you do in your life that you do it with heart, with passion, and that you derive at least SOME happiness every single day of your life.

One finds all sorts of peers in medical school and residency and I’ll tell you… a fair amount of them were extraordinarily bright but still managed to enter and stay in the wrong career! Many were absolutely miserable! One actually entered medicine practically on a dare! A friend got in and she figured, “Well, I’m certainly as good as she is so I bet I can get in too!” and she did and she finished with honors and went on to several years in residency but eventually left the entire field.

Whatever your situation be sure you’re in it for the right reasons: Because you can’t imagine doing anything better in your life.

Now, for your question: I attended medical school in Europe where it can take from 5-6 years instead of 4 and I will tell you that I wouldn’t have changed it for the world! Sure I paid more but the mental sanity, the existence of a social life and the much longer summers were incredible. The social life was humane and yet the work was very intense and focused while the calibre of my colleagues was second to none. The entire curriculum was different from the U.S. For instance, anatomy in the U.S. can be as brief a several weeks. We did 3 semesters, in part because my med school (The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) trained surgeons for a very long time so the department remained very strong. Anyway, certainly I found the time to go to the gym every morning for 1 hour, attend all of my lectures, eat 3 square meals a day, including dinner with friends or in front of the t.v., and enjoy part of the weekends sightseeing Dublin and the rest of the country. We had enough vacations for me to visit Paris with my girl friend, London, Spain, Italy… Many American friends of mine there also managed to continue their past-times of hiking, surfing, film-going, etc.

The work was intense but there was breathing room every once in a few months. I will let U.S. graduates tell you more about their experiences. I will, however, tell you that many friends returned to the U.S. and I subsequently hung out with their U.S. graduate colleagues in residency and they couldn’t get over the fondness with which us R.C.S.I. grads talked about our med school days! They, on the other hand, categorically agreed they had NOT enjoyed it. Instead, they had BARED it. Clearly, very different experiences.

Ultimately, you must possess enough drive to get you through it all. It’s not healthy to think of it as “I’m just here to check the boxes and get my M.D.”… like an American friend said to me the first week of med school. Needless to say, he isn’t practicing after so many years of hard studying (and a huge debt!)…

Whatever you decide I wish you the very best luck in having the wisdom to know what will really make you happy. Be sure to have that very candid conversation with yourself. It will be the most important conversation you might ever have.

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Bhekani January 5, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Hey,thank very very much for the info at first i wasn,t sure whether to be a GP or neurosurgeon but now i,m sure and i,m willing to work hard to be a neurosurgeon

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Bhekani January 5, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Hey there,I,m 17 and I,m doing my forth year at high school, thank you very much for this inspiring info and I,m now looking forward to being a neurosurgeon

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Anonymous December 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Hello everyone, My name is Richard and I’m from the Caribbean. I’ve been wanting to be a Neurosurgeon since I was 11 (I’m 14 now) after reading Ben Carson’s Biography. Before I wanted to be one because I wanted to help people, however, now I’m afraid that I want to be one for the money. Is that a good or a bad thing?
(This page was VERY inspiring)

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Victor Pena December 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Dear “Anonymous”,

In my humble opinion I am afraid this is a bad thing. Surely we all want to have a job that pays us well and ensures we have a comfortable and secure lifestyle and yes, neurosurgery is associated with the higher rates of income among surgical specialists… but there are a few points to keep in mind:

1) Medicine is not just a job. It’s a way of life, a vocation, a calling. It’s like the military, like ranching, like the arts… it’s a lifestyle choice, not just a day job. If any one of these ways of life isn’t your cup of tea and you pursue it… you are likely to be miserable.

2) Neurosurgeons get paid a lot… for a reason. You need to shadow a neurosurgical resident… but not for a day or a week… but perhaps a month. You need to understand that as a surgeon you may literally not get the TIME to spend the money you make! (It happened to me!).

3) There are probably easier ways to make the money a neurosurgeon makes… if money is what you are after. Depending on your skills and talents you may be better off in law school, business school, or just starting a business out of college! Who knows… but very few (good, happy) surgeons are in it mainly for the money. In order to do your job adequately (and not get your butt sued off) you need to CARE… and care A LOT. If you are not thinking about your patient as your own child, mother, brother or sister and focusing on how you’d like them treated then there is probably somebody out there who deserves your job more than you.

I recommend you reassess your motivations and your vocation and consider other professions. If you find that you simply want a lot of money you probably should look elsewhere. Imagine if the medical field changes and neurosurgeons end up earning a fraction of what they make now… what would you do then? Did you know it is almost an inevitable fact that all doctors will be making significantly less money in the near future in the U.S. and probably in most places?

Think long and hard about this.

I wish you the best of luck in whatever endeavor you choose to put your heart and soul!

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Mag December 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Been amazingly helpful. Thanx a lot. In med school now and I think I’m well convinced about being a neurosurgeon after school

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paa kow Andoh December 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I am really inspired hope i will get there someday.

