So You Want to be a Neurologist

The nervous system is expansive with many mysteries. It needs dedicated, brilliant minds to treat it and move science forward. You may be thinking of joining the field of neurology; it’s a great career choice, after all. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Neurology? What Conditions Do They Treat?

Neurology is the part of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of the nervous system. A neurologist specializes in serving patients with conditions that affect the peripheral and central nervous systems. Due to the expanse of the nervous system, there can be overlaps with other body systems.

There are over 5,000 conditions that neurologists identify and treat. The conditions include stroke, epilepsy, spinal cord diseases, functional disorders, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis.

Neurologists have to research the patient’s history and take meticulous examinations thoroughly to diagnose neurological conditions. They are responsible for performing imaging tests (CT or MRI scans) and performing interventions like occasional nerve or muscle biopsies, nerve conduction tests, electroencephalography (EEG), or injections. If the patient needs surgery, the neurologist refers them to a neurosurgeon.

Neurologists work as part of a diverse multidisciplinary team that includes neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, specialist nurses and technicians, and administrative staff.

An important part of neurology is long-term care; it’s common for patients to require monitoring over long periods. A neurologist can see around 10-15 patients on a typical day. They typically spend most of their time in regional centers or district general hospitals or outpatient clinics. Sometimes they go on rounds inwards in inpatient clinics.

The Path to Being a Neurologist

You start by taking a four-year degree at college. It would help your preparation and application if you hold a job or do volunteer work to tie in with your medical field. While in college, you should start looking at other med school requirements you will need. To up your grades, consider an MCAT in-person course(s).

To pursue the neurology path, you can start by attending either an osteopathic or allopathic medical school. You need to check if that particular school offers an opportunity for a neurology clerkship. To add to your education, you might also want to consider undergoing an away neurology rotation.

Training as a neurologist will also include a year of internship focused on internal medicine. If you are interested in pediatrics or child neurology, the internship is for two years. After the internship, you will go for a specialized neurology residency for at least three years.

You can obtain adult neurology training via a categorical program. It will include four years of training or an advanced program with three years of training after completing a separate one-year internship. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) sets the training program requirements for residencies.

The ACGME, or the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS), sets the training requirements for fellowship and subspecialty training. After passing a written exam from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), you will be granted board-certified status in neurology. If you would like to invest an extra year or two, you can add a variety of subspecialties. You get subspecialty certification from the ABPN or UCNS. Some of the major subspecialty concentrations and fellowship options available include:

  • Clinical Neurophysiology (ABPN)
  • Vascular Neurology (ABPN)
  • Epilepsy (ABPN)
  • Brain Injury Medicine (ABPN)
  • Headache Medicine (UCNS)
  • Clinical Neuromuscular Pathology (UCNS)
  • Autonomic Disorders (UCNS)
  • Sleep Medicine (ABPN)
  • Neurocritical Care (UCNS)
  • Neural Repair and Rehabilitation (UCNS)
  • Neuromuscular Medicine (ABPN)
  • Behavioral Neurology and Neuropsychiatry (UCNS)
  • Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (ABPN)
  • Neuroimaging (UCNS)
  • Geriatric Neurology (UCNS)
  • Neuro-oncology (UCNS)

What Are Your Career Options?

Once you have your qualifications, you will have several career choices at your disposal. You can go into academic, community practice, or private practice, among others.

The average income for a neurologist is $281,616. Income can vary, primarily due to education, certifications, experience, and location.

After the academic training and in residency, you start earning a substantive income. Most residents prefer the hospital and pursue a role either in a research-based group or in a clinical setting. They can do both if they are in a teaching hospital. If you prefer to learn in a group setting, you can join a neuro-specific practice, a hospital with a thriving neurology group, or a multispecialty group.

You can set up a private practice if you want to work for yourself. You will have more control over your hours, the people you partner with, and the patients you see.

An alternative route is teaching up-and-coming physicians. It’s a purely academic career where you can conduct research and write papers to further the medical field.

Be a Neurologist

Neurology is a career that needs empathy and an eagerness for research. If you join the field, you will bring relief to patients suffering from conditions that affect the brain and nervous system. It is an intellectually, financially, and socially rewarding career.

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