Spine surgeons help patients recover from debilitating conditions and they also help patients get back on their feet after sustaining injuries. To work as a neurosurgeon spine surgeon, you must enter one of two medical fields. Although the road to becoming a spine surgeon requires many years of education and on-the-job training, those who succeed often reap handsome financial rewards.
Who Are Spine Surgeons?
Patients who have spinal injuries or spinal conditions turn to orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons for surgical relief. Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons can operate on many common spinal conditions, including spinal fractures, disc degenerations and spinal bone tumors. However, in most cases, only neurosurgeons have the expertise to operate on the spinal canal lining to correct conditions such as spinal cord tumors, spina bifida or tethered spinal cord. Typically, orthopedic surgeons operate on other forms of spinal conditions, including spinal deformities and scoliosis.
Neurosurgeon Pay Scale
The neurosurgeon spine salary varies. According to Doximity – a California-based medical network of U.S. physicians – neurosurgeons earn an average annual salary of around $663,000. According to a study conducted by the Glassdoor website, neurosurgeons take home an average income of around $490,000. Merritt Hawkins – a Texas-based physicians' recruiting company – estimates that neurologists earn an annual income of $289,000 to $337,000. However, the Merritt Hawkins study does not specify salaries for neurologists who specialize in neurosurgery.
How Much Do Orthopedic Surgeons Make a Year?
A Merritt Hawkins study of orthopedic surgeons, drawn from income surveys conducted by eight healthcare organizations, reveals annual salaries ranging from around $500,000 to $680,000.
Spine Surgeon Salary Variations
Like most medical professions, a spine surgeon salary can depend on where you practice. According to a 2018 Medscape report, physician salaries vary significantly from state to state. For instance, Medscape’s survey of all physician salaries revealed that doctors in Indiana earned an average of $334,000, whereas their colleagues in Washington, D.C. took home only $229,000.
Unfortunately, the medical industry has not closed the pay scale gender gap, even among physicians. For example, male specialists take home an average annual income of approximately $358,000, but their female counterparts earn approximately $263,000.
Spine Surgeon Education
If you plan to become a spine surgeon, prepare for years of education and on-the-job training. Aspiring surgeons must earn at least a bachelor’s degree, which typically requires four years to complete, before they can apply to medical school. Completing medical school takes at least four more years, before they can train as a hospital intern, resident and then as a fellow.
Medical school applicants face stiff competition. Schools consider applicants based on their undergraduate and graduate grades, as well as on their Medical School Admission Test scores. Most medical schools require that applicants submit letters of recommendation and also attend an interview conducted by an admissions committee.
Once accepted to medical school, students spend a couple of years in laboratories and classrooms, before they obtain practical experience in hospitals and in their practicum clinics during their last two years. Typically, medical school coursework includes subjects such as pharmacology, anatomy, medical ethics, medical legislation and biochemistry.
To provide a well-rounded education to students, most medical schools assign future doctors to a rotation, which includes various specialties, such as internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics and psychiatry. In these rotations, the students work with patients, and they learn to diagnose illnesses and medical conditions, and also to create treatment plans.
After graduating from medical school, a surgeon must enter an internship and residency program, which takes from three to seven years to complete. Most neurosurgeons must complete residencies of up to seven years, during which time they learn how to diagnose, treat and operate on spinal conditions. Typically, orthopedic surgeons must complete a four- to five-year residency program.
Spine Surgeon Licensing and Certification
After completing their medical residency or internship, spine surgeons must become licensed before they can start their practices, which includes passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.
Many orthopedic surgeons earn certification from the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, whereas neurosurgeons obtain American Board of Neurological Surgery certification. Although spine surgeons are not required to hold certifications, the credentials can help advance their careers.
Job Outlook for Spine Surgeons
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgeons and physicians should see a 13 percent increase in job opportunities, from now until 2026.
Surgeons can increase their employability by gaining experience in new technologies. For instance, many neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons practice minimally invasive spinal surgery techniques, which requires them to use robotic scopes and instruments. Such techniques drastically reduce the size of incisions, minimize muscle damage and tissue loss, and can also speed up the patient’s recovery time.