CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a neurosurgeon.

Step 1

Is becoming a neurosurgeon right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do neurosurgeons do?
Career Satisfaction
Are neurosurgeons happy with their careers?
What are neurosurgeons like?

Still unsure if becoming a neurosurgeon is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a neurosurgeon or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

Becoming a neurosurgeon requires years of education and training. Here are some of the high school courses that could be helpful in preparing for a career in neurosurgery:

  • Science: Take all the science courses you can, including biology, chemistry, and physics. These courses will provide you with a solid foundation of knowledge that you will need to build upon in college and medical school.
  • Math: Math is an important component of medicine, so take math courses through calculus. This will help you understand and analyze data and measurements used in medical practice.
  • English: Neurosurgeons must be able to communicate effectively with patients and other medical professionals. English classes can help you develop strong writing and speaking skills.
  • Psychology and social sciences: These courses will help you understand the behavior of people and the workings of the brain. They may also help you develop the communication and interpersonal skills needed to work with patients.
  • Computer Science: Some neurosurgeons use computer programs to assist them in their work, and having knowledge in this area can be very helpful.

Remember that these are just a few suggestions, and that it is also important to develop good study habits and time management skills. It is also important to maintain a strong GPA and participate in extracurricular activities that demonstrate your commitment to helping others and your desire to pursue a career in medicine.

Step 3

Formal Education Steps

Becoming a neurosurgeon requires a long and challenging educational path. Here are the detailed steps to become a neurosurgeon:

  • Undergraduate Education: The first step to becoming a neurosurgeon is to complete a bachelor's degree from an accredited university or college. There is no specific major required for medical school, but most aspiring neurosurgeons choose to study pre-med, biology, or a related field. During your undergraduate studies, you should focus on maintaining a high GPA and taking courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.
  • Medical School: After completing your undergraduate education, you will need to attend medical school. The application process is highly competitive, and you will need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and submit your scores along with your application. Medical school typically lasts four years, during which you will take courses in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical subjects. You will also complete clinical rotations in various medical specialties, including neurology and neurosurgery.
  • Residency: After completing medical school, you will need to complete a residency in neurosurgery. Neurosurgery residency programs typically last seven years, during which you will receive extensive training in neurosurgical techniques, patient care, and research. During your residency, you will work closely with experienced neurosurgeons to gain hands-on experience in a variety of surgical procedures.
  • Fellowship: After completing your residency, you may choose to pursue a fellowship in a subspecialty of neurosurgery, such as pediatric neurosurgery, spine surgery, or neuro-oncology. Fellowships typically last one to two years and provide additional training in a specific area of neurosurgery.
  • Board Certification: After completing your residency and fellowship, you will need to become certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS). To become certified, you will need to pass a written examination and a series of oral examinations that test your knowledge and skills in neurosurgery.
  • Licensure: In addition to certification, you will need to obtain a medical license in the state where you plan to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state, but typically include passing a state-specific medical board examination and meeting other requirements, such as completing continuing education courses.
  • Professional Development: As a neurosurgeon, it is important to stay up-to-date with the latest advances in the field. This may include attending medical conferences, participating in continuing education courses, and conducting research to contribute to the field of neurosurgery.
Step 4


There are several fellowship programs available for neurosurgeons who have completed their residency training and are seeking further specialized training in a specific area. These fellowships typically provide a structured training program that combines clinical and research experience to further develop the skills and knowledge of the neurosurgeon.

Some examples of fellowship programs for neurosurgeons include:

  • Skull Base Surgery Fellowship: This fellowship program focuses on the surgical treatment of complex skull base tumors and lesions.
  • Pediatric Neurosurgery Fellowship: This fellowship program provides specialized training in the surgical treatment of pediatric neurological disorders, including congenital malformations, brain and spinal cord tumors, and epilepsy.
  • Spine Surgery Fellowship: This fellowship program provides specialized training in the surgical treatment of spinal disorders, including degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and spinal cord injuries.
  • Neurointerventional Radiology Fellowship: This fellowship program focuses on the minimally invasive treatment of vascular and neurological disorders using advanced imaging techniques.
  • Neurocritical Care Fellowship: This fellowship program provides specialized training in the management of critically ill neurological patients in the ICU setting.

These are just a few examples of the many fellowship programs available for neurosurgeons. It's important to research each program thoroughly and choose one that aligns with your career goals and interests.

Step 5

Board Certification

Board certification is a process by which a physician can demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a particular specialty or subspecialty. For neurosurgeons, board certification is available through the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS).

To become board-certified in neurosurgery, a physician must first complete an accredited residency program in neurosurgery, which typically takes seven years of post-graduate training. Following residency, the physician must pass both a written and an oral examination administered by the ABNS.

The written exam covers a range of topics in neurosurgery, including anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, diagnostic studies, and treatment strategies. The oral exam is designed to assess the physician's ability to make clinical decisions and communicate effectively with patients and other healthcare providers.

Once a physician has passed both exams, they are awarded board certification in neurosurgery. To maintain certification, physicians must participate in continuing medical education and periodically pass additional exams or demonstrate ongoing clinical competence.

Board certification is not required to practice neurosurgery, but it is an important credential that demonstrates a physician's commitment to excellence in their field and can help establish trust with patients and other healthcare providers.

Step 6


In the United States, licensure for neurosurgeons is the process by which a physician is granted permission to practice medicine as a neurosurgeon in a specific state. Licensure is granted by the state medical board in the state where the neurosurgeon wishes to practice.

The requirements for licensure as a neurosurgeon in the United States typically include the following:

  • Completion of an accredited medical school program and obtaining a medical degree (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.
  • Completion of a neurosurgery residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).
  • Passing the written and oral examinations of the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS).
  • Meeting any additional requirements set by the state medical board, such as completing a certain number of continuing medical education (CME) hours or passing a state-specific examination.

Once the neurosurgeon has met all the requirements, they can apply for licensure with the state medical board. The medical board will review the application, and if everything is in order, the neurosurgeon will be granted a license to practice medicine as a neurosurgeon in that state. The neurosurgeon must renew their license periodically and fulfill any continuing education requirements in order to maintain their license.