Welcome to the Spine Surgery Fellowship at Cleveland Clinic. Our fellowship is a combined Orthopaedic and Neurological Surgery experience that is one year in length, with an option to do an additional year of research for select candidates.
Our philosophy is simple. We strive to recruit the top candidates and provide them with superior clinical and surgical training. As a “hybrid” program comprised of four fellowship-trained Orthopaedic Surgeons and five fellowship-trained Neurosurgeons, each fellow will gain ample exposure to a wide range of spinal pathologies ranging from degenerative diseases, infections, intra- and extra-dural tumors, deformity, and trauma. In general, the surgical techniques employed by Orthopaedic and Neurological surgeons vary, and as a Fellow in this program, you will become proficient with all techniques, including deformity, microsurgery and minimally invasive surgery. A primary goal of our fellowship is to graduate fellows with a highly refined clinical acumen and surgical skill set that will allow them to most effectively treat any type of spinal malady. Approximately 1900 spine surgeries are performed annually at the Cleveland Clinic - providing an excellent opportunity to excel in spinal surgery, both technically and clinically.
Our yearly curriculum includes a very thorough series of didactic sessions provided by Staff and guest lecturers, fellow-directed case presentations, biomechanical and controversy conferences, in addition to monthly grand rounds lectures and journal clubs. The curriculum was designed to provide a strong evidence-based foundation on all topics pertinent to spine surgery.
Collectively, the Spine Surgery Staff surgeons have published over 500 articles in the peer-reviewed medical literature, over 400 book chapters and over 30 books in the field of spine surgery and related topics. All of the staff at Cleveland Clinic are involved nationally and internationally in teaching and are members of numerous academic societies. This underscores our philosophy, enthusiasm, and commitment to education as well as the breadth of experience among our staff. As a requirement in our Fellowship, each fellow must complete at least one project prior to graduation. There are a multitude of areas of research available to our fellows, including basic science, pre-clinical, clinical, and biomechanical research opportunities. We believe this is a valuable educational experience, and certainly a strength of this program.
Thank you for your interest the Spine Surgery Fellowship Program at Cleveland Clinic.
The Cleveland Clinic Spine Surgery Fellowship is focused on educating our fellows in a unique academic setting that encourages extensive training in the diagnosis and management of adult spinal disorders. There is emphasis placed on degenerative cervical, thoracic and lumbar disease, spinal deformity, intradural and extradural spinal tumors, spinal trauma, spinal infections, congenital spinal abnormalities, and complex reconstruction/revision cervical and lumbar pathology.
The fellows gain a substantial experience with a multitude of surgical techniques including image guidance, minimally invasive surgery, and microsurgery. The primary goal of our fellowship is focused on training the highest quality orthopaedic and neurosurgeons on a personal and professional level, in order to prepare them for private or academic practice.
U.S.News and World Report consistently ranks our orthopaedic and neurosurgery programs among the top ten in the nation and number one in the state of Ohio. Both clinical and surgical experience is drawn from the nearly 1900 major spinal procedures performed by our fellowship-trained orthopaedic and neurosurgeons each year. Our faculty actively participates in the fellows’ education, helping to provide a high level of proficiency in a variety of surgical techniques and approaches designed to effectively treat any type of spinal condition.
Our clinical education program is comprised of didactic lectures given by staff, conferences, faculty interaction and ambulatory clinics which focus on the evaluation, diagnosis, operative and non-operative decision making, along with results and complications for all spinal treatments.
Fellows are required to participate in core curriculum education throughout the length of the program, which entails weekly conferences occurring every Friday. Topics include general spine indications, core curriculum, controversies in spine care, and biomechanics.
In addition to weekly conferences, there are monthly journal club meetings, fellow organized grand rounds, and visiting professor lectures on various topics four times per academic year. Our weekly conferences consist of presentations directed by our spine fellows with faculty input relating to various spinal pathology and surgical treatment options. Our journal clubs are organized every month, with attendance by both faculty and fellows. Articles for journal club are selected by the presenting fellow, with a discussion of content, methods, results and conclusions of each article presented amongst the group. Fellows are also encouraged to participate in the education and clinical teaching of residents in and out of the operating room throughout the year.
Research plays a vital role in our spine surgery fellowship. Fellows will have the opportunity to engage in clinical research with the intent to publish peer-reviewed articles under the direction of our faculty. Fellows will be expected to apply the principles of spinal research, with a strong focus on the use of evidence-based medicine in their surgical decision making. Fellows will have access to our spine research lab at Lutheran Hospital which is minutes away from our main campus. Some of our research interests include biomechanics, biologics, spine kinematics, and spinal cord injury and clinical research. Each fellow will be required to complete and present one research project at the end of the year as part of their requirement for program graduation. These projects are then prepared for submission prior to completion of the fellowship and are expected to be submitted for publication.
