Improving medical student recruitment to neurosurgery

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  • 1 Department of Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland;
  • 2 Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio;
  • 3 Department of Neurosurgery, Berman Brain and Spine Institute, Lifebridge Health, Baltimore, Maryland; and
  • 4 Department of Neurological Surgery, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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Neurosurgery seeks to attract the best and brightest medical students; however, there is often a lack of early exposure to the field, among other possible barriers. The authors sought to identify successful practices that can be implemented to improve medical student recruitment to neurosurgery.


United States neurosurgery residency program directors were surveyed to determine the number of medical student rotators and medical students matching into a neurosurgery residency from their programs between 2010 and 2016. Program directors were asked about the ways their respective institutions integrated medical students into departmental clinical and research activities.


Complete responses were received from 30/110 institutions. Fifty-two percent of the institutions had neurosurgery didactic lectures for 1st- and 2nd-year medical students (MS1/2), and 87% had didactics for MS3/4. Seventy-seven percent of departments had a neurosurgery interest group, which was the most common method used to integrate medical students into the department. Other forms of outreach included formal mentorship programs (53%), lecture series (57%), and neurosurgery anatomy labs (40%). Seventy-three percent of programs provided research opportunities to medical students, and 57% indicated that the schools had a formal research requirement. On average, 3 medical students did a rotation in each neurosurgery department and 1 matched into neurosurgery each year. However, there was substantial variability among programs. Over the 2010–2016 period, the responding institutions matched as many as 4% of the graduating class into neurosurgery per year, whereas others matched 0%–1%. Departments that matched a greater (≥ 1% per year) number of medical students into neurosurgery were significantly more likely to have a neurosurgery interest group and formal research requirements. A greater percentage of high-matching programs had neurosurgery mentorship programs, lecture series, and cadaver training opportunities compared to the other institutions.


In recent decades, the number of applicants to neurosurgery has decreased. A major deterrent may be the delayed exposure of medical students to neurosurgery. Institutions with early preclinical exposure, active neurosurgery interest groups, research opportunities, and strong mentorship recruit and match more students into neurosurgery. Implementing such initiatives on a national level may increase the number of highly qualified medical students pursuing neurosurgery.

ABBREVIATIONS AANS = American Association of Neurological Surgeons; NSIG = neurosurgery interest group.

Supplementary Materials

    • Supplementary Figures 1 and 2 (PDF 778 KB)

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Contributor Notes

Correspondence Daniel Lubelski: Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online August 9, 2019; DOI: 10.3171/2019.5.JNS1987.

Disclosures Dr. Witham is a consultant for DePuy-Synthes Spine and has received support from Eli Lilly and Co. and the Gordon and Marilyn Macklin Foundation for non–study-related clinical or research effort. Dr. Huang has ownership in Longeviti.


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