Everything you need to know about becoming a neurologist

Becoming a neurologist

A neurologist is a specialized physician, who may work in a variety of locations, such as hospitals, private practices, and colleges. They are highly specialized doctors that see patients with nervous system and brain-related issues.

What does a neurologist do?

A neurologist is a physician that assists patients with disorders of the brain and nervous system. Symptoms that may indicate neurological disorders, resulting in a referral to these specialists are numbness, pins-and-needles, muscle weakness, and migraines.

If someone is having possible neurological symptoms, they’ll likely be referred to a neurologist by their primary care physician or when they are in an emergency department. Neurologists diagnose and manage disorders, including:

  • Epilepsy
  • Concussions
  • Migraines
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

A neurologist has many tools available to them to help diagnose and treat their patients. They’ll work with a healthcare team, which includes emergency physicians, nurses, and lab technicians like phlebotomists, to requisition tests, such as bloodwork, genetic testing, and brain scans (using either a CT or MRI machine). Advanced tests are also possible when a patient sees a neurologist, including biopsies, angiograms, cerebrospinal fluid analysis, ultrasounds, and electromyography. 

After the neurologist has gathered all the information from the patient and performed the necessary tests, they will be in a position to diagnose the condition if they have a neurological disorder or disease. Neurologists will also help patients to manage symptoms of their diseases or conditions, by prescribing medication, assisting with pain management. Offering physiotherapy, and suggesting lifestyle changes that may help ease symptoms. 

How do you become a neurologist?

To become a neurologist, first, a four-year undergraduate degree is required, followed by a medical degree. Results from the MCAT exam, undergraduate grades, and volunteer activities are all considered when colleges admit students to medical school. Neurologists can attend either an allopathic (MD) or an osteopathic (DO) medical school. 

After years in academia, a neurologist enters into a residency program, where they get on-the-job training that matches their specialty. One year of internal medicine residency and at least three years of neurology residency are mandatory for the accreditation boards.

To be board certified in neurology, physicians must pass an exam with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). And while this already seems like extensive training, many neurologists will then move on to two years of subspecialty training, referred to as a fellowship, in areas like:

  • Epilepsy
  • Autonomic disorders
  • Brain injury medicine
  • Neuroimaging
  • Geriatric neurology

The ABPN or the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS) provides certifications for subspecialty training.

What skills do you need to become a neurologist?

Beyond the obvious medical knowledge of neuropathy, anatomy, and the nervous system, a neurologist requires a slew of personal and professional skills to succeed. Because they are working in teams, and some of them will also be working in a teaching capacity, leadership skills and effective communication skills are crucial.

Working with patients requires a neurologist to be empathetic, a good listener, and to have patience in all interactions. When helping their patients, a neurologist will also need to be an excellent problem-solver, a critical thinker, and will need to be well-read, keeping on top of the latest research.

What is the average salary for a neurologist?

A neurologist falls under the category of physicians and surgeons who, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, make a median salary of $208,000 each year. This group of highly trained medical professionals is among the highest-paid individuals in the country.

With 2021 data, Salary.com reports that neurologists make an average salary of $260,900, with the range being between $228,000 and $306,300. The range in salaries is large because pay depends on the level of education, certifications, experience, and location.

What is the typical career path for a neurologist?

After a neurologist completes their academic training and enters into residency, they start to earn an income, and they can begin to get a feel for where they’d like to pursue their career. Many residents will enjoy the hospital setting and will pursue a role either in a research-based group or in a clinical setting (or sometimes both when it’s a teaching hospital). 

Neurologists can also pursue a purely academic career trajectory, where they go on to teach neurology to up-and-coming physicians, and they conduct research and write papers to further their medical field.

For physicians that thrive in a group setting and love to learn alongside their colleagues, they may choose to work in a group setting, such as in a neurology-specific practice or at a hospital that has a thriving neurology group. Others may fit well into multi-specialty groups within the hospital or clinical setting. 

And finally, some neurologists will choose to work on their own and for themselves, by setting up a private practice. This option can also be a way for physicians to practice their specialty in a setting that allows them to better control their hours, colleagues and the number of patients that they see.

Where can you find neurologist jobs?

Jobs for neurologists are expected to trend up at an average rate of 4% over the next decade, which is great news for these physicians looking for job security and new opportunities.

You can take a look at the available open positions for neurologists on Ladders Jobs, including:

Assistant Professor, Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at UC Blue Ash College – in Cincinnati, Ohio