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Hayley October 24, 2012 at 10:06 am

I loved this inerview….Very very inspiring:)

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balaji srinivas October 22, 2012 at 8:03 am

# Victor pena
Simply exhilarating mind stuff …unbelievable clarity and mindblowingly thought provoking words..thank myself for having crossed your words on this site today..i am a neurosurgeon from india

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Victor Pena October 22, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Dear Balaji Srinivas,

I am very grateful for your extremely kind and generous words.

I am a firm believer in the universal brotherhood that unites doctors around the globe. Medicine is truly a unique calling and I have found with time that the human drama is at its heart, but not just the patient’s human drama but also the drama playing within the healer. We are not above the suffering, the illness, the pain, nor the death. We are in a unique position to attempt to help others while dealing with our own ills. I have also learned that we should make ourselves far more available to one another to cope better with our profession.

As always, I wish all doctors and students around the world the best of luck in the Noblest of Professions.

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Andy October 22, 2012 at 1:04 am

Very interesting! I’m a junior in high school and have considered the neurosurgeon profession for a few months now.

I’m from Texas, and I plan to go to Rice University to get my Bachelor’s in Pre-medicine. After that, I hope to attend Baylor’s School of Medicine. Hopefully everything works out!

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cc October 4, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Hi, I just wanted to thank you. I was just told today that neurosurgeons are extremely smart and that I don’t stand much of a chance. I would like to thank you for this interview. It is nice to know that hard work and dertermination can get me to where I wanna be in life.

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Victor Pena October 8, 2012 at 10:59 am

Dear “cc”,

Hmm, it may be that you are talking to, or receiving advice, from the wrong people! Who would be ignorant enough to say that “neurosurgeons are extremely smart”? And who would be rude and mean enough to tell you that “you don’t stand a chance?” I am no shrink but I’ve studied psychology and behavioral science for enough years to recognize the defense mechanism known as “projection” when I see it! Whoever gave you that advice is projecting their own perceived inadequacies onto you. And this applies EVEN if this person knows you very well (such as a parent) and even if this person is the director of the world’s toa neurosurgery fellowship! In other words, I can’t imagine ANYONE on the planet being qualified to make such silly umbrella statements. So ignore them and seek your own happiness. You may or may not be able to be a neurosurgeon… but there is only one way to find out, and believing ignorant put-downs is NOT the way.

So, whatever you do just listen to your heart, forget status, salaries, and t.v. shows… when it comes down to it we are talking about YOUR life and what you want to spend it doing.

Best of luck in the future!

Victor

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neurosurgeon jha October 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Really it helped me very much …thanks best of luck to all my dear surgeons….

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mafabi ezra August 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Thank you so much!
Well my parents are sending me to boarding school
for 3 months, things r different here in africa.
I now realise i spent too much time worrying
abt how am going to fail instead of reading!
So am going to give my best shot at it!
Once again thnk you so much you have inpired
me! I will try inform you of my results, most
likely after those 3 mnths!

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mafabi ezra August 28, 2012 at 12:20 am

Thank you so much. I will be sure to try that!
but it may be too late! I have exams in four days
time, n am not sure i can make it, is it really
possible to change anything in such a short time?

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Victor Pena August 29, 2012 at 8:16 am

I don’t know what exams you are preparing for and frankly, it doesn’t matter. No exam should ever, EVER stress you so much so as to impair your overall perspective of life, it’s worth, the miracle of simply being alive and healthy enough to have free will.
If you find that an exam is affecting you at that level then you really need to reassess your entire purpose of studying, taking exams, your choice of career, as well as your entire approach to your life.

Suppose that one day you DO become a neurosurgeon and suppose that you are removing a rare tumor from the base of someone’s posterior cranial fossa. Will you be able to take on the responsibility of this person possibly suffering a stroke, becoming paralyzed for life, or even dying as the sole and direct consequence of the movements of your very own hands? How do you suppose surgeons go on living their lives while carrying this sort of responsibility? How do you think a surgeon goes back to work the morning after having been responsible for a catastrophic complication the night before? Where does he or she find the will, the motivation, the confidence, the faith in his own abilities to not suffer a total nervous breakdown? You rarely see surgeons committing suicide, being shipped to a psychiatric unit or retiring overnight.

Handling stress is a learned skill. And handling stress is an absolutely VITAL skill in the entire field of medicine. And exams are a wonderfully harmless and risk-free way to get your feet wet in perceived stress since the paper or computer in front of you can’t possibly bleed to death, suffer a stroke, lose a limb, or die on you. Or sue you for malpractice (which scares some doctors more than death itself!).

