Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons perform surgical operations on patients – usually in hospital settings. These professionals undergo years of education and training to perfect their craft. While both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons are vital members of any surgical team and they share similar responsibilities, there are many differences in their professions.
Neurosurgeons specialize in performing operations related to the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. Their work prevents and repairs damage caused by infections, tumors, traumatic injuries and other congenital anomalies. Neurosurgeons should not be confused with neurologists, who provide noninvasive care related to the nervous system. These professionals earn a four-year degree followed by a medical degree. Upon earning a medical degree, they participate in a one-year internship in general surgery, followed by five to seven years in a neurosurgery residency. Some neurosurgeons choose to specialize even further, gaining additional training through specialty fellowship programs. According to Becker's Hospital Review, neurosurgeons are some of the highest paid physicians, often earning upward of $700,000 per year as of 2012.
Orthopedic surgeons focus their work on the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, tendons, ligaments, nerves and skin. Some common conditions treated by orthopedic surgeons include broken bones, torn ligaments, sprains, tendon injuries, bone tumors and arthritis. They treat patients with both surgical intervention and noninvasive care. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that up to 50 percent of an orthopedic surgeon's time is devoted to helping patients manage their conditions nonsurgically. Orthopedic surgeons earn a four-year degree followed by a medical degree. They then participate in five-year residency in orthopedics. In 2012, Becker's Hospital Review reported that orthopedic surgeons had a median annual salary of $501,000.
Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons perform operations that can potentially save patients' lives. Both of these professionals frequently work in operating rooms, and can expect to spend long periods of time working on their feet. All physicians must be licensed, including neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, and board certification is available for both of these specialties. Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons both work as part of a team in the operating room, and often consult with other specialists and physicians in their practices.
The most notable difference between these two professions are that they operate on different systems of the human body. While orthopedic surgeons provide surgical and nonsurgical care, neurosurgeons only provide surgical care. Neurosurgeons require slightly more training than orthopedic surgeons, and earn considerably more on average. An orthopedic surgeon may work in private practice in an office setting as well as in a surgical hospital setting, while neurosurgeons are usually found exclusively in hospitals.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.