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The Specialty of Spine Surgery

What is a Spine Surgeon?

Spine surgeons are surgical specialists from the specialties of Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurosurgery who are formally trained to perform spinal surgery.

What is an Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon?

Orthopaedic Surgeons are specialists in the treatment of bone and joint disease. Since the spine consists of many vertebrae and joints, the spine also falls under the under the umbrella of Orthopaedic care. Orthopaedic Surgeons undergo specialty training (residency) for at least 5 years after medical school. As part of the residency training they are taught about conservative (non-surgical) and surgical spine care. Some Orthopaedic Surgeons chose to complete another year of formal training (Fellowship) exclusively in Spinal Surgery which is typically 1 extra year of training. Many of these Fellowship trained Orthopaedic Spine Surgeons make spine surgery the main focus of their career.

Board certification is achieved by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, which is one of the Boards recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. The American Board of Medical Specialties does not offer a separate Board Certification in Spinal Surgery for Orthopaedic Surgeons.

What is a Neurosurgeon?

Neurosurgeons are specialists in the treatment of brain, spinal cord, and nerve diseases. Since the spine contains the spinal cord and many spinal nerves, Neurosurgeons are also formally trained in spinal surgery. Neurosurgeons undergo at least 6 years of training (residency) following medical school. As part of their training they are also taught conservative (non-surgical) and surgical spine care. Some Neurosurgeons elect to complete another year of formal training (fellowship) in Spinal Surgery. Some of these Fellowship trained Neurosurgery Spine Surgeons will make spine surgery the main focus of their careers.

Neurosurgeons achieve Board Certification through the American Board of Neurological Surgery, which is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. The American Board of Medical Specialties does not offer a separate Board Certification in Spinal Surgery for Neurosurgeons.

What are the different types of Spine Surgery Practices?

Spine surgeons practice in different practice environments. Here are some examples:

1. Private Practice

Private practice means the spine surgeon practices in the general community. They typically have their own private office and perform surgery at a private Surgery Center and/or a Community Hospital. These spine surgeons are not employed by a hospital or the government.

2. Academic Practice

Academic practice means the spine surgeon is an employee of an academic institution such as a University. They practice surgery at academic institutions or hospitals who are affiliated with an academic institution.

3. Hospital Employed

Some spine surgeons are employed by a particular hospital or a group of hospitals. This includes Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). They typically receive a salary and only practice at that institution or its affiliates.

4. Government Employed

Some spine surgeons work for the U.S. government such as the Military, Veteran’s Affairs System and Public Health. They receive a salary like other government employees.            

Do Spine Surgeons just practice Surgery?

Spine surgeons provide a broad range of spine services. These include conservative (non-surgical) and surgical care. The conservative care provided often includes some medication management, spinal braces, and referrals for spine tests and other spine care. Spine surgeons typically do not provide a broad range of spinal injections. These are often referred to Pain Management spine specialists.

Do Spine Surgeons specialize in a particular spine field?

Spine surgeons in private practice typically do not specialize, but their practice may have an emphasis on certain spine procedures which they have more expertise in. Here are some examples:

  1.  Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery
  2.  Scoliosis Correction Surgery
  3. Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

How do Spine Surgeons learn new Spine Surgeries?

New surgical procedures are usually taught with the help of the Spine Industry. Medical Device Companies train spine surgeons on new procedures with the help of their own Surgeon-Experts. Spine surgeons typically receive a certificate for each new surgery they learn.

Who treats unique and uncommon spine problems?

Sometimes patients who have an uncommon spine problem are referred to academic spine surgeons who work at a University Hospital or other academic institution. These spine surgeons often have experience with rare spine conditions.

Which Spine Surgeons engage in Research?

Academic spine surgeons who are employed by University Hospitals or other academic institutions usually conduct spine research. Some private practice Spine Surgeons also engage in research and can be part of FDA sponsored spine studies.

Do Spine Surgeons work with Pain Management Spine Specialists?

Most Pain Management doctors have some association with Spine Surgeons. Here are some examples:

  1. Some Pain Management doctors work directly with Spine Surgeons in the same office. They often combine their knowledge to offer a broad treatment approach.
  2. Some Pain Management doctors work with Spine Surgeons in the same community, but separate offices. Patients are often referred for an opinion if a patient needs surgery. Spine Surgeons will also refer patients to the Pain Management doctor if they do not require surgery.