You must learn, over time, to get a grip on your situation, think clearly, block out all distracting negative thoughts and emotions, and get in ‘the zone’ where you have the best access to, and use of, all of the information you have learned in order to apply it to the exam in front of you. And NEVER waste time freaking out about the consequences of failing an exam… because freaking out has NEVER, EVER helped anyone pass an exam but it sure as heck has caused someone’s worst fears to come true: they froze, they freaked, they panicked and they didn’t even read the questions right so they doomed themselves even before entering an answer.

As for changing things in such a “short time”, well, like I mentioned to you before, a 5-second deep breath isn’t such a long time, is it?

So think positively, focus on what you already know and do your best. Good luck in your exam, your career, and you life. Have a great one!

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mafabi ezra August 27, 2012 at 2:48 am

Hi everyone,
i’ve wanted to be a neurosurgeon 4some time now,
but all of a sudden my grades have dropped, i can’t
concentrate on my books anymore, i have lost confidence
in myself. Every time i try to sit down n revise I
always have this thought in ma head that itz of no use
to read becoz i will fail anyway, my parents have lost
hope in me i’ve even thought of suicide. Someone

Help me i don kno wat to do anymore?

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Victor Pena August 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Dear Mafabi,

Clearly you need to stop, take a slow and deep breath, have a deep think about what is going on in your life and seek professional help as soon as possible.

A medical career (as well as the prospect of entering one) is never a sprint but rather a very, very long marathon in which pacing is everything and “burn out” is your constant foe. Whether you go into medicine or not BALANCE in one’s life is essential if you don’t want to be a ‘flash in the pan’ and ‘crash and burn’ when you might have otherwise had decades more of productivity and joy in your life.

Anybody with any degree of insight and realism will, at one time or another, suffer of self-doubt. It is normal and in fact it tells you that you are SANE. If you have NEVER doubted yourself about anything significant then you may have a personality disorder associated with grandiosity and self-delusion! So be glad that you have insight and that you know you could fail… because THAT can be the greatest motivator to start anew, to clean the slate and set off on a new effort.

Just yesterday I was wondering how I’ve come this far and my answer was: RENEWAL. Constant RENEWAL at all scales: Every new year is a new chance to gather one’s goals, energy, focus, and resolutions… but so are every month, every weekend, every morning, and even every meal. RENEWAL is a perception which refreshes and clears the mind, resets the mental and physiological stressors. RENEWAL can take the form of a week-long vacation, a 20-minute walk or jog, a 10-minute Yoga stretch by the side of your desk, a 5- minute song on your MP3 while you keep your eyes closed, a 2-minute escape to eat a small chocolate and look out the window, a 20-second stop of surgery for the surgeons to stretch their spines and relax their vision and gather their thoughts, or a 5-second deep deep and slow breath. Every break counts towards refreshment… and this is what has kept me not just sane but happy, energized, focused, and with a healthy perspective on everything happening in my life, being good or bad.

So Mafabi, I recommend you find some time for yourself, gather your thoughts, identify and try to analyze why you feel so stressed and depressed, and you go and speak to a medical professional as soon as possible in order get your bearings so that you can be on your way to better grades soon, but far more importantly so you can get back to enjoying your life.

I sincerely wish you, and anyone else identifying with your situation (which is far more common than anyone might admit), the very best of luck. I admire you for being so sincere. Take care of yourself.

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Kimberly August 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

Im a sophomore in highschool and i know i am very young but i have taken an interest in Neurology. In school i always have questions about the human brain, heart, and spinal cord. I am very smart and none of my friends can understand why im always striving for more for example: they are on youtube or facebook while i am googling on the parts of the brain or learning how the heart works. Do you have any recomendations on what career would suit me? I have no idea on what i want to be, but i do know that i dont want to be a regular doctor or nurse. I want something more. Any opinions?

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Tomi August 14, 2012 at 8:21 am

Hi Kimberly! I’m not expert in this field, but I may be able to help you out. It seems like you want a career in a lesser known specialty of neurology, you want something different.
First, Google specialties & sub specialties of neurology. You will find many different & diverse branches of neurology, some that you didn’t know even existed. You will have to do research on your own to see what you would like to do. For example, if you had some interest in radiology as well as neurology, I would recommend looking into being an interventional neurologist, which combines the two. Other specialities of neurology that combine similar fields are clinical neuropsychologists & neuropsychiatrists. Also, there are neurologists who specialized in different aspects, such as sleep medicine, pain medicine, neuromuscular medicine, neurodevelopmental disabilities, etc. I didn’t list everything I found, nor did I describe in detail the specialties I found above. I think it would better benefit you if you research on your own. See what you like & don’t like. Examine all aspects of the field. You may also change your mind later, so don’t worry about choosing something now and having to stick with it.
Also, enjoy high school when you can! Keep your grades up & participate in activities to show you are well-rounded (make sure that you actually like doing it and it’s not just for college). Also, if you really like an activity you do, whether it is sports, music, drama, etc., you can probably find a way to incorporate in into your future career. But, don’t worry too much about all of this, you have plenty of time.
Best of luck! And, I hope I helped you out a bit.

