Spine surgery has grown to become a subspecialty of orthopaedics concerned with the particular problems related to a variety of spinal disorders and spinal injuries. Spinal disorders comprise a large variety of conditions which deserve specialized, extended study. This fellowship provides special additional knowledge to the body of knowledge normally encompassed in an orthopaedic residency training program.


The fellowship program in spine surgery at Vanderbilt University is under the direct supervision of Dan M. Spengler, MD, Professor and Former Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation. In addition, the fellow works with Drs. Clint Devin and Gregory Mencio. The fellowship curriculum has been designed by attending spine surgeons. The spine fellow attends and presents at a variety of orthopaedic conferences.

The fellowship lasts for one year. Preference is given to applicants who are committed to a career in academic orthopaedic spine surgery. The fellow is expected to participate in residency education. In addition, the fellow must be involved in clinical research projects. Applicants must have completed an accredited residency in orthopaedic surgery and must have a valid ACGME Tennessee license by the beginning of the fellowship.


  • To acquire the skills necessary to assess and manage patients who present with spine-related complaints.
  • To be able to easily classify patients into general categories after the initial history and physical examination. Such categories include normals, patients with underlying pathological processes, and symptom amplifiers.
  • To understand and be able to implement the additional studies necessary to render an accurate diagnosis based on that combination of parameters which would include history, physical examination, plain radiographs, and other laboratory tests and imaging studies.
  • To develop the patient management skills necessary to easily manage a wide range of pathological patient interactions. Skills necessary to be learned include those needed to defuse the situation encountered with a hostile patient, a manipulative patient, and a patient who is markedly depressed.
  • To recognize when additional surgical care would be counterproductive to patient rehabilitation.
  • To develop the skills necessary to plan and perform warranted surgical procedures involving anterior and posterior approaches to the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine.
  • To develop the surgical expertise needed to perform specialized surgery using a variety of implants.
  • To master the application of the halo device as used in the management of patients with cervical spine surgery.
  • To develop the skills necessary to assess traumatized patients and to prioritize management of spine injuries with and without neurologic deficit.
  • To develop a sense of inquiry that fosters recognition of new ideas and to examine valid hypotheses by implementing appropriate studies.
  • To continually improve scholarship through self-instruction and participation in the teaching of faculty, residents, students, and allied health professionals.
  • To develop skills as an investigator by designing, implementing, completing, and interpreting retrospective or prospective clinical studies, and in selected situations, basic science research projects.
  • To thoroughly understand the nature of professional liability involved in the management of patients with spine complaints.
  • To thoroughly understand the importance of record documentation and risk management.
  • To exhibit professionalism at all times.