Career Advising

Specialty Choice: Neurosurgery

NeurosurgeryThe medical specialty dealing with the operative and non-operative management of disorders of the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems, including their supporting structures and vascular supply; the evaluation and treatment of pathological processes which modify function or activity of the nervous system; and the operative and non-operative management of pain. (AAMC Careers in Medicine)

Associated Societies

Quick Facts

The following information comes from the National Resident Matching Program's Charting Outcomes in the Match 2014 (PDF)  based on matched applicants in the United States.    

Advice for MS1 and MS2 Students

Q: What particular activities should first and second year students get involved with who are interested in pursuing this specialty?

You should attempt to establish a mentor in the field and work to begin a meaningful research experience.

Q: Are research experiences important in your specialty?

Not technically required, but applicants in this field have an extremely high number of research experiences compared to others, so research is strongly recommended.

Q: If so, do these need to be specialty specific research experiences?

Any research experience is better than no research experience, but generally neuroscience research is preferred.

Q: Does class rank matter?

Yes. More than 25 percent of applicants are in AOA according to NRMP 2014 results.

Advice for MS3 and MS4 Students

Q: When should I ask for letters of recommendation (LORs)?

Ideally you should ask for letters in May but absolutely no later than July, allowing your letter writers adequate time to upload your letter prior to the ERAS application submission date of Sept. 15. Your personal statement and CV should be ready as well as many letter writers will request this in order to write you a strong letter.

Q: How many LORs do you need?

At least three.

Q: Is a letter from a chair required?

No, but strongly recommended.

Q: Do all letters need to be written by members of this specialty?

It is recommended that three letters be from neurosurgeons. Letters from outside the field should be from faculty in surgery or neurology.

Q: Do any letters need to be written by external institutions?

Obtain a letter from all your away programs. It is expected that you will receive a LOR from visiting rotations.

Q: Does your Step 2 CK score matter?

A high score will make you more competitive.

Q: What electives would you recommend for someone who is interested in pursuing this specialty?

Neurosurgery, Radiology, Neuro ICU, Interventional Radiology

Q: Should a student interested in this specialty do away rotations?


Q: If so, how many “aways” do you recommend and when should they be completed?

At least two. You will need to get LORs from each one you do.

Q: Which month is recommended to take off to interview?

Most interviews are from November through mid-January.

Similar Specialties to Consider

Residency Programs

Available Fellowships

  • Spine Surgery
  • Neurosurgical Oncology
  • Cerebrovascular Surgery
  • Skull Base Surgery
  • Pediatric Neurosurgery
  • Functional Neurosurgery
  • Peripheral Nerve Surgery

Looking into the Future/Changes in Health Care

Neurosurgery is an increasingly popular career choice as it is constantly evolving. Although neurosurgery has been a male dominated specialty, more women are choosing neurosurgery as a career, and in the United States consultation is under way to encourage women into the specialty. The work is diverse, with daily diagnostic challenges and management plans that bring together many different treatment modalities within a multidisciplinary setting. It provides numerous opportunities to do research and academic work and to be at the forefront of our understanding of how our brain works and the surgical correction of its pathological processes. (Source: Ellenbogen, 2009)

Additional Information

See the Career Essentials Pilot Page regarding specialty specific advice for more detailed information and resources.


Last edited on 10/04/2016.