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Tomi August 14, 2012 at 8:34 am

Also, I forgot to mention some things.
You should look into finding some ways to see if the medical field is for you. I posted something earlier where I said I participated in a Biomedical program & a psychiatry internship. I learned I like to use my hands to work and I enjoy dissecting specimens (I learned this from the program), but I learned I’m not interested in doing research in the medical field (I learned this during my internship). But both experiences were good because I learned what I like & didn’t like. So during the summer, try looking for internships (in my county, we actually have a class geared to going to internships during your senior year) in the community (your guidance counselor at school may be able to help you) or a medical/science summer programs that gear towards your interest. Don’t be disappointed if it is not a neurology internship, or if it is, you may be finding yourself doing a lot of paperwork or errands. That’s ok. Just stick it out & learn from the experience.

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Kimberly August 14, 2012 at 9:20 am

Thank you Tomi, I didn’t know there were so many other options that have to do with what I am looking for. I will look into the website and do my research. Thank you once again :)

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Tomi July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Hi there! My name is Tomi and I’m about to be a junior in high school. From a young age, I’ve thought about entering the medicine field, since I have been surrounded by many family members and family friends who worked in it. I came across neurosurgery and started to look into it. I really would love to heal patients, especially children, of illnesses and other medical issues, so that is why I have been saying how much I want to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. As far as school goes, I am a straight-A student in GT/AP classes. I’ve competed in science fairs and received 1st place and other specialty awards. Also, I recently attended a Biomedical Program sponsored by the Navy and I’m currently interning at a psychiatry department at a local school of medicine. I’ve learned from the Biomedical program that I really like the hands-on approach of the medical field (suturing and using a laparoscopic surgery stimulator), but I’ve started to have doubts on becoming a neurosurgeon. I still want to stay in the medical field (most like still doing surgery) and I strongly desire to work & heal children. I like the idea of neurosurgery (and I must admit, I find the pay attractive), but I just want to be sure this is the field I want to enter. What are some suggestions that someone who is going through the same thing or who went through the same thing advise for myself and others who have this problem? Thank you for your time.

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Victor Pena August 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Dear Tomi,

It sounds as though if you manage to stay in the direction you are on now then you should not have any problems getting into medical school… so congratulations on that.

Frankly I think you are unnecessarily worrying about specialties. I suggest you read my reply to Joe in June 15th (see above). Medicine is a life-long endeavor: after years and years of preparation, applications, studying and training you will have to decide about specialities… and even then… you will remain a student of disease, suffering, and healing for the rest of your days. One NEVER masters the field of medicine.

So what you should be debating in your mind at this stage is whether you think medicine in for you or not. I think it’s excellent that you are getting your foot in the door of medicine and the biomedical sciences. Medicine is mind-bogglingly broad and there is a specialty for everyone. So don’t even be thinking that you are having “doubts”… just keep your eyes open, take every opportunity that comes your way and learn about yourself. Forget about income… these things change with time… and what is the point of having loads of money in the bank if maybe you are miserable working for 18 hours a day in a field that you don’t like. First determine what you enjoy doing and then you will naturally adapt to the income. Mark my words: If you are going into medicine for the money you WILL regret it. I have many friends who made that mistake and they now realize that for the amount of work and years they put into it they could be CEO’s of a company by now, instead they are still working 12-14 hour-days as surgeons and they feel underpaid and unhappy. Besides, the way health care is going int he U.S. today, by the time you could become a neurosurgeon it is very likely that all specialists will be taking very large pay cuts (it’s already starting). So forget about the money. Focus on what you like and everything else should fall in to place.

Best of luck in your future.

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Joe July 21, 2012 at 11:51 am

what do you suggest to do in pre med for basic sciences

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Kylie July 7, 2012 at 3:48 am

Wow! So much I didn’t know! I am about to begin my 4th year at The Ohio State University. I am a Biology major, Pre-Medicine health profession path program. I have been wanting to be a neurosurgeon since I was about 9 years old. Unfortunately, my GPA is currently only around a 3.0. Definitely not high enough for med school!

I am currently involved in cancer genetics research, which I know helps a lot. I am also hoping to start shadowing a neurosurgeon.

I haven’t taken the MCAT yet, and will probably be taking a year off after my undergrad to study for it. Based on your experiences, what are my best options? I know for sure I want to be a surgeon, preferably a neurosurgeon, but open to other options!

I have been looking into obtaining my DO, versus the MD. What are the main differences?

