Nitin Agarwal, MD

  • Associate Professor
  • Director, Minimally Invasive Spine and Robotics Surgery
  • Associate Program Director, Neurological Surgery Residency
  • Co-Director, Complex and Minimally Invasive Spine Deformity Fellowship

“I care for my patients akin to how I care for my family – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Nitin Agarwal, MD, joined the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery as an associate professor on February 1, 2023. As part of his educational mission, he serves as the associate program director of the UPMC/University of Pittsburgh neurological surgery residency program and co-director of the department's Complex and Minimally Invasive Spine Deformity Fellowship. On the clinical front, he is director of the department's Minimally Invasive Spine and Robotics Surgery program.

Dr. Agarwal received his medical degree from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Afterwards, he completed his neurological surgery residency at the University of Pittsburgh. During this time, he also completed an enfolded fellowship in sports medicine as well as in minimally invasive and complex spine surgery. He then completed an AO Spine and Committee on Advanced Subspecialty Training (CAST) approved minimally invasive and complex spine surgery fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco with dual training from orthopedic and neurosurgical mentors. Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Agarwal served as the director of neurotrauma at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis with a clinical focus in spinal deformity surgery.

Dr. Agarwal has funded investigations in four concentrations: neurotrauma outcomes after severe traumatic brain injury and acute spinal cord injury, spine outcomes, socioeconomic research, and patient education. To date, he has published over 275 peer-reviewed articles and has spoken at several regional and national conferences with over 300 oral and poster presentations. His health literacy research has been published in several high impact factor journals including JAMA Internal Medicine and he has also been featured by prominent healthcare-oriented news outlets such as Reuters Health. In addition, he is an editor for the following books:

Neurosurgery Fundamentals

Surviving Neurosurgery: Vignettes of Resilience

The Evolution of Health Literacy: Empowering Patients through Improved Education

Pre-Medicine: The Complete Guide for Aspiring Doctors

Dr. Agarwal also maintains an active role in organized neurosurgery advocating for medical student and patient education. Moreover, he has pledged his commitment to advancing neurosurgery as a member of the Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation Cushing Circle of Giving.

Outside of neurological surgery, Dr. Agarwal has been deeply dedicated to martial arts, specifically the disciplines of Taekwondo, Krav Maga and Jiu-Jitsu. For over a decade, he served as a certified instructor, national judge and school owner. Dr. Agarwal credits martial arts with providing mental and physical discipline as well as adherence to a strict honor code.

Specialized Areas of Interest

Minimally invasive spine surgery; artificial disc replacement; robotic spine surgery; navigation-assisted surgery; endoscopic spine surgery; awake outpatient surgery; brain and spine trauma; sports medicine; cervical deformity; scoliosis surgery.

Professional Organization Membership

American Association of Neurological Surgeons
American Association of South Asian Neurosurgeons
American Medical Association
AO Spine
Cervical Spine Research Society
Congress of Neurological Surgeons
Council of State Neurosurgical Societies
International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery
Lumbar Spine Research Society
North American Spine Society
Scoliosis Research Society
Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Education & Training

  • BS, Biology, The College of New Jersey, 2010
  • MD, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2014
  • Enfolded Fellowship, Sports Medicine, UPMC, 2019-20
  • Enfolded Fellowship, Minimally Invasive and Complex Spine Surgery, UPMC, 2018-20
  • Neurological Surgery Residency, UPMC, 2014-21
  • Fellowship, Minimally Invasive and Complex Spine Surgery, AO Spine/CAST Fellowship, University of California, San Francisco, 2021-22

Honors & Awards

  • SpineLine 5th Annual 20 under 40 Class, North American Spine Society, 2022
  • Young Surgeon Grant and Educational Track, Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Annual Forum, 2022
  • Young Clinician Investigator Award, NREF and the Academy of Neurological Surgeons, 2022
  • Thomas A. Zdeblick Best Paper Award, Lumbar Spine Research Society, 2022
  • Harold Rosegay Award, San Francisco Neurological Society, 2022
  • Educator of the Year Award, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, 2021
  • CSRS Resident and Fellow Scholarship, Cervical Spine Research Society Annual Meeting, 2021
  • Young Surgeon Grant and Educational Track, Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Annual Forum, 2021
  • Resident Teaching Award, University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery, 2021
  • Branch Research Award, AANS/CNS Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves, 2021
  • SRS North American Meeting Scholarship for Residents and Fellows, Scoliosis Research Society, 2021
  • Young Surgeon Grant, International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery Annual Conference, 2021
  • AO Spine North America Fellowship Award, University of California, San Francisco, Department of Neurological Surgery, 2021
  • Distinguished Junior Mentor Award, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 2020
  • Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation Travel Grant, European Association of Neurosurgical Societies Spine Training Course, 2020
  • Young Surgeon Grant, Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Annual Forum, 2019
  • Young Investigator Award, 12th Annual Society of Lateral Access Surgery Meeting, 2019
  • First Place History E-poster Award, 87th American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Scientific Meeting, 2019
  • Young Surgeon Travel Grant, 16th Annual Meeting: State of Surgery Think Tank, 2019
  • Socioeconomics, Health Policy, & Law NEUROSURGERY® Publications Top Paper of the Year, Annual Congress of Neurological Surgeons Meeting, 2018
  • Journalistic and Academic Neurosurgical Excellence (J.A.N.E.) Award, 34th Spine Summit, 2018
  • First Place Socioeconomic E-poster Award, 85th American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Scientific Meeting, 2017
  • Charlie Kuntz IV Scholar Award, 32nd Spine Summit, 2016
  • Peter W. Carmel, MD, Award in Neurological Surgery, Outstanding Academic Achievement, 2014
  • Kenneth G. Swan, MD, Memorial Award, NJMS Student Affairs, 2014
  • Class of 1979 Scholarship, NJMS Alumni Association Grant, 2011
  • Armstrong Engineering Scholarship Award, Scholastic Merit Based Grant, 2007
  • Oval Society Award, Community Service Distinction, 2007

