Orthopaedic surgeons v/s neurosurgeons: what are the differences between these two specialities?

August 13, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery are both sub-specialties of surgery and surgeons who choose either one of these specialties have many similarities in their education and training. However, there are significant differences between these two highly specialised skill-sets.

Orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons perform surgical operations on patients, usually in hospital settings. As both these specialties require steady hands and a lot of delicate handling, these professionals undergo several years of education and training to perfect their craft. While both orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are vital members of any surgical team and they share similar responsibilities, there are many differences in their professions.

Gap Medics students ready to begin their day on placement Neurosurgeon Job Description

Neurosurgeons should not be confused with neurologists, who provide non-invasive care related to the nervous system. Neurosurgeons specialise in performing surgery related to the brain, nervous system and spinal cord and nervous system. They focus on preventing and repairing damage caused by infections, traumatic injuries, tumours and other congenital anomalies.

Neurosurgeons earn a 4-year degree followed by a medical degree. Upon earning a medical degree, they participate in a one year internship in general surgery, after which they go onto the neurosurgery residency, which is about 5 to 6 years. Some neurosurgeons choose to specialise even further, gaining additional training through specialty fellowship programs.

Orthopaedic Surgeon Job Description

Orthopaedic surgeons focus on the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, nerves, ligaments, tendons and skin. Some of the more common conditions treated by orthopaedic surgeons include broken bones, tendon injuries, torn ligaments, sprains, arthritis and bone tumours. They treat patients with both surgical intervention and non-invasive care.


Both orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons 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. A crossover between the two specialties often occurs in the operating room. A neurosurgeon may perform surgeries that involve bone grafts, as in spinal fusions, whereas an orthopaedic surgeon may perform surgery such to repair a nerve in an arm or leg.

All physicians must be licensed, including neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons, and board certification is available for both of these specialties. Neurosurgeons and orthopaedic 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 is that they operate on different systems of the human body. While orthopaedic surgeons provide surgical and nonsurgical care, neurosurgeons only provide surgical care. Also, unlike neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons do not operate inside the skull or on the brain itself.

Orthopaedic surgeons can choose to specialise in any one of two very distinct specialties – surgery of the hand or orthopaedic sports medicine.

There are no subspecialties within neurosurgery. However, neurosurgeons as well as orthopaedic surgeons may choose to specialise in adult or paediatric surgery.

Neurosurgeons require slightly more training than orthopaedic surgeons, and earn considerably more on average. An orthopaedic 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.