Thanks so much in advance for any advice you have!! :)

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Victor Pena July 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Dear Kylie,
As I have mentioned in my previous responses, I encourage you to do some real research into these careers as well as some real should searching. It sounds like you’re off to a very good start.
17 years ago I was exactly in the same situation as you: good school, Bio major, Health professions pathway, 3.0 GPA. My Health professions advisor (my org chem professor!) sat me down and said,

“I have never met anyone like you before. You come across as an amazing young man, you are so dedicated to becoming a doctor, your faculty and peer letters of recommendation are impressive, your work ethic is admirable, your C.V. is perfectly well-rounded and personally you are extremely likable. Unfortunately your grades are simply not good enough in your premed courses. It hurts me to say this to you, it really does, but right now, I am afraid your chances of getting into medical school are practically ‘nil’. ”

Now Kylie, I could have taken that and changed my course or taken that as a challenge. I did the latter. I never took it personally, I never got upset at being told such a potentially catastrophic statement from the chairman of the committee supposed to write the most important letter in the application process to medical school.

Attitude is everything. I never doubted for ONE second that *I* would be an excellent doctor if *I* could only give MYSELF the chance to show it. So I didn’t give you and as you might have heard many times before:

WHERE THERE IS A WILL, THERE IS A WAY.

I too concluded that I would probably be wasting a year, my money, and my hopes on applying to med school in 1996 so I did my “Plan B” which was to take a year off (in Boston) and study for the MCAT and apply to foreign medical schools. I am originally from Mexico so I applied to UAG (Guadalajara) which is good and has a program for Americans. I also applied to the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin Ireland because I knew it had a very good world reputation, and I applied to a couple of Caribbean med schools as safety schools. I got into all of them and decided to move to Europe for College of Surgeons’ 6-year-long program. I know, it sounded crazy! I had never even being to Ireland! However, I HAD wanted to study abroad during college but hadn’t been able to because of the pre-med requirements I was so busy trying to fulfill! So I was actually excited about the idea of living abroad.

Later I would discover that the application rate into U.S. med school in 1996 was the highest ever on record: about 46,000 applicants for 14,000 seats… so I still don’t think I would have had a shot in hell.

Well, I had an amazing time! My studies were intense and very productive, my clinical exposure and skills were excellent, my social life was far more fun than college (or any American medical school, that’s for sure!), and my fun I don’t mean mindless partying and drinking. I mean interesting, stimulating, and which gave me many life-long friends from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and world views. I had loads of American classmates on the same boat, and eventually everyone got what we wanted. All my friends who applied to surgery in the U.S. got in. I chose to stay longer in Europe and work because I loved it so much and I ended up staying in (in Dublin and London) for another 8 years of general and pediatric surgery (which was the specialty I had wanted since I was 5 years old!). I visited every country in Western Europe, I have friends from every continent, my outlook on life/work balance is far healthier than that of most American doctors, and I consider myself a citizen of the world. My wife is French and my children were born in London, we’ve lived in France, we now live in the U.S. and they will speak 3 languages.

Kylie, life has an amazing way to work itself out while surprising you all along. I wouldn’t change a thing about my life and what first appeared as a discouraging setback or compromise with my wishes, became probably one of the most formative and wonderful aspects of my globe-trotting life.

So open your mind, remain open to all the options which will enable you to realize your dreams… and KEEP AT IT. Just keep carving out your way through the challenges as they present themselves to you. Don’t take anyone’s opinion more seriously than your own and YOU will make it happen.

Best of luck in YOUR adventure!

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Victor Pena July 17, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Sorry, corrections to three typos:

“SOUL searching”, not should searching
“So I didn’t give UP”, not give you
“and BY fun”, not my fun

And by the way, on my graduation from med school I was tempted to send my professor a copy of my diploma just for good measure. : )

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Victor Pena June 15, 2012 at 9:37 am

Dear Joe,

Whether one is interested in a particular sub-specialty or simply knows he/she wants to “help people” one will have to go through A LOT of every important and enlightening experiences on the path to reaching that goal. If you do choose medicine as a career then you will probably have 4 years of basic sciences in college (Pre-med) to learn more about your sensibilities, your work ethic and style, and the sort of life you hope to have as a professional.

THEN you may have some time working, doing research at a lab, or getting a masters degree or perhaps you’ll go straight into med school.

THEN you will have 3 years of proper medicine and several rotations through various specialties which will give you extremely valuable insight into what it’s really like to work in medicine and how different specialties define the particular life and work of the doctors in each of them.

AND THEN you will have to decide (in the event that you haven’t completely changed interest in specialities!) whether you want to go into a GENERAL radiology residence or a GENERAL surgical residency. During these you will again do a lot of rotations through subspecialties within the field and THEN, ONLY THEN, you will have to decide whether as a radiologist you want to do a fellowship in the Nervous system or as a General surgeon you want to do a fellowship in Neurosurgery.

So assuming you are a high school senior now we are talking about a decision you might have to make in about 15 years!

