Spine Fellowship

Developing Spine Surgery Experts

As a spine surgery fellow in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, you’ll become part of a collaborative, high-volume clinical program that will prepare you for a successful career as a spine surgeon. 

The Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Spine Fellowship offers a comprehensive, well-rounded, and high clinical volume training experience in spine surgery. Fellows will experience anterior, lateral, and posterior surgical approaches from the skull to the sacrum. The fellowship experience includes a robust exposure to the clinical evaluation and surgical management of degenerative, deformity, oncologic, infectious, and traumatic conditions of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. The fellowship will equally prepare the trainee for a career in either academics or private practice.

What We Do Here Every Year

Spine Infographic

Program Overview

Positions: 1
Duration: 1 year, August 1 - July 31
Stipend: PGY6 level
Call: At least once a month, additional call on a flexible basis
Location: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt Spine Center

Working closely with surgeons and faculty from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Vanderbilt Spine Center and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, you’ll help treat patients with conditions that affect the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine, including:

  • Degenerative spinal conditions
  • Spinal deformity
  • Complex revision surgical pathology
  • Oncologic conditions of the spine
  • Traumatic spinal injuries
  • Infections of the spine

As a fellow you will:

  • Gain exposure to the entire spectrum of spine surgery
  • Participate in the operative and post-operative management spine patients
  • Run conferences and journal clubs
  • Participate in research meetings
  • Serve as an educator for residents and medical students


Your time in clinic provides a well-rounded experience and allows you to gain exposure to the clinical evaluation and management of all types of conditions – from degenerative to traumatic — that impact areas of the spine. Spending one day a week in clinic, you will see patients and working alongside our attending surgeons. A strong emphasis is placed on ensuring the fellow is well trained regarding appropriate indications for surgery.

Surgical Experience

In the operating room, you’ll work directly with our surgeons to gain strong foundational training and exposure to technically advanced techniques. You spend three to four days a week in surgery, where you learn techniques such as:

  • Anterior, lateral, and posterior surgical approaches from the skull to the sacrum
  • Decompression
  • Spinal instrumentation and fusion
  • Scoliosis correction
  • Endoscopic spine surgery
  • Minimally invasive techniques
  • Motion-preserving surgery, such as:
    • Cervical disc arthroplasty
    • Cervical laminoplasty and
  • Osteotomies for spinal deformity
  • En-bloc spondylectomy for primary bone tumors of the spine

Research Program

As a spine fellow, you’ll be expected to have at least one manuscript suitable for publication by the end of fellowship. A fellow motivated to publish will have opportunities to do many more projects. The Vanderbilt Spine Registry, which is one of the oldest clinical spine outcomes registries in the country, gives you plenty of opportunities to conduct clinical research. Our research department will also provide statistics and other supports for your research.

Leadership Development

As a fellow, you’ll be appointed as a junior faculty member or instructor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, so you can help teach residents and medical students. 

Conferences and Workshops

Fellows complete a rigorous weekly, bimonthly, and monthly schedule of conferences and workshops. You interact with faculty in neurosurgery, pediatric orthopaedics and other related specialties.

Surgical Indications Conference 
2-3 times per month, Fridays at 0600.
Fellows and faculty discuss patient cases.

Combined Spine Conference – monthly (3rd Friday of the month)

  • Combined conference with neurosurgery, orthopaedics, physiatry and interventional pain

Complex Case Conference – bi-monthly (times vary)
Wednesday evenings
Fellows and faculty gather over dinner to discuss complex spine cases.

Spine Fracture Conference with residents 
3rd Wednesday of the month, 0700
Fellows and faculty discuss spine fracture cases with residents. Fellow leads discussion of cases and teaches residents.

Quarterly Journal Club
(Time, Day, Week or Month)
The Spine Journal Club meets quarterly with fellows and faculty from orthopedics and neurosurgery to present and discuss interesting cases.

Application Process

Our fellowship program follows the North American Spine Surgery guidelines for the interview and match process. We participate in the SF Match program. 

The application deadline is December 1st of each year. We use the NASS common application

For more information about our fellowship program, contact Amy Kiernan, fellowship program coordinator at 615-936-4878 or email amy.l.kiernan@vumc.org.

Interviews are typically held in February and March.


Our fellows enjoy life in Nashville and additional educational opportunities, such as:

  • 24/7 exercise facility (free weight/aerobics) within our orthopedic surgery department
  • 24/7 access to our orthopedic anatomy cadaver lab on the medical campus
  • Administrative assistance for licensing, travel, vacation and workspace
  • Office with computer and workspace
  • Support for research activities that facilitate basic science, clinical or database research projects
  • Three weeks of vacation

Our Current and Past Fellows

Philip Chandler, MD

Philip Chandler, MD

  • Undergrad: Louisiana State University
  • Medical School: LSU Health Science Center- School Of Medicine
  • Residency: William Beaumont Army Medical School/ Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

Division Research 

Highlights of our recent research include:

  • Labrum JT IV, Khan I, Archer K, Abtahi A, Stephens BF.  Lowest Instrumented Vertebra (LIV) Selection in Posterior Cervical Fusion: Does Cervicothoracic Junction LIV Predict Mechanical Failure? SPINE. 2020, October. [EMID:926cf374bf7884e6]
  • Weisenthal BM, Doss DJ, Henry AL, Stephens BF.  Optimal Trajectory and Length of S2 Alar Iliac Screws: A3-Dinensional Computer-aided Design Study.  Clin Spine Surg. 2019 Aug;32(7): E335-E339. doi: 10.1097/BSD.0000000000000837.PMID: 31162183
  • Stephens BF, Rhee JM, Neustein T, Arceo R. Laminoplasty does not lead to Worsening Axial Neck Pain in the Properly Selected Patient with Cervical Myelopathy: A Comparison with Laminectomy and Fusion. Spine. 2017, December 15;42(24):1844-1850. [PMID: 28658033]
  • Van Eck CF, Fourman MS, Abtahi AM, Alarcon L, Donaldson WF, Lee JY. Risk Factors for Failure of Nonoperative Treatment for Unilateral Cervical Facet Fractures. Asian Spine J. 2017 Jun;11(3):356-364. DOI: 10.4184/asj.2017.11.3.356 PMCID: PMC5481590 [PMID: 28670403]
  • Presson AP, Zhang C, Abtahi AM, Kean J, Hung M, Tyser AR. Psychometric properties of the Press Ganey® Outpatient Medical Practice Survey. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2017 Feb 10;15(1):32. DOI: 10.1186/s12955-017-0610-3 PMCID: PMC5301343 [PMID: 28183312]
  • Abtahi AM, Lyman KS, Brodke DS, Lawrence BD, Zhang C, Spiker WR. Patient Satisfaction is Not Associated with Self-reported Disability in a Spine Patient Population. Clin Spine Surg. 2016 Oct 19. DOI: 10.1097/BSD.0000000000000431 [PMID: 27764055]