Spine specialists can include neurosurgeons specialized in spine surgery, orthopedic surgeons specialized in spine surgery, physical medicine doctors, anesthesiologists and physical therapists who specialize in the nonsurgical relief of back and neck pain symptoms.
As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. All clinical outcome studies confirm that the more times a surgeon performs a procedure, the better they become at it. Consequently, spine surgeons who perform more than 150 surgeries per year will be more proficient than those who perform 50 each year.
A second indicator of quality is training and experience of the physician. One might believe that a younger physician a few years out of training might be at a disadvantage compared to a surgeon who has practiced for 25 years or more. However, this is not an accurate generalization. In reality, an older physician may be more comfortable using traditional techniques, while a younger, fellowship-trained physician may be trained in the most modern, minimally invasive techniques and instrumentation. Age is not necessarily a good indicator of quality.
During their education process, highly trained physicians will have completed four years of college, four years of medical school, and a three to seven year residency in which the physician works under the supervision of a veteran physician to learn a speciality, such as spine surgery.
Fellowship training is an additional year-long study in which the physician works alongside the most highly respected physicians in their particular specialty. Fellowship training is the highest level of training in the United States and can be an indicator that the physician is an expert in their specific area of specialization. Note where the physician has trained. Training at a large or prestigious institution would expose the physician to more complex cases, which in turn makes them more proficient in their chosen specialty.
Board certification indicates a physician has undergone additional training specific to their speciality and met the competency standards within that area of specialization, as judged by the specialty board. Board certification typically requires that a physician has been in practice for several years since graduating from medical school and has passed a rigorous written and oral exam.