So my advice to you is to relax your mind and eyes to the incredibly wide varieties of experiences which the health field offers (I had a lot of pre-med colleagues who were stellar students, far better than me!, but simply decided to go for a PhD’s or other professions instead of medicine and now they are very happy professional). Right now, it should be about getting to know yourself, what you like and enjoy and focusing on getting into medical school, if that’s what you really want. While in med school try to meet and follow neurosurgeons and radiologists doing neurology and follow them for entire days.

You will find that the “neuro” isn’t as importantly different as the “surgeon” and “radiology” parts. In other words, the lives of most surgeons (of any specialty) is very different from most radiologists. Here are some major attributes (and valid generalizations) you should keep in mind:

RADIOLOGISTS v. SURGEONS:

1) R’s. work from a desk or computer, S’s run around the hospital all day and night, literally.

2) R’s have very limited patient contact since they are sent the patients by other doctors, S’s have intensive patient contact in multiple clinics, ward rounds, pre-op assessments, surgery, and post-op rounds.

3) R.’s tend to have more reasonable work hours (8AM-6PM) and often can do “night call” from home where they view emailed images of urgent cases on their computers, S’s are increasingly expected to stay in the hospital all through the night (and not just during training but even as an attending for their entire careers!), they start work very early (5 or 6AM) and finish late every day (7-10PM). S’s tend to have very long and intense residencies (5-7 years, 12-hour days). NEUROsurgeons are even MORE intense than regular surgeons in all regards.

4) Relatively speaking, radiologists are more like DETECTIVES, studying images very carefully in an office often designed to do that (dark room, comfortable chair, quality computer screens, etc). Surgeons are more like HANDYMEN and are seen all over the place in the hospital! They’re always moving, have to think and make decisions fast, deal with a lot of people, work on the wards, the bed-side, clinic, the Intensive Care Units, go around morning and evening to see all the patients, perform small procedures in clinics, wards, radiology department, on ambulances, wherever it may be required.. and all of this pretty much every day! Oh yeah, and they also operate in operating rooms. And THAT is your sacred place where all else falls away and you can focus on the patient in front of you and you don’t have to run around so much. But as soon as the operation is finished the running around starts all over again, especially when things have built up while you were operating!

5) R’s may or may not choose to do technical procedures. Invasive radiology is very much hands-on and you have to be good with eye-hand coordination. But if you are a conventional radiologist coordination is not really a requirement. In fact you can be a brilliant radiologist and have a tremor in your hands… but you gotta have good eyes because eye strain is a real occupational hazard when you look at faint and blurry images all day. S’s, on the other had, must be good with their hands and eyes, have physical and mental stamina, and be fast and decisive in their actions. You can’t sit on the fence in surgery. R’s DESCRIBE, S’s DO.

It’s NOT supposed to be an attempt to put down any one specialty, since no job is more important than the other and it’s not a competition. The two jobs share the same objective: to help the patient get better. (Don’t forget this because you will soon discover doctors love to perpetuate very silly stereotypes about all specialties and they all claim to be in the best one. “Surgeons look down on internists, internists look down on orthopedists, orthopedists look down on pathologists and Neurosurgeons look down on everybody.” It’s all silly and meaningless. And likewise, I still have no clue why “brain surgeon” is supposed to mean “smart” since I have never met a single neurosurgeon who struck me as somehow extraordinarily intelligent. The specialty does not require any more intellect, in ANY regard, than any other medical specialty. Many people often set their aims on neurosurgery very early on as a way to prove their intellectual ability to themselves and others. This is a VERY SERIOUS MISTAKE because they could sacrifice SO much of their lives, only to find themselves in the wrong field. So DON’t fall for that. Do what you want to do without listening to stereotypes.

I am trying to explain to you how the two main branches may appeal to different typos of personality and only you will know which one suits you best.

I wish you and the rest of the readers the very best in you adventure of this wonderful profession!

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Joe June 16, 2012 at 9:56 am

Thanks for the Advice it really helped!

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Joe June 14, 2012 at 10:11 am

I want to become a neurosurgeon or a radiologist specializing in the brain and nervous system. there both good careers and require about the same amount and type of education following high-school, but i cant choose which one, can you give me the pros and cons of a neurosurgeon

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Nuero_Baby May 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm

its been great reading this i even used it for research for my school project but I’ve run into a problem i really don’t know how i am going to site this page any help?

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trave45 June 1, 2012 at 9:54 am

Hi,

You can just site the website and URL for the interview as your source. Have your teacher email us if she has any questions info@jobshadow.com Thanks!

JobShadow Team

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Anthonia Oyedeji May 30, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Becoming a neurosurgeon has been my dream for many years, I learnt about things I didn’t know. I’m 14 yrs old and my passion is growing ever stronger. I loved reading the interview.