John H. Shin, MD
Harvard Medical School
Massachusetts General Hospital
“The fellowship did an excellent job of preparing me for an academic career in spine. The combination of orthopedic and neurosurgical spine training is invaluable and is what really made the fellowship a rich environment for learning. The didactics, including lectures and case presentations, were comprehensive and provided ample opportunity for discussion and debate. For anyone wishing to pursue spine as a subspecialty, I would recommend this fellowship without any hesitation or reservation. The numerous opportunities for research made this a very productive time.”
Frank Bishop, MD
Northern Rockies Neurosurgical Associates
“Having had a strong spine experience during my neurosurgery residency, I was unsure of the actual value of adding a spine fellowship to my training prior to starting. The year proved to be one of the best of my training experience. I was able to see a diversity of complex cases in clinic and the operating room, which has greatly enhanced my decision-making and technical abilities. Perhaps more importantly, Cleveland Clinic has a group of world-renown spine surgeons, from both neurosurgery and orthopaedic backgrounds, with whom I worked closely and individually, and was therefore able to see and discuss multiple ways of treating spinal disorders. My knowledge and armamentarium increased noticeably during the course of the year. The fellowship has transformed what I am able to do for my practice and patients.”
Elijah Hothem, MD
Ohio State University
“The spine fellowship at Cleveland Clinic is a unique training experience. The combination of orthopedic and neurosurgical training sets you apart from the conventionally trained crowd. You are treated as a colleague and friend by the attendings. The educational didactics were excellent and by the end of the year I had a well read, evidence based, and objective approach to treatment of the spine.”
Fernando Techy, MD
University of Illinois
College of Medicine at Chicago
“Overall it has been simply great. All attendings were always very patient and took their time to let us operate. Clinics were also great. Attendings took their time to discuss cases, go over indications and so on. Great clinical experience overall (from cervical to lumbar, to intradural pathology, to deformity).
Personally, as I am interested in Academics and publishing, and Cleveland Clinic was amazing in providing us with the opportunity. You can write a book chapter a month if you are interested. Every staff member is very involved with Societies and publishing and if you are interested in getting involved you can get a lot of help here. Clinical and biomechanical studies are always ongoing and help is always wanted. On the other hand, if research is not your thing, you only need 1 project done throughout the year.
The experience operating with Neurosurgeons and Orthosurgeons was very interesting to me. In the end I came to a conclusion that the indications and operations in this day and age are pretty much the same. I guess it does not matter at all what your background is, as long as you are well trained. You can take the lamina out with a drill or a Leksell, as long as you leave the dura in place the patient will be OK.”
S. Scott Lollis, MD
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
"The Cleveland Clinic fellowship was a great experience. For me, the principal clinical benefits were in the areas of spinal deformity and tumor surgery. As a neurosurgical resident I had had no exposure to major deformity correction, and while I had certainly done laminectomies for tumors, I was not completely comfortable with the posterolateral approaches for thoracic tumors (costotransversectomy/lateral extracavitary with anterior column reconstruction). The diversity and volume of cases at Cleveland Clinic is exceptional, and this allowed me to develop competence in these two areas."
There is great value in the combined ortho/neuro fellowship, both in terms of learning new operative techniques and in terms of clinical judgment and pre-op decision-making. Because each fellow has a one on one experience with each faculty member, the fellowship offers a breadth of experience that is uncommon.
Lastly, I am really grateful for the friendships that I formed during my year in Cleveland. The fellowship’s greatest strength is that it brings together a large number of great people with a shared interest. Our class had a great time, and I expect these relationships to continue throughout our professional careers.”
William F. Lavelle, MD
SUNY Upstate Medical University
“I felt the combined orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery spine experience helped prepare me for my academic spine surgery career. I am currently Fellowship Director of the spine fellowship at SUNY Upstate Medical Center. My practice is a combined trauma, tumor, deformity and degenerative spine practice at an academic tertiary center. I felt well prepared for practice after my fellowship at Cleveland Clinic.”
Daniel Refai, MD
Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine
St. Louis, MO
“I enjoyed working with the orthopaedic spine service and doing deformity cases. This was a huge asset. In addition, I definitely expanded my repertoire of skills from having great mentors in both neurosurgery and orthopedics.”
Todd J. Stewart, MD
Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine
St. Louis, MO
“The Cleveland Clinic Spine Fellowship provides outstanding training in the full breadth of spinal pathologies from routine degenerative cases to complex cervical reconstructions, tumor resections and scoliosis. The opportunity to train under opinion leading surgeons from both neurosurgery and orthopaedics makes this a top fellowship program.”
