Q&A with a Neurosurgeon

One of the most challenging areas of study in health care is neurosurgery,  a surgical specialty concerning disorders or injuries of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. Dr. Thanga Thirupathi Rajan is a neurosurgeon and the head of the Department of Neurosurgery at Saveetha University in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. He is available as a mentor with Careers Infinite.

What drove you to become a neurosurgeon?

When I finished my undergraduate degree (MBBS) at Madras Medical College, I chose to specialize in general surgery. I deliberated during postings in specialties such as cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery and gastroenterology. Of the three, I found neurosurgery to be the most appealing and challenging. Therefore, I chose to pursue this field. My sub-specialty expertise lies in spine and the vascular system.

What are some of the essential skills for this profession?

It is more of a mental adjustment than a skill set.

  • Developing emotional intelligence
  • Learning to be objective and patient as well as having the ability to work under pressure
  • Stamina, as one has to stand for long periods of time while performing surgeries

How long does one train to become a neurosurgeon?

The time period would be approximately ten years, starting from MBBS to specialization.

Is there a research component in this field?

Approximately 30% of the work involves research. Along with clinical practice and teaching, we are also attending conferences and workshops, performing research and publishing papers. Many doctors go into full-fledged research after neurosurgery instead of clinical practice.

What is your plan, 5 years from now?

I plan to improve my sub-specialty. Additionally, our department is young and we are working towards starting a new course and training more neurosurgeons.

What's your advice to a student who is interested in neurosurgery?

Neurosurgery is a challenging and an eventful profession. The path is long; however, I can promise you that you will never get bored! You can call yourself as somebody who can make a difference.

Take it one step at a time after you finish your MBBS. Train or intern in a neurosurgery department and determine if it is your niche and falls within your realistic expectations. Then, write the respective examinations for getting enrolled in different colleges. If you have the option, go around the world, take your time exploring different institutes and adopt all the best practices. Neurosurgery is still only the tip of the iceberg and there are several sub-specialties within this field. 

How do you balance work and family?

It is important to make time for family activities and hobbies and to avoid a one-track path. I was an athlete and a professional gamer, a big fan of the Warcraft series. I also played league sports. That was my relaxation during training days. Nowadays, I play table tennis and look towards my family for relaxation and fun.

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