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??????????? May 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm

what would you expect the quality of life for a neurosurgeon in hong kong and what monthly salary because im thinking of moving there and i don’t know if it is a wise choice

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Ukhurebor elijah December 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Hi,i am a medical student in my finals,have always thought of/neurosurgery as a great field,would need a mentor whom i can communicate with often

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Maya April 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I would love to become a neurosurgeon. I am very interested in being in the medical buisness. I think that it is great helping people and you make lots of money while doing it. I also LOVE school, so I think becoming a neurosurgeon would be great for me. (:

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Rion W. April 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Hello, my name is Rion and I hope on becoming a neurosurgeon. I am 14 years old and have always wanted to be a doctor of some sort since a small child, something about helping people makes me happy :) . I just wanted to say that I am doing a career project about neurosurgery right now for the end of 8th grade and this has helped a lot. Thank-you all.

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Samantha April 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

Hi Rion!

I am fourteen as well and am very inspired seeing all of these people my age driving themselves to become neurosurgeons. I don’t know about you, but I have repeatedly had teachers, peers, and even doctors tell me I will never become a neurosurgeon. I’m in all Honor’s a grade ahead and have straight A’s. I say I will be whatever I drive myself to become. With that mantality I promise you will get WHEREVER you are trying to go. Best wishes!
Plus, it makes me happy to see improvements in lives in general, but especially when I was able to help.

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Rion W April 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Hi Samantha!

Don’t listen to your teachers, even though it sounds cheesy, you can do almost anything you want to do in this world. Becoming a neurosurgeon may be very difficult, but it is still possible.

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Samantha April 25, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Rion,
Today I was accepted into a charter academy and in all Honor’s. They are even offering scholarships. I was able to go tell my teachers what was happening, and I felt that that showed them they were wrong, and I am not allowing anything to get in my way!

Thank you for your wise advice. It is much welcome no matter the cheese level. ;)

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Tomi July 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Dear Samantha and Rion,

I think you both will make excellent doctors/surgeons one day! You both sound very passionate and enthusiastic about doing good in the world. I’m about to be a junior in high school, and I have found there are few people in my life that I could truly say are passionate about something. I have always been told that I can do anything I want, so I can’t imagine anyone telling me I can’t. But, there is nothing that I have found more gratifying in life than proving someone wrong. Any I admire you too for believing in yourselves. I have said that I wanted to become a pediatric neurosurgeon, but I’m having doubts. I still want to look into other fields of medicine, so keep an open mind. Anyways, you two inspire me to keep going and someday become a great doctor/surgeon myself. Maybe someday we will encounter each other. Best of luck!

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Tiffany Hylton April 19, 2012 at 11:26 am

Well i would like to become a neurosurgeon and im doing a project on it in school ADD ME ON FACEBOOK to tell me your stories about your experiences and yeah!!(:

-Tiffany Hylton-

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ida mwinyikai February 19, 2013 at 12:57 am

hey im also doing the same.Some people think im a freak since i always get A*. But since i got in this website, i feel like im not the only genius and thats awesome. see ya!!!!!!!! ;)

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Missymimi April 16, 2012 at 2:09 am

Hey everyone! I’m Mmek and i’m 16 years old. I’ve always wanted to be a neurosurgeon since when I was ten. Reading this article inspired and motivated me a lot and now I think I’m crazier about neurosurgery more than ever.

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Nick Bowden April 14, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Hi, my name is nick, and I’m twelve. I have wanted to persue this career since two years ago when my friend’s dad , who is a cardiac electro physioligist, came into my school to do a presentation for the 4th grade. At the end of his presentation he was open to questions and first I asked him why he wanted to do what he does, and he told me that at first he wanted to be a neurosurgeon but he found that his job suited him best. I asked him some of the same questions as the interview did and he gave very similar answers. Now I believe that being a neurosurgeon helps many people, and that it is perfect for me. THis article has helped me see that.

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bethany April 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm

I have been wanting to be a Neurosurgeon for three yevfrars now. I am graduating from highschool next year. This article only motivates me more to become a Neurosurgeon. Thank you for this article. It is greatly appreciated.

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Kyle April 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm

hello, my name is kyle and i am fifteen. I have wanted to be a neurosurgeon since is was ten years old and this artical has really shown me alot more about this field of work. I was really suprised when i read that people were leaving you thank you cards, wow that must be a pleasent feeling. when i read that in your artical it really inspired me to do my best and to not stop until i do become a neurosurgeon. plus to all the other people on here that want to be neurosergeons like me or whatever it is that you want to be i wish you the best of luck

sincerely, kyle

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Sam April 13, 2012 at 11:58 pm

My name is Samantha and I am also a fifteen year old who dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon. I wish you the best and the smoothest road to accomplishing your dreams. Keep to what you want and let nothing interfere!

