How Many Years to Become a Brain Surgeon

Brain surgeons are also knowns as neurosurgeons or neurological surgeons. They are highly skilled medical professionals who specialise in doing surgeries on the brain, spinal cord, cerebrovascular system, and peripheral nerves. They are trained in treating a wide variety of congenital brain disorders, traumas, vascular disorders, infections, stroke, as well as degenerative spinal diseases. 

This article will answer the question about how many years it takes to become a brain surgeon. It will also include information on the kinds of surgeries brain surgeons are skilled to perform, as well as some frequently asked questions about brain surgeons. 

How Many Years to Become a Brain Surgeon

In order to become a board-certified brain surgeon, it can take around 14 to 16 years of education. Some neurosurgeons also take up additional fellowships in order to specialise in a specific area of neurosurgery (Burkhardt et al., 2010).

The education required to become a neurosurgeon is extremely rigorous and extensive. It requires 4 years of undergraduate studies, 4 years of medical school along with 5 to 7 years of fellowship training.

Once a brain surgeon has received his/her medical license, they are required to practice for several years before becoming eligible to obtain their board certification. This is obtained through the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS). It usually requires brain surgeons to have around 10 years or more experience to receive the certification.

Neurologists versus Neurosurgeons

Neurologists specialise in treating conditions that stem from neurological problems, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, peripheral nerve disorders, GBS, and ALS. 

Whereas neurosurgeons focus on brain injuries, removal of tumours, and carpal tunnel syndrome. However, both neurologists and neurosurgeons work closely because both have specialised knowledge of the nervous system.

While both of them can diagnose and treat neurological conditions, only neurosurgeons can perform surgery. In fact, sometimes orthopaedic surgeries also involve/overlap with neurosurgery when the patient has complaints of spine pain.

Concentrations Focused on by Brain Surgeons

The nervous system is extremely complex and is a sophisticated system which regulates as well as coordinates the activities of the body. In the medical field, neurology focuses on three organ systems: 

  • The Central Nervous System (CNS)
  • The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)
  • The Intracranial Cerebrovascular System.

The Intracranial Cerebrovascular System includes the network of arteries and veins which are responsible for delivering blood to the brain.

The conditions that are treated by neurosurgeons are broadly described through their underlying causes. The conditions include:

  1. Congenital malformations, for example, anencephaly, aneurysm, hydrocephalus, or spina bifida.
  2. Traumatic head, spine, or peripheral injuries, including, skull fractures as well as brain haemorrhage.
  3. Cancerous or non-cancerous tumours of the brain or spine
  4. Vascular disorders such as arteriovenous malformations (AVM) and capillary telangiectasia
  5. CNS infections that include meningitis, encephalitis, vertebral osteomyelitis, and epidural abscess
  6. Disorders such as epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
  7. Psychiatric disorder treatments like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s syndrome, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and severe anxiety disorders.
  8. Degenerative spinal cord diseases such as spinal stenosis, spinal muscle atrophy (SMA), and spinal disc herniation.
  9. Pain that is intractable and associated with cancer, trauma, or other diseases.

Procedural Expertise Required from Brain Surgeons

In order to become a brain surgeon, an individual has to have immense expertise as well as extraordinary manual dexterity skills. The tools that are used in neurosurgery are extensive and involve cutting-edge technology. Neurosurgeons also perform microsurgeries as well as brain implants in rare cases.

Neurosurgery requires a high degree of technical expertise as well as exceptional manual dexterity skills. The tools used in the trade are extensive, many of which employ cutting-edge technologies, including microsurgery and brain implants.

Use of Radiological Tools in Neurosurgeries

Neurosurgeries are successful because they use an array of radiology tools. These tools are used for the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders. They are as follows:

  1. Computed Tomography (CT), is a computer-assisted X-ray technique. This creates 3D “slices” of the brain and the spinal cord.
  2. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses magnetic and radio waves to generate high-quality pictures of the brain, especially soft tissues. The images are highly detailed.
  3. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) uses radioactive tracers in order to evaluate the metabolic function of the nervous system.
  4. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a technique used for mapping the brain. This is done by recording the signals nerves send each other with the help of magnetic receptors.