Daniel Shedid, MD
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
“I did a combined fellowship of 2 years. After more than 5 years in practice, I can honestly say that I did a tremendous training at Cleveland Clinic. For me as a neurosurgeon, I had an excellent opportunity to work closely with orthopedic surgeons. This has helped me to understand and master all the aspects of the spine as a whole. I can proudly say that my fellowship at Cleveland Clinic made me where I am now as a spine surgeon.”
Robert Talac, M.D, PhD
Advanced Spine Institute, PLLC
“I have been a spine surgery fellow between the years 2008-2009. In my opinion, Cleveland Clinic spine surgery fellowship is one of the top fellowships in the country. The depth of the program provides a unique opportunity to learn how to handle any spine pathology from a simple one to the most complex. The entire program is well balanced. A fellow has enough independence to facilitate his/her transition into the practice. At the same time, s/he has enough support to learn from experienced staff. Should you need any more information about my experience please do not hesitate to contact me.”
Dhruv B. Pateder, MD
Town Center Orthopaedic Assocs.
“I am very thankful for my spine fellowship experience at Cleveland Clinic. It was a very comprehensive educational and operative experience and instrumental in preparing me for academic/private practice. The interactions with the attendings as well as the other fellows were a very valuable component of this well-rounded fellowship. It was a perfect combination of the orthopaedic and neurosurgical experience as well as "routine" and "big" cases. I honestly believe it is the best fellowship in the country.”
L. Brett Babat, MD
Premier Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine
“I was a Cleveland Clinic fellow, class of ’01-’02. I am now in private practice in Nashville, TN. My year in Cleveland was perhaps the most valuable of my entire education. I left there fully confident in my ability to handle the entire range of adult spinal surgery, from simple disc herniations to complex deformity. Furthermore, I had gained enough of an understanding of the degenerative spine to facilitate continued learning and technical advancement. I am convinced my Cleveland Clinic fellowship provided the best possible grounding and experience.”
Richard Schlenk, MD
Director, Neurosurgery Residency Program
“The fellowship was truly an experience that shaped and molded my clinical and surgical skills. It was a tremendous opportunity to work with both orthopedic and neurosurgeons in a meaningful manner not available in any other fellowship program. It certainly helped prepare me for a career in academics.”
Eric Klineberg, MD
Director, Spine Fellowship Program
Adult & Pediatric Spinal Surgery
University of California, Davis
“The Cleveland Clinic fellowship allowed me to further my understanding of spinal surgery with both Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery. This experience has allowed me to learn from both sides of the fence and take the best of both specialties. I have used this knowledge and now have an academic practice at UC Davis, in which I provide care for complex fracture, tumor, cervical deformity and scoliosis patients. In addition, I now count Cleveland Clinic staff as close friends and we talk often about cases, and collaborate on research projects. I would recommend this fellowship highly.”
Sharad Rajpal, MD
Boulder Neurosurgical Associates
“One unique aspect of this program is the breadth of training afforded by the combination of Orthopedic and Neurosurgical specialties. The excellent teaching in both the operative and clinical settings provided me with the tools to help me be successful and confident today in my treatment decisions by analyzing difficult and complex spine problems with perspectives from both specialties.”
Cristian Brotea, MD
Westchester Spine Institute
Specialty Orthopaedics, PLLC
"I feel that the Cleveland Clinic Spine Fellowship program provided me with a very thorough, complete experience which prepared me very well for my private practice. It provided me with the tools to approach any type of cervical/thoracic/lumbar case. The program provides the fellows with a wide variety of cases and working on them with residents was particularly rewarding. I found it was particularly insightful to work with neuro- and orthopaedic surgeons and I learned a lot from both specialties."
Christopher Kager, MD
Neuroscience & Spine Associates
“My spine fellowship experience was outstanding. It provided me with comprehensive training in all aspects of spinal surgery. One outstanding feature was the collaboration with both orthopedic and neurosurgery spine specialists, providing an interesting hybrid experience. The facilities at Cleveland Clinic are excellent, in both clinical and research areas, and many opportunities to be involved in research projects in both arenas. The program also maintains a strong collegial feel as well, with great relationships between the fellows and the faculty and residents.”
Saad B. Chaudhary, MD, MBA
UMDNJ - New Jersey Medical School
“The Cleveland Clinic Spine Surgery Fellowship was outstanding. It was enriching to work closely with experts in spinal surgery from both the Orthopaedic and the Neurosurgical disciplines. I had a tremendous operative experience with the nine faculty members; covering a wide variety of pathology from simple disc herniations and degenerative disease to complex spinal deformity and spinal tumors. I was exposed to both traditional open surgery, and to cutting edge minimally invasive surgical treatments. This fellowship not only equipped me with the tools needed to excel as a private practitioner, but also prepared me for a career in academics. In my opinion, the Spine Surgery Fellowship at Cleveland Clinic is easily in the top 3 best programs in the country.”