Xoxoxo

:o )

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Lela Davis January 6, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Hi, my name is Lela Davis and I am 14 years old. For about 6 years I’ve been wanting to pursue a profession in the medical field and bout 2 years ago I finally made up my mind and decided to become a Neurosurgeon. I’ve become so interested and passionate about this field of medicine/work ;I started planning and researching every aspect there is out there … to becoming a Neurosurgeon. Even though i still have loads of questions this article has opened my eyes to what this field of work is all about .Helping people. So thanks

Passionately involved ,Lela Davis

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Alex watson (troll/future neurosurgeon) April 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

goodluck to all of you hope your dreams come true:D

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Victor Pena April 7, 2012 at 10:28 am

It’s my pleasure Aaron, as most people, I used any and all available advice to help me decide to enter medicine. It’s just great to see the accessibility JobShadow is offering aspiring professionals.

Good work and keep it up!

Victor

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Victor Pena April 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

To “anominous” and everyone else,
It is a bit strange that this surgeon didn’t mention college.
Indeed, the most conventional route to becoming a surgeon in the U.S. is:
1) High School
2) College (4-year bachelor’s)
3) Medical School (4 years)
4) General Surgery Residence (5-7 years, depending on whether it involves research)
5) Optional 1-3 years of subspecialty training

However, with time, many different options have emerged:

1) A very good science high school with AP courses could shorten your college years
2) There are a few college/medical school joint programs where you can complete both degrees in 6 instead of 8 years
3) A growing number of college graduates are studying medicine abroad because of the inadequate number of seats at American schools. The most popular are in the Caribbean but the best ones are in Europe (The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and in Mexico (Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara). The latter has taken part in the Fifth Pathway program which matches students with clinical clerkships in the U.S. in later years of medical school.
4) Also a very large number of people are entering medical school with advanced degrees (MBA’s, MPH’s, MA’s, JD’s) or significant work experience.
5) Lastly, for people who are interested in medicine but have already finished college there are special Pre-med prep programs in which you can fulfill all the medical school application requirements in a concentrated period of time, usually in 12 to 18 months.

The main thing is to know what you want to do with your life, be sure to visit and shadow as many different doctors as you can if you are considering medicine, tailor your plans to your personality and priorities, and to not be afraid to change your plans along the way. Be sure not to judge an entire profession on your interaction with one boring or perhaps unhappy doctor. Look for the one who ENJOYS his or her job and is ENTHUSIASTIC about it.

Good luck to anyone interested in a medicine as a profession!

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trave45 April 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Victor,

Really great comment, thanks for the additional thoughts and info! The education field is definitely evolving in medicine.

Aaron
JobShadow.com Team

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ida mwinyikai February 19, 2013 at 12:51 am

yah i know :)

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anominous April 1, 2012 at 10:15 pm

I thought there was more schooling

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Bea-trice House March 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Hello, I am 16 and I will be graduating next year (2013) and I just wanted to note that my story is just about the same. I was born (1995) with brain tumors but no one identified my tumors until I was about 12 years old with ridiculous migraines. When I got surgery in 2008 at UNC Chapel Hill I was inspired to become a neurosurgeon!

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Alex watson March 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Glad to read this, Inspired :]

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Alex watson April 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Oh im inspired to!! :] i’ve always wanted to be a neurosurgeon! my little brother had brain surgery a year ago and ever since, i knew this is what i wanted to be

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ida mwinyikai February 19, 2013 at 12:48 am

sorry about that we all have problems. I hope he is getting better and wish him good luck :)

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Aleasha Fowler March 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm

This has motivated me more then I already was; I am 16, and have been searching for jobs I thought I would be best suited for in the future. I chose neurosurgery to be my future career about three of four years ago and I really love learning about its properties. This little article has helped me to understand it a bit better and has done nothing but higher my want to become a neurosurgeon, thank you.

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Nishanth Moses February 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Hey, 17 here as well and I’m graduating 2012 too!! I can’t decide between Neurosurgeon or Cardiac surgeon. My dad just got a Coronal Angioplasty procedure (an alternative to bypass surgery) and its motivated me become a Cardiac Surgeon. If I train more, I could possibly aim for being a Cardiothoracic Surgeon, even though its the hardest/fewest of the surgeons. But, idk, wherever life takes me I guess.

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Cody February 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

What college/university did u go to? I’m thinking on going to UCSD it’s a medical school in San Diego.

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FutureNeuroSurgeon ( Sarah Allen ) February 25, 2012 at 1:36 am

KEEP ME POSTED love hearing everyone’s comments yay! all you inspire me and your stories :) x LOLS

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Sam February 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm

For all you apriring neurosurgeons out there, here is a link that has a ton of info and links to even more info. I love the site, and hope you can get something out of it.

http://brainsurgeonsalary.org/

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Jheanel February 7, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Thank you.

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Gerneleh paye March 17, 2014 at 9:08 am

I would love to be a neurosurgeon one day. I m very passionate about this career but I m scared of what, everybody is telling me, especially those who don’t know what it takes to be a neurosurgeon. I really would love to job shadow a neurosurgeon to actually know what they went through, because everybody is telling me different things about neurosurgeon and I’m really scared of what they are saying might affect my decision.

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