What is a Brain Surgeon

A brain surgeon, also called a neurosurgeon, is a doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of disorder related to the central nervous system and its peripheral regions, including the brain, spinal chord, and peripheral nerves. This includes surgery on degenerative spinal diseases, traumatic brain injuries, and brain cancer, as well as various vascular disorders.

Work Environment

The field of brain surgery can be exceptionally stressful. The work not only is a deciding factory in a patient’s general health and wellbeing, but is very often a deciding factor in the life and recover of the patient. Especially in emergency situations, speed is of the essence, and this, coupled with the fact that the nervous system is incredibly delicate, means brain surgeons can often be under enormous pressure to perform well, quickly. In situations of non-emergency nature, surgeries can still be difficult, lasting nearly eighteen hours or more.

With all of these pressures, brain surgeons require steady motor skills, a great deal of patience, and good organizational skills. Their work, dealing with exposed brains and spinal cords, is quite intricate and delicate. They have a team of nurses and anesthetists working with them to help, however the position itself can be quite demanding.

Work Schedule

The work hours for brain surgeons are long and, as mentioned, stressful. Some weeks will exceed 60 hours of work, and this doesn’t include on call time or emergency call ins. Irregular hours are often kept, given the high potential for severe nervous system injuries in modern society, and a brain surgeon must be prepared for evaluation and treatment at any time.

Median Annual Brain Surgeon Salary

The median annual neurosurgeon salary is $528,514. Individuals who fall in the lowest 10% of all neurosurgeons can expect to make less than $281,084 each year whereas others with more experience in the top 10% can reach more than $789,441 annually. Their salaries are among the highest of all health care jobs and even among physicians.

Brain Surgeon Salary: Quick Summary

2012 Median Salary$528,514 per year
$254.09 per hour
Top 10% Salary$789,441 per year
$379.54 per hour
Bottom 10% Salary$281,084 per year
$135.14 per hour
Number of Jobs, 2012691,400 (All Physicians)

Brain Surgeon Job Outlook and Prospects

Brain surgery is a highly sought after specialty in the medical field, along with cardiology and orthopedics. With such high demand, there are very promising job prospects, with growth in demand expected to reach nearly 24 percent in the coming 10 years. This growth is due in part to the increasing population in the United States, as well as changes in demographics (ie an aging population) and the growing potential for severe injuries and further research in to diseases of the nervous system.

What Affects The Salary of a Brain Surgeon

A brain surgeon’s salary is affected by many factors, and most prominently by those that affect much of the health care industry, ie experience, geographic location, and reputation. The average brain surgeon salary in the United States is around $220,000.

While a new brain surgeon can earn a very high salary (as compared to a new family doctor), a long-time surgeon, who has had a great deal of time to perfect their skill and increase their experience, will earn more, being more knowledgeable in the field.

Reputation is a strong factor in the medical field as well; those doctors who are well known to have a strong, proven track record can demand higher salaries or fees for their services, as the individual’s reputation will be added to the positive outlook of the business overall.

Education and Specialization 

Brain surgeons face a much more intensive training program than most other medical professionals; between internships, residences, and fellowships, this training can last up to (and above) eight years, not including the eight required for the bachelors and medical degrees. This extensive training, however, contributes to the higher-than-average salary brain surgeons can earn on completion.

There are numerous sub-specialties in brain surgery as well, including neuro-oncology, cerebrovascular neurosurgery, and gamma knife surgery. Expertise in these various sub-specialties brings salary increases, especially given the greater demand than supply that exists within them.

Experience and Position 

A brain surgeon’s salary is highly affected by experience, with a starting surgeon earning around $110,000, while those with ten or more years’ experience can earn more than $600,000.

Position can also contribute to a brain surgeon’s salary, though to a less degree; heading a neurosurgery department will bring some gains, though fewer than the reputation that would lead to this appointment.


Industry is a significant factor in affecting the annual salaries of brain surgeons, with two potential paths for employment: working in a hospital or other health care center, or starting a private practice. It is worth noting, however, that those who do run a private practice can often be called in to hospitals for short-term contracts, covering for the hospital’s in-house doctor who may be on a leave or extended absence.

Teaching at colleges or universities is a further potential method for increasing annual salary.


The location worked is also an important aspect affecting brain surgeon salary. Wyoming, Washington, and Wisconsin offer the best wages, though the Bureau of Labor and Statistics doesn’t specify what those wages are. Nashua, New Hampshire is one of the best-paying cities, along with Portland, Maine and Worcestor, Massachussetts.