Difference Between Neurosurgeon & Orthopedic Surgeon

May 29, 2020

Comparing Neurosurgeons to Orthopedic Surgeons

Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors who have trained to specialize in a specific surgical field. While many of the tasks they perform are similar, they address issues in different parts of a patient's body.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary Job Outlook (2018-2028)*
Neurosurgeon Medical Degree $409,361 (2020)** 7% for all Physicians and Surgeons
Orthopedic Surgeon Medical Degree $384,238 (2020)** 7% for all Physicians and Surgeons

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale

Responsibilities of Neurosurgeons vs. Orthopedic Surgeons

Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons perform many of the same basic responsibilities. Their work involves diagnosing and treating patients. The primary distinction between these surgeons is that neurosurgeons focus on the nervous system and may operate on the spine or brain, while orthopedic surgeons treat musculoskeletal problems and may treat patients with arthritis or muscle damage. Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons are responsible for thoroughly assessing their patients and performing operations when required.


A neurosurgeon is a highly trained medical professional with a medical degree who has completed residency and internship requirements in neurosurgery. Neurosurgery involves addressing medical issues affecting the spine. They also treat problems affecting a patient's nervous system, and they may also operate on a person's brain. They may treat patients affected by things such as injuries from accidents, diseases affecting the nervous system or tumors. It's common for neurosurgeons to work in a medical office or hospital, and they can work any time of the day or night.

Job responsibilities of a neurosurgeon include:

  • Reviewing patient files
  • Examining patients
  • Confirming or clarifying diagnosis
  • Ordering medical tests if needed
  • Determining treatment for patients
  • Answering questions from patients and their families

Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic surgeons specialize in treating patients with issues affecting their musculoskeletal system. After earning a bachelor's degree, it's necessary to complete a medical degree and then finish a five-year residency in orthopedic surgery. Those who wish to specialize further can then opt to pursue a fellowship. Orthopedic surgeons normally work in hospitals or medical clinics. The types of surgeries they may perform include removing tumors, correcting injury from an accident or correcting conditions such as scoliosis.

Job responsibilities of an orthopedic surgeon include:

  • Assessing patient's condition
  • Explaining diagnosis to patient
  • Reviewing treatment options
  • Referring patients to other specialists, such as physical therapists, if necessary
  • Operating on patients when required
  • Prescribing medications

Related Careers

Since neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons perform surgeries, people considering either profession may also be interested in a career as an anesthesiologist, since anesthesiologists prepare patients for surgery and monitor them during surgical procedures. They may also want to consider the work that surgical technologists do, since they can prepare for their career assisting with surgical procedures without as much postsecondary training.

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