With the help of these radioactive tools, neurosurgeons perform invasive and minimally invasive surgical procedures. The surgical procedures performed by neurosurgeons are:

  • Conventional Open Surgery
  • Endoscopic Surgery
  • Microsurgery
  • Stereostatic Radiosurgery
  • Endovascular Surgery
  • Spinal Neurosurgery
  • Psychiatric neurosurgery; including Lobotomy, Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation
  • Peripheral Nerve Stimulation
  • Implanting pain pumps that deliver pain medication from time to time.

Surgeries of the PNS are also possible, as well as sometimes performed by neurosurgeons. These may include decompression of nerves associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) or repositions of nerves that are pinched and may cause pain.


The article covered in-depth the topic of how many years it takes to become a brain surgeon. It usually takes around 14 to 16 years to become a neurosurgeon, along with extensive fellowship and specialisation training. The article also highlighted information on the kinds of surgeries performed by brain surgeons, as well as the testing pieces of equipment they are skilled to work with. The article discusses some frequently asked questions about neurosurgeons below.

Frequently Asked Questions: How many years to become a brain surgeon?

Do neurosurgeons have subspecialties?

Neuroscience is a vast and diverse field. The functions of the brain and the nervous system are complicated, and it will be difficult for neurosurgeons to have advanced knowledge of all the related aspects of the brain and the nervous system. Thus, it is common for neurosurgeons to have limited scope in their practice. They limit themselves to either specific populations to work with (children, geriatric, or young adults) or specific areas of the nervous system.

What do neurosurgical subspecialties include?

The subspecialties of neurosurgery include endoscopic cranial surgery, functional neurosurgery which is used in the treatment of movement disorders, and neuro-oncology which is involved in the treatment of cancer and tumours, neurovascular surgery, peripheral nerve surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, spinal neurosurgery, and stereotactic neurosurgery. 

Neurosurgeons can also specialise in skull base neurosurgery which is used in treating cancerous or non-cancerous growths on the inside of the upper skull or upper vertebra.

What kind of questions can I ask my brain surgeon?

When visiting neurosurgeons, be fully prepared to ask any or all questions that you may have in order to fully understand what condition you are diagnosed with, what is the treatment plan, and how should you be expecting to move forward. Make sure to write your questions down beforehand so you don’t forget them. The questions you can ask are:

  • Why is it that I need this surgery?
  • How will the surgery help me exactly?
  • What are the chances of success or failure?
  • Have we considered all of the risks of going ahead with the surgery?
  • Have we evaluated all other surgical options before going ahead with this one?
  • How long will the surgical procedure take?
  • What is the recovery period? What is it like?
  • What are the consequences of not going ahead with the surgery?
  • How and when will I know whether the surgery is successful?

What are some common neurosurgeries?

In the NSQIP database from 2006 to 2014, five of the most common neurosurgical procedures were reported. These include Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF), Craniotomy for Brain Tumour (CBT), Discectomy, Lmaninectomy, as well as Posterolateral Lumbar Fusion (PLF).

What neurosurgery is the most complex?

Arteriovenous Malformations (AVM) are reported to be the most concerning as well as complex surgeries under neurosurgery. This is because they are congenital and are usually caused by disruptions of the normal vascular development process.

How long does brain surgery take?

Normal Carniotomy takes up to three to five hours to be performed. However, an awake craniotomy can take up to five to seven hours to be performed. In consensus, neurosurgeries can last anywhere from three to seven hours, depending upon the severity of the injury and the kind of procedure chosen by the neurosurgeon.


Burkhardt JK, Zinn PO, Bozinov O, Colen RR, Bertalanffy H, Kasper EM. Neurosurgical education in Europe and the United States of America.Neurosurg Rev. 2010;33(4):409-417. doi:10.1007/s10143-010-0257-6