Angie's LIST Guide to
Pediatric Neurosurgery

Pediatric neurosurgeons work with young patients who may require surgery for neurological medical issues such as epilepsy, tumors and cerebral palsy. Here's what you should consider when choosing a neurosurgical specialist for your child.


brain illustration
Pediatric neurosurgeons treat conditions related to a child's brain, head and spine. (Illustration by Jake Lee)

What is a pediatric neurosurgeon?

Pediatric neurosurgeons are specially trained to diagnose, treat and manage disorders that affect the nervous system, head or spine of children — from the newborn stage through the teenage years.

These pediatric surgeons treat patients for conditions such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, brain tumors, headaches, sleep disorders, neurometabolic disorders, developmental delays, spina bifida, head or spine deformities, birth injuries, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

Although nervous system disorders can cause varying symptoms, many pediatric neurology patients experience developmental delays in such abilities as walking, speaking or sitting up, as well as a lack of growth or changes in reflexes and movement. Patients often face challenges related to coordination, changes in mood or consciousness level, tremors, muscle rigidity, seizures, slurred speech or muscle wasting. In addition to these symptoms, children with neurological issues may also experience severe headaches, visual changes, numbness or tingling.

These issues can point to a variety of nervous system disorders caused by trauma, tumors, autoimmune disorders, structural defects, infections, disruption of blood flow or degeneration.

Dr. Juline Bryson analyzes brain scans at her headache-focused practice in New York City. She says many patients with migraine headaches suffer unnecessarily before visiting a doctor for treatment. (Photo by Shravan Vidyarthi)

Neurologists also work with patients suffering from nervous system problems, but only neurosurgeons can offer surgical treatment options. (Photo by Shravan Vidyarthi)

Pediatric neurosurgeon training

Children experience pediatric neurological issues that are often markedly different from those that affect adults, which is why pediatric neurosurgeons complete extensive training in pediatric diseases in addition to the standard program for general neurosurgery.

People often confuse neurosurgeons with neurologists. While both doctors treat disorders related to the nervous system, only neurosurgeons are authorized to practice surgical intervention as a treatment.

Pediatric neurosurgeons must successfully complete a minimum of four years of medical school at an accredited institution, followed by a one-year surgical internship. In addition to this training, they must complete at least five years of residency training focused on neurological surgery and further training in pediatric neurosurgery.

They can then become board certified through both the American Board of Pediatric Neurological Surgery and the American Board of Neurological Surgery.

These specialists make pediatric care the center of their practice and learn the unique nature of the surgical and medical care of young patients through focused practice and training experience. Most use equipment and facilities specifically designed for kids and babies. 

Pediatric neurosurgeons see patients who represent a wide range of ages, from newborns to older teenagers. Many patients require neurological care throughout their lives and benefit from building a long-standing relationship with their pediatric neurosurgeon over years of ongoing care and close followup.

traumatic brain injury therapy at Cincinnati Children's Hospital

It's important all of your child's pediatric specialists communicate and coordinate care. Children's hospitals often offer this comprehensive care under one roof. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Choosing a pediatric neurosurgeon

Although less than 200 pediatric neurosurgeons practice in the United States, you can find many of these specialists affiliated with children's hospitals or university medical centers. Your child's general pediatrician can offer a trustworthy referral, but you can also contact your local children's hospitals to connect with the nearest pediatric neurosurgeon.

Cross-reference referrals with the American Board of Pediatric Neurological Surgery, which offers a list of board-certified pediatric neurosurgeons in your area, as well as read reviews on Angie's List to get other parents' perspective and experience. 

Referrals are a great way to start a search, but you shouldn't rely on them alone in choosing the right specialist for their child. Be sure they're a good fit for your child and family.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatric neurosurgical problems often present lifelong medicals issues and require close follow-up throughout childhood and adolescence. Since the pediatric neurosurgeon you select will likely play a significant role in your child's health and life, be sure he or she is best suited for the job both professionally and personally.

For a special needs child, it's also important your pediatric neurosurgeon communicate and work closely with your family's primary care pediatrician and any other related pediatric specialists or therapy providers to ensure comprehensive and coordinated care. 

Treating children requires a special type of person — one with patience, compassion, a sense of humor and a level of gentleness. Patients can't always communicate what is wrong or answer medical questions. Pediatric neurosurgerical specialists must know how to describe and perform complex medical procedures and diagnoses in a kid-friendly way.

The right pediatric neurosurgeon will make both you and your child comfortable at every visit, even during difficult times. When searching for a qualified pediatric neurosurgeon, consider the physician's bedside manner as well as your impressions of the office and support staff. 

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