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What does a neurosurgeon do?

4-minute read

Neurosurgeons, also known as brain surgeons, are doctors who specialise in the surgical treatment and management of conditions that affect the brain, spine and nervous system.

What training has a neurosurgeon had?

Neurosurgeons first complete the training needed for them to practise as a doctor, such as a GP. They then complete specialist training in neurosurgery, which can take between 5 and 9 years. Some sub-specialise in particular areas such as children (paediatric neurosurgery), the treatment of cancers (neuro-oncology) or spinal surgery.

In Australia, most are fellows of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons and have the initials FRACS after their name.

Neurosurgeons are different from neurologists, who are specialist physicians that treat conditions and diseases of the brain and nervous system but without surgery.

What conditions do neurosurgeons treat?

Neurosurgeons are involved in preventing, diagnosing and treating disorders of the brain, spine and nerves. They also treat and manage conditions that affect the flow of blood to the brain. As well as performing operations, they may be involved in a person’s rehabilitation after treatment.

Common reasons why people need neurosurgery include:

  • strokes or bleeding on the brain (cerebral aneurysms)
  • benign or cancerous brain and spinal tumours
  • spinal conditions such as tethered spinal cords, herniated discs and osteoarthritis
  • head, neck or spine injuries
  • seizures, epilepsy and movement disorders
  • neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease
  • certain types of chronic pain

Where do they work?

Neurosurgeons work both in public and private hospitals. They may also see patients in a clinic or surgery.

Often they work alongside other specialists and health professionals as part of a team, such as a hospital stroke team or critical care team.

How to find a neurosurgeon

Usually, a general practitioner or other doctor will need to refer you to a neurosurgeon. You should make sure you get a referral letter from them, and they will normally be able to recommend a surgeon to you.

Alternatively, you can use the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia’s Find a surgeon search tool. The tool allows you to search by location or name. The search function also has a list of sub-specialties and allows you to look for neurosurgeons who specialise in work-related or medico-legal matters.

It can take months to get an appointment with a neurosurgeon in private practice for a matter that is not urgent. If it is urgent, you should be seen more quickly.

How much will a neurosurgeon cost?

A neurosurgeon’s costs vary a lot. How much you pay will depend on the type of care you receive; whether it’s in hospital or not; whether you have private health insurance; and on what the neurosurgeon charges.

Out of hospital care

If you see a neurosurgeon in their rooms, then Medicare will cover:

  • all of the costs if they bulk bill
  • some of the costs if they don't bulk bill

You can't use private health insurance for out of hospital care.

Treatment in a public hospital using Medicare

If you are treated in a public hospital or clinic and use Medicare, the treatment is free. Medicare will cover all your costs.

Treatment in any hospital using private health insurance

If you use private health insurance to be treated in either a public hospital or a private hospital or clinic, you will be charged by the neurosurgeon and by the hospital. You might also be charged for pathology tests, x-rays and other forms of imaging, and by other doctors who provide you care, such as an anaesthetist. Your private health insurance will cover some of these costs.

Asking about costs

It can be expensive to see a specialist, such as a neurosurgeon.

Before you go for the first time, ask the neurosurgeon or their staff about the costs. You can also ask what Medicare will cover.

If you plan to use private health insurance, you can also contact your health fund.

If the costs are too high, you can:

  • ask the neurosurgeon or their staff about a reduction
  • consider another neurosurgeon or health service
  • talk to your GP about other options such as a different type of treatment

It's a good idea to get a referral from your GP to see the neurosurgeon. That way, your GP can pass on useful information, and the neurosurgeon can later tell your GP about your visit. If you don't have a referral, neither Medicare nor private health insurance will contribute to the cost of your care.

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Last reviewed: August 2018

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