Neurosurgeons required to have proficiency in outside interest?
February 24, 2017 1:56 PM   Subscribe

In When Breath Becomes Air, the author mentions that the field of neurosurgery is unique in that it requires students to become proficient at something other than neurosurgery. He said people often choose writing or research since they complement the field. But is this really a thing? Are students actually required to do this to become a neurosurgeon? I am having a hard time Googling this.
posted by LKWorking to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Many PhD programs require proficiency in a foreign language. Here is an article about that, written by someone who doesn't like it.

These language requirements are becoming slightly less common in the USA, but are still very common in many fields at many universities.

I have no idea about the neurosurgeon thing, but even if it's true that they have to demonstrate proficiency in something outside neurosurgery, that is in no way unique among professions requiring graduate degrees, as there are thousands of people who had to learn some French or German or Russian to get a PhD in history or math or chemistry.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:29 PM on February 24, 2017


I think it depends slightly on the program, but I have definitely been involved in residencies that required this. My first "real job" was working in a lab at Georgetown and several of the people I worked with were neurosurgery residents who were required to complete a research rotation. They looked forward to it because it didn't require call or trauma and so was significantly less stressful than other parts of their training.

The guidelines here for certification for a residency program do say that residencies are required to include scholarly activity, but my understanding of this is that it can look quite different from site to site. (see page 19)
posted by goggie at 2:36 PM on February 24, 2017


Scholarly activity/ research is a requirement for all residencies, I think? (I'm a resident, not neurosurg, and it's required for us.) my guess is he's using the word "required" loosely, like maybe it helps to be proficient in something else (which again, as far as I can tell, all specialties value) but is not actually mandatory. The handful of my colleagues I knew who went into it were not doing anything special that I was aware of, above and beyond the usual research and things people do to become more competitive in all fields. More context here might be helpful, though.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 2:50 PM on February 24, 2017


The requirements for various neurosurgery residencies are posted online. Here is UCSF's. Here is Johns Hopkins'. Both these program require substantial academic research, which would likely requiring writing articles for publication in scholarly journals. Perhaps this is what the author is alluding to? Research isn't unique to neurosurgery residencies, however, and I don't see a generic requirement for developing a non-surgical competency other than doing research.

Side note: PhD's and medical residencies/fellowships are very different beasts. Residency and fellowship are steps towards being board certified in a discipline, not degree granting programs.
posted by reren at 2:56 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


reren pretty much has it. Dr. Kalanithi was in Stanford's program which requires two years of basic/clinical research and/or clinical fellowship, meaning everyone who graduates from Stanford's neurosurgery program has done either research or a clinical fellowship (generally speaking some kind of specialized surgical training).

I don't remember exactly how Kalanithi framed this in the book, but the implication that neurosurgical residents are required to develop a proficiency in an "outside interest" is definitely incorrect. To spend your research or fellowship time doing something outside neurosurgery, or outside basic science related to neuroscience, would be the exception (if permitted at all).

In terms of whether this is true of all neurosurgeons, many programs (if not the majority -- this is not my area) have a research requirement.
posted by telegraph at 3:29 PM on February 24, 2017


So to clarify, the something else is a medical thing that complements the neurosurgery somehow, not just "something else."? From the question, it thought it meant neurosurgeons had to be somehow somewhat well-rounded -- like maybe you were also proficient in wood-working or crochet or you were a marathon runner and that could count -- but being that the type of people who go into neurosurgery are probably workaholics they were all going with writing and research.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:32 PM on February 24, 2017


I took a look at the selection the OP is referring to on Amazon (searched for the word unique in the full text). I can see how it would be confusing. He is introducing a section on the research portion of his training and comments that to be regarded as truly great a neurosurgeon must have accomplished something in another domain (writing/research in particular). I don't think he meant to suggest some form of cross training was de riguer.
posted by reren at 7:48 PM on February 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think you're misinterpreting this. It just means you can't spend your entire residency practicing clinical medicine in basic neurosurgery, you've also got to do research and hopefully publish some papers, and/or do fellowships (probably in something like neuropathology, spine, peds, neuro-onc to give a few examples) to specialize further. This is pretty typical for most medical specialties.
posted by potrzebie at 2:31 PM on February 25, 2017


The section that I was referring to says:

"Midway through residency, time is set aside for additional training. Perhaps unique in medicine, the ethos of neurosurgery--of excellence in all things--maintains that excellence in neurosurgery alone is not enough. In order to carry the field, neurosurgeons must venture forth and excel in other fields as well. Sometimes this is very public, as in the case of the neurosurgeon-journalist Sanjay Gupta, but most often the doctor's focus is on a related field. The most rigorous and prestigious path is that of the neurosurgeon-neuroscientist."

It does kind of make it sound like being an expert wood-worker would qualify (thus my question. That would be very interesting!). "Other fields" is pretty broad and he does make a distinction about a "related field" being most common.
posted by LKWorking at 8:19 AM on February 27, 2017


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