How Much Does a Brain Surgeon Make a Year?

by Fred Decker

The brain is a complex structure of specialized nerve tissue, blood vessels and the supporting muscular and skeletal system. Performing delicate surgical procedures on the brain is the work of neurosurgeons. Through a combination of targeted radiation, traditional open surgery and newer, minimally-invasive endoscopic techniques, neurosurgeons can treat and correct a variety of conditions from chronic headaches to brain tumors. It's a demanding specialty, where successes can be nearly miraculous and failures devastatingly destructive. Accordingly, neurosurgeons are among the highest-paid of all physicians.

Medical Group Management Association

For physicians' incomes, salary surveys by industry bodies are a good resource for learning what different specialties pay. One of the most respected is the annual survey by the Medical Group Management Association. Its 2011 study reported an average salary of $767,627 for all neurological surgeons, with pediatric neurosurgeons slightly lower at an average of $643,188 per year. Among hospital-employed neurosurgeons, salaries were slightly lower at $701,927 per year for those who practice on adults. Pediatric neurosurgeons employed at hospitals averaged $656,282 per year.

Other Surveys

Other salary surveys provide further insight. Recruiting firm Profiles, which specializes in new physicians, reports in its 2011-2012 survey that neurosurgeons in their first year of practice enjoyed a median income of $395,000 per year, second only to orthopedic spinal surgeons. The American Medical Group association reported a median income of $592,811 per year for neurosurgeons across all career stages. Staffing firm Jackson and Coker reported an average 2011 salary of $671,086 for neurosurgeons, plus an additional average of $134,217 in benefits. This yields a combined average total compensation of $805,303 per year.


Neurological surgery has one of the longest training periods in medicine. Residencies usually last six years, and some specialties require further fellowships. However, there are few other fields in medicine offering comparable earning potential. The 2011 MGMA study showed cardiovascular surgeons at approximately the same level, earning an average of $762,846 per year for pediatric surgeons and $560,659 for adult practice. Among hospital-employed physicians, orthopedic spinal surgeons topped the list at an average of $714,088 per year. For comparison purposes, the study showed general surgeons earning an average of $368,108 per year for the same period.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of jobs for physicians and surgeons will increase by 24 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Much of this growth will occur because of the aging baby boom generation, whose needs for health care will increase as age-related conditions become more common. These conditions likely will include strokes, brain cancers, aneurysms and other conditions requiring a neurosurgeon's care. The increasing use of minimally-invasive endoscopic techniques means that more neurosurgery can be performed in outpatient clinics, which should also result in strong employment prospects for new neurosurgeons.

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