Selected Publications

Agarwal N, Aabedi AA, Torres-Espin A, Chou A, Wozny T, Mummaneni PV, Burke JF, Ferguson AR, Kyritsis N, Dhall, SS, Weinstein PR, Duong-Fernandez X, Pan J, Singh V, Hemmerle DD, Talbott JF, Whetstone WD, Bresnahan JC, Manley GT, Beattie MS, DiGiorgio A. Decision Tree-based Machine Learning Analysis of Intraoperative Vasopressor Use to Optimize Neurological Improvement in Acute Spinal Cord Injury. Neurosurgical Focus 52(4):E9, 2022.

Agarwal N, White MD, Zhang X, Alan N, Ozpinar A, Salvetti DJ, Tempel ZJ, Okonkwo DO, Kanter AS, Hamilton DK. Impact of Endplate-Implant Area Mismatch on Rates and Grades of Subsidence Following Stand-alone Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion: An Analysis of 623 LevelsJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine 33(1):12-16, 2020.

Agarwal N, White MD, Pannullo SC, Chambless LB. Analysis of National Trends in Neurosurgical Resident AttritionJournal of Neurosurgery 131(5):1668-1673, 2019.

Agarwal N, Angriman F, Goldschmidt E, Zhou J, Kanter AS, Okonkwo DO, Passias PG, Protopsaltis T, Lafage V, Lafage R, Schwab F, Bess S, Ames C, Smith JS, Shaffrey CI, Burton D, Hamilton DK, International Spine Study Group. Relationship between Body Mass Index and Sagittal Vertical Axis Change as well as Health-Related Quality of Life in 564 Patients following Deformity SurgeryJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine 31(5):697-702, 2019.

Agarwal N, Kashkoush A, Baucom ET, Ratliff JK, Stroink AR, Council of State Neurosurgical Societies. Quality Reporting in Neurological Surgery: Practice Adherence to Quality Payment Program GuidelinesNeurosurgery 84(2):537-543, 2019.

Agarwal N, Faramand AM, Alan N, Tempel ZJ, Hamilton DK, Okonkwo DO, Kanter AS. Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion in the Elderly: A 10 Year ExperienceJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine 29(5):525–529, 2018.

Agarwal N, Agarwal P, Querry A, Mazurkiewicz A, Tempel ZJ, Friedlander RM, Gerszten PC, Hamilton DK, Okonkwo DO, Kanter AS. Implementation of an Infection Prevention Bundle and Increased Physician Awareness Improves Surgical Outcomes and Reduces Costs Associated with Spine SurgeryJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine 29(1):108-114, 2018.

Agarwal N, Choi PA, Okonkwo DO, Barrow DL, Friedlander RM. Financial Burden Associated with the Residency Match in Neurological Surgery. Journal of Neurosurgery 126(1):184-190, 2017.

Agarwal N, Norrmén-Smith IO, Tomei KL, Prestigiacomo CJ, Gandhi CD. Improving Medical Student Recruitment into Neurological Surgery: A Single Institution’s ExperienceWorld Neurosurgery 80(6):745-750, 2013.

Agarwal N, Hansberry DR, Sabourin V, Tomei KL, Prestigiacomo CJ. A Comparative Analysis of the Quality of Patient Education Materials from Medical SpecialtiesJAMA: Internal Medicine 173(13):1257-1259, 2013.

Dr. Agarwal's publications can be reviewed through the National Library of Medicine's publication database.

Research Activities

Dr. Agarwal's research concentrations as principal investigator or primary author have been dedicated to four main areas: neurotrauma outcomes after severe traumatic brain injury and acute spinal cord injury, spine outcomes, socioeconomic research, and patient education. 

Prior research support has been directed primarily at studies improving outcomes and at the development of neurotrauma biomarkers. These investigations have supported the unmet need to identify biomarkers to better predict prognosis after neurotrauma and tailored interventions to augment neurological recovery.

Improving outcomes following spine surgery is another component of Dr. Agarwal's efforts to blend my clinical practice and research endeavors. He has sought to critically analyze perioperative surgical and patient risk factors to improve outcomes. To this end, these studies have allowed for better preoperative planning and patient optimization for surgical intervention.

A subset of Dr. Agarwal's research interests includes examining socioeconomic policies that impact neurosurgical practice and the delivery of quality care to patients. These investigations stem from his involvement in organized neurosurgery societies whose mission statements center around these issues.

Dr. Agarwal's early investigations addressed deficiencies of patient education materials for neurosurgical patients. The culmination of this work resulted in a foundation award to further improve patient education and engagement through multimedia.

Media Appearances