How did you first get into medicine?

I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to study at university. I had the grades to do medicine but I also had a keen interest in astrophysics. My father was very keen I study medicine; it was a wise choice as it led to a career caring for people when they need it.

What inspired you to pursue your specialty?

I was inspired by an attachment in neurosurgery where I met a wise and funny neurosurgeon. I thought “I want to be a neurosurgeon just like him”. During my training, I met similar surgeons although his level of wisdom, humour and ability was exceptional.

Once I was in the specialty, I enjoyed the acuity of making life or death decisions on a daily (and nightly) basis. It was more varied that I had imagined, from the technical challenges of surgery to dealing with patients and their families.

How does your chosen specialty differ from other medical settings?

It’s usually done in big centres and if you don’t want to live a big city, it will be harder. You may have to move around a bit and might have to do a higher degree to get into training.

You have to be able to deal with stress and multiple demands on your time, often simultaneously. You will also need to be good at speaking to people and families at their lowest ebbs. Telling them a loved one is going to die is never easy.

Neurosurgery has honed my problem solving skills as well as improving my ability to spend long periods working towards a single outcome.

You should be prepared to accept that sometimes—hopefully rarely—things will go wrong and someone who was intact before surgery will be worse off afterwards.

However, it’s balanced by the joy of saving lives, from straightforward surgery like taking out an extradural haematoma to reducing people’s pain like taking out a lumbar disc prolapse.

What additional skills have you learned as a result?

Neurosurgery has honed my problem solving skills as well as improving my ability to spend long periods working towards a single outcome.

What advice would you give to a student who is considering this specialty?

Think carefully about the lifestyle you want and spend time with consultants to see what the reality of their job is; it may surprise you. You need to consider whether you want to spend your time on calls in the hospital operating as you get older, as it is a fact of life for consultant neurosurgeons.

Join MDU in your F1 year

You need to be prepared to keep learning and being reflective about your ability as there is a growing tendency towards subspecialisation. Shortened training time inevitably leads to less experienced consultants and this can be another stressful fact of life. I was definitely less experienced than those appointed 10 years before me and those appointed after me were less experienced than me.

That being said it gave me the opportunity to travel the world working and studying so that was hugely worthwhile.


This article was correct at publication on 04/11/2019. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Mr Jerard Ross

Medico-legal adviser

Jerard graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1994. He then moved into surgical training in Edinburgh before completing his MD at the University of Manchester. Before joining the MDU he was a consultant in adult and paediatric neurosurgery in Edinburgh where he was the surgeon to the Scottish National Paediatric Epilepsy Programme.

See more by Mr Jerard Ross