What Characteristics Make for a Great Spine Surgeon?

If you do a quick internet search for spine surgeons in your area, you are likely to come up with a list of physicians. And if you live in a large metropolitan area, that list will probably be quite lengthy. So, if the time comes when you need to enlist the help of a spine surgeon, how do you go about determining who is truly reputable? We’ve found six characteristics that all of the best spine surgeons have in common.

1. The best spine surgeons use surgery as the last resort.

Obviously, there are cases where surgery is absolutely warranted and needed, but a good spine surgeon will make sure you have exhausted your other options first. From management approaches as simple as a combination of physical therapy and anti-inflammatories to more complex pain management options such as epidural injections, all appropriate nonsurgical therapies should be considered.

If these methods fail to bring relief after a period of time and surgery becomes necessary, you’ll want to find a surgeon who is proficient in minimally invasive spine surgery. This allows for a faster recovery, fewer complications, shorter hospital stays, and less damage to surrounding tissues.

2. The best spine surgeons have a wealth of training and experience.

Look for surgeons who have special designations such as “board-certified” and “fellowship-trained.” Board-certified surgeons have passed a rigorous exam, indicating that they have a high level of expertise in their area of medicine. Spine surgeons who are fellowship trained have completed additional and intensive training in their specialty.

Spine surgeons are generally either orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons. Depending on your specific situation, one or the other may be better suited for you. Great spine surgeons will not only have experience treating your condition or performing the procedure you need, but also will have done so with a high rate of success.

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3. The best spine surgeons take a team approach to their practice.

In order to provide the best long-term care, quality spine surgeons will work as a part of a multidisciplinary team. They address more than just their patients’ immediate needs and collaborate with other medical professionals to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. This team can include chiropractors, physical therapists, nurses, pain management specialists, and psychotherapists.

4. The best spine surgeons are always learning.

The field of medicine is constantly evolving, and the best spine surgeons continue to expand their knowledge along with it. They are dedicated to improving patient outcomes by staying abreast of new technologies and surgical techniques. They may be involved in research studies, active in professional organizations, or attend medical conferences. They are willing to keep an open mind and learn from others.

5. The best spine surgeons have excellent bedside manners.

Intelligence and skill are critical attributes in a spine surgeon, but the top surgeons will also be compassionate and communicative. Your surgeon should be able to clearly explain your condition or treatment (in language that you can understand) and answer any questions you may have. You never feel rushed. For the times when you can’t communicate with your surgeon directly, you should be provided with a point of contact who can address any of your concerns.


6. The best spine surgeons minimize any risks to their patients.

In keeping with the fundamental medical principle of “First, do no harm”, great spine surgeons should go above and beyond to ensure the safety of their patients. This can be accomplished by using minimally invasive techniques, operating with state-of-the art medical equipment, and following strict surgical protocols. Great surgeons can boast low infection rates and strong preoperative and postoperative care.


In order to determine if a spine surgeon possesses these characteristics, schedule a consultation. A face-to-face meeting to discuss your options will help guide your decision.

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Grant D. Shifflett, MD

About the author

Grant D. Shifflett, MD Dr. Grant D. Shifflett is a fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon. Handpicked by Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr. to join DISC Sports & Spine Center, Dr. Shifflett specializes in the application of minimally invasive and microsurgical techniques to the entire spectrum of cervical, thoracic and lumbar spinal conditions, from the simple to the most complex. Whether treating a patient with chronic pain or an acute injury, his ultimate goal is to restore function and quality of life with minimal tissue disruption. Read more articles by Grant D. Shifflett, MD.