Dr Leon Lai is a neurosurgery consultant at Monash Health. Leon has always been a focused and driven doctor, never considering any specialty other than neurosurgery. His special interest lies in vascular neurosurgery, although this is somewhat in decline due to the advent of interventional cardiology. Nevertheless, as we are walked through his daily routine, we learn how intensely busy life as a neurosurgeon can be. This is a world where 3 hour operations are the norm, and the tiny margin for error can be the difference between improving someone’s life and further complicating it.
Leon gives us some advice as to learning the “rules of the game” that is entry into medical specialties. For him, this was taking a PhD and acquiring experience in his desired field early on, both key “tools” to his success. While medical grades as important, he believes the “currency is different” in the working field; in particular, he views two attributes as key to our future prosperity. Leon gives us his two cents as to why it is potentially dangerous to like every field or no field in our student years – eek!
While it fluctuates year-to-year, neurosurgery is highly competitive. We were shocked to learn how many graduates are accepted each year! Leon likens the program to “getting on an incline treadmill and running at full speed”. Yet before one jumps on, he suggests we ensure we “understand ourselves a bit more”, finding what “motivates us as a person” to prepare ourselves for the long days and sleepless nights ahead that are common in neurosurgery. Indeed, Leon averages around 6 hours of sleep per night (which this writer simply could not do). However, he explains how he was not always like this and what helped him adapt to this lifestyle.
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Pathway into Neurosurgery
Medical School → Internship → Residency (2 years) → Surgical Education and Training program (3 years) → Surgical Training in Neurosurgery (6 years) → Fellowship (1 year, optional) → Consultant
According to the Australian Government Taxation Data, in the 2013-14 income year we had approximately:
- 26 female neurosurgeons earning an average of $323,682
- 142 male neurosurgeons earning an average of $577,674
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