Brain Specialist

The brain is the seat of consciousness, reason, emotion, learning and skill - an awe-inspiring and complex region to which even the most advanced computer in the world cannot compare. Brain surgery is perhaps the oldest of the practiced medical arts.

Neurosurgeons perform operations on the spinal cord and peripheral nerves while brain specialists or surgeons (specialist neurosurgeons) treat abnormal conditions of the brain or perform surgery to remove either malignant or benign tumours (abnormal growths) from the brain. Tumours deep inside the brain cannot always be removed and have to be treated or shrunk with radiation or anti-tumour chemicals. Because the brain is enclosed in the rigid bony cranium, and there is little room for anything else there, abnormal growths cause pressure on the normal brain tissue. This can result in severe headaches, convulsions, paralysis, loss of sight or normal reflexes or the ability to move certain muscles.

Brain surgeons are required to perform procedures while coordinating and supervising the work of several nurses and other surgeons who work in teams during surgical operations. 

Sometimes brain specialists have to remove foreign objects from the brain, such as after a shooting or a car accident. To pinpoint the problem, the brain surgeon will be required to interpret a PET scan, or CT (computer tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.  Brain surgery is intricate and delicate and must be done expertly and precisely. Extreme care must be taken to ensure that no further damage is done to the brain during the operation.

A high level of concentration and hand-eye coordination is required when brain surgeons utilise microsurgery techniques, which involves reliance on an operating microscope during the surgery. 

Brain surgeons work in general hospitals, private hospitals or clinics, laboratories, medical schools or even out-of-doors at the scene of an accident.  They are required to attend academic conferences and read medical journals to stay abreast of the latest research in the field of neurosurgery.

Personal Requirements

  • have a love of people
  • be emotionally balanced
  • be patient, tactful and calm
  • be able to put patients at ease
  • be accurate and meticulous
  • have a very steady hand
  • be a creative and innovative thinker
  • be able to visualise three-dimensionally
  • be able to make quick decisions in a crisis
  • be responsible and ethical
  • be physically fit and healthy

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

  • Pass matric with a Bachelor's pass
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university
  • All applications for admission to MBChB and Medical degrees are subject to selection.
  • Due to the limited number of spaces available, only a small percentage of applicants are admitted.

What to Study

MBChB degree at UP, UCT, UFS, Wits, US, UL, UKZN:

  • Theoretical training: 6 years
  • Student internship: 1 year
  • Practical work at a hospital: 1 year (also known as the house doctor year).
Post-graduate study for specialisation as a brain surgeon: 4 years
Additional Requirements: before commencing post-graduate study for specialisation as a brain surgeon the candidate must:
  • have a MBChB degree for 2 years
  • be registered as a medical doctor with the Interim Medical and Dental Council (IMDC) of South Africa for 1 year.
Registration: On successful completion of the examination to qualify as a specialist, the candidate must register with the IMDC as a brain surgeon.


  • private practice
  • hospitals and other health care facilities
  • medical schools

Further Information

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) 
(553) of Hamilton and
Madiba Streets,
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 338-9300

Getting Started

  • do voluntary work for a health care facility
  • try to obtain part-time or voluntary work at a general hospital or other health care facility
  • do first aid courses with such organisations as St John’s Ambulance
  • make an appointment to speak to a medical doctor and a brain surgeon about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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