Can I Choose My Neurosurgeon?

by | Feb 26, 2021

One of the most profound changes to occur in contemporary healthcare is the increasingly active participation of patients in determining their treatment. Rather than accepting the referral offered to them by their general practitioners, patients are doing their own deep dives into potential specialists. GPs aren’t to blame, of course. They refer their patients to the specialists they know and respect, but as specialties increasingly become subdivided into micro-specialty areas, knowing who to refer a patient to is becoming increasingly difficult. It is particularly hard for GPs to know who is the best match when it comes to less common conditions.

It takes a bit of effort to sift through the credentials of a potential specialist, but the results are well worth it, depending on your problem, you and your neurosurgeon could be working together for many months. As much as special skills are important, it’s also important to find a surgeon with whom you feel listened to, as who explains things in the amount of detail you like.

The short story: as a patient, you may choose the surgeon you see. Your GP can write a referral to any surgeon who may be appropriate.

Know What You Are Looking For

Australia demands a high level of expertise from its neurosurgeons. They first complete general training to become doctors. Next, they spend between 5 and 9 years completing specialty training in neurosurgery. Australia’s neurosurgeons are fellows of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons. You can identify them by the letters FRACS after their name.

You’re in good hands with a FRACS surgeon. The training program they complete is designed to “produce competent independent specialist neurosurgeons with the experience, knowledge, skills and attributes necessary to…serve with the highest standard of safe, ethical and comprehensive care and leadership” says the College of Surgeons’ website.

Another important thing to look for is whether a surgeon has completed sub-specialty training in a particular area of their specialty. This means that the surgeon has voluntarily dedicated extra time (usually a year, sometimes more) to become an ultra-expert in that particular condition, or type of surgery. This subspecialty training is often referred to as “fellowship training”.

Using Search Tools

When it comes to neurosurgeons, the Internet provides an enormous pool of information on doctors, their training, experience, and areas of expertise; along with patient reviews of the services they received. The online search tool provided by the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia (NSA) lets you search its database using name or location. As most GPs are only familiar with local practitioners, this tool helps you broaden your search.

The NSA list also includes a list of sub-specialties to make your search easier. Since it can take months to book a consult with a neurosurgeon, it is wise to start your search sooner rather than later.

Find a Neurosurgeon that Knows Your Problems

Neurosurgeons treat and manage problems affecting the peripheral nervous system, spine and brain. But not every neurosurgeon treats every condition. In selecting the best neurosurgeon for you, look for one who specialises in disorders that occur in the specific part of the body where you are affected:

  • Brain (brain surgery)
    • Brain tumours
    • Brain bleeds
    • Cerebral aneurysms
    • Strokes
    • Hydrocephalus
    • Migraine
  • Spine (spine surgery)
    • Spinal degeneration and nerve compressions
    • Spinal tumours
    • Tethered spinal cord
    • Herniated disc
    • Osteoarthritis
  • Nervous System (peripheral nerve surgery)
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome
    • Cubital tunnel syndrome
    • Peripheral nerve compressions
    • Nerve injuries
    • Peripheral nerve tumours (schwannomas, neurofibromas)

Don’t Let Location be a Deterrent

Convenience matters when it comes to a local dry cleaner, not when it comes to neurosurgery. To consult with a qualified surgeon with experience in treating a condition like yours, you may need to travel. Fortunately, many operations are performed on an outpatient basis with limited follow-ups required.

Someone You Can Talk To

You want someone who is a very good surgeon technically, but bedside manner is also important. Find someone where you feel like you have both.

The Internet can tell you a great deal about a neurosurgeon, but it takes an in-person meeting to determine if you and your prospective doctor have a good rapport. When people have a health problem, particularly one involving the nervous system, patients often feel vulnerable and the personal attributes of the surgeon can make a big difference. Dr Vanessa Sammons prides herself on taking an inclusive approach with her patients, seeing them as people, not just as their complaints.

If you need help with a neurological condition that needs surgery, feel welcome to call or email.


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