How to Become a Neurologist

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A neurologist is a physician who specializes in the field of neurology. Neurologists diagnose and treat diseases and conditions of the brain and nervous system, including any issues with how the nerves conduct sensory information from the nerve endings to the brain via the spinal cord.

Some of the conditions neurologists treat include epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, migraines, Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, and much more.

How to Become a Neurologist

Since a neurologist is a type of physician, the training process is extensive and requires a medical degree (M.D. or D.O.) in addition to an undergraduate college degree:

  • High school diploma
  • 4-year undergraduate degree from university or college
  • 4-year medical degree from accredited U.S. medical school (or foreign equivalent)
  • 3 years of residency training in neurology

Typical Work Environment and Schedule

Most neurologists work out of an office setting which may be located in a hospital or in a medical office building. Tasks completed by a neurologist include: examining patients, reviewing their medical history including symptoms and vital signs, running numerous tests and doing some procedures. Neurologists may also consult with a primary care physician, surgeon, radiologist, and other clinicians. Neurologists also document patient records and prescribe medications as needed. Related surgeries would be referred to a neurosurgeon.

Typically a neurologist will work five days per week, plus on-call duties to handle patient emergencies. An average of about 40-50 hours per week is standard. On a full office day, a neurologist will see approximately 20-25 patients per day. Like most physicians, neurologists have about four to six weeks off for vacation annually, and they may have an additional week or two allowed off for CME coursework.

Some of the tests and procedures a neurologist may conduct or order include CAT scans, EEG (electroencephalogram), MRI, angiograms, spinal tap, and more. Some neurologists may also provide pain management for some patients.

Average Annual Income

According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) 2012 Compensation report, the average income for neurologists is $281,616, based on national averages. By region, neurologists earn the most in the South, with an average income of $324,521 annually. By town size and population, neurologists in non-metropolitan areas with a population fewer than 50,000 earn the highest income on average, with a median income of $275,663, according to the MGMA physician compensation report.

What's to Like

Many neurologists have shared over the years that they enjoy the field of neurology because of the wide variety of conditions they see and diseases they treat, as well as the new discoveries being made in the field. Furthermore, physicians who want a specialty that is somewhat procedure oriented, but also like an office-based practice (i.e. they don't want to necessarily be a surgeon operating in an OR full-time) also enjoy neurology.

As with anything else, if the field of neurology doesn't excite you and interest you greatly, then you may want to find another specialty of medicine altogether. Being a neurologist involves working with some very sick patients at times, and it can be highly stressful, as with many types of physicians' careers. Therefore, be sure that neurology is a science about which you are very passionate.

Additionally, another aspect to consider of any physician career is the amount of student debt incurred during the many years of school and training. The average debt for a new physician is about $160,000 to $180,000 per year, and many specialists complete training with over $200,000 owed on school loans.