Steps for Becoming a Neurologist

Learn about the field of neurology and how to start a career as a neurologist. Keep reading to find out the education needed, the kind of work that neurologists do, and more. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

The Path to Becoming a Neurologist

Neurologists are doctors who specialize in the brain and the central nervous system. This might include assisting patients who suffer from injuries such as brain damage or nerve damage, or from conditions that impair their mental functioning, such as Alzheimer's disease. Like other doctors, neurologists must attend medical school and complete a residency before being able to practice.

Degree Required Medical Doctorate (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Fields of Study Biology, physics, chemistry, math, English
Key Skills Communication skills, calm and understanding demeanor, critical thinking and problem solving skills
Licensure Licensed by state boards, in addition to the US Medical License Exam (for M.D.s) or Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical License Exam (for D.O.s)
Job Growth (2016-2026) 13% (physicians and surgeons)*
Average Salary (2018) $173,127*

Sources: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, **GlassDoor

What are the Duties of a Neurologist?

Neurology is a medical field that studies and treats the brain, spine, and nervous system, as well as the connections they have to other systems in the body. Neurology is a specialization that physicians can choose, where they will be responsible for diagnosing and treating the wide variety of diseases that affect these parts of the body. These include physical conditions like strokes, memory disorders, degenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease, and injuries such as concussions and other traumatic brain injuries. Neurologists often work with adults; however, it is possible to earn a special qualification in child neurology.

What Should I Study to be a Neurologist?

Medical schools usually do not require a particular undergraduate degree to apply, but degrees in biology or chemistry, for example, will certainly give an applicant a leg up in the process. As medical schools often take extracurricular activities into account during the application process, volunteering or working in a hospital or other care facility would also be beneficial. After four years of medical school, someone looking to become a neurologist would need to participate in post-graduate training as a resident at a hospital or other accredited facility which offers neuroscience services. This post-graduate training can take between four to seven years before one may be recognized as a certified neurologist.

What Areas of Focus Can a Neurologist Have?

While neurologists are already a highly specialized career, they can have further subspecialties on which to focus. Neuromuscular medicine, for example, focuses on the communication between the nervous system and muscles, and often deals with diseases such as muscular dystrophy. Vascular neurology deals with issues such as brain hemorrhages or strokes. Neurocritical care is one of the newest subspecialties, offering a more comprehensive approach to patients suffering from severe neurological conditions that affect their ability to live a normal life.

What Career Options are Available to Neurologists?

Neurologists have three basic options for their careers: they can follow an academic path, work in hospitals or medical groups, or maintain their own independent practice. Those on the academic path are going to be doing research, trying to make breakthroughs and discover new cures, although they will likely be doing this at universities alongside their teaching duties. Hospitals are the largest growing sector of employment for neurologists, as the need for them increases due to changes in the healthcare industry. The number of independently practicing neurologists may decrease as a result, although there is still plenty of opportunity for them in certain parts of the country.

What are Some Alternatives for Those Interested in Neurology?

Neurosurgeons are doctors who perform surgery on the brain, which, while heavily related, is often a very different career course that requires a surgical rather than medical focus. Psychiatry is the treatment of mental illnesses and mental health overall, which often has a basis in the chemistry of the brain, so an interest in and understanding of neuroscience is important. Psychiatrists are also medical doctors and are often tasked with prescribing medicine. Psychologists, on the other hand, are generally not medical professionals (holding PhDs instead) and focus instead on psychotherapy, dealing primarily with the effects of mental illness on a patient rather than the biological causes.

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