A neurologist could...
|Diagnose a patient's sleep disorder using brain wave, eye movement, and breathing data collected during a sleep study.||Collect brain wave data from a child to determine if her seizures are due to epilepsy or another disorder.|
|Use MRI's of a car accident victim's brain to see how badly he or she was injured, and determine the best treatment.||Administer reflex exams during a neurological examination in order to detect if a patient's nervous system has been damaged.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Each time your heart beats, or you breathe, think, dream, smell, see, move, laugh, read, remember, write, or feel something, you are using your nervous system. The nervous system includes your brain, spinal cord, and a huge network of nerves that make electrical connections all over your body. Neurologists are the medical doctors who diagnose and treat problems with the nervous system. They work to restore health to an essential system in the body.|
|Key Requirements||Highly observant, empathetic, and analytical, with outstanding communication skills and a strong desire to help others|
|Minimum Degree||Professional degree (Doctor of Medicine, MD)|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, computer science, foreign language, physiology, biomedical science, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Much Faster than Average (21% or more) In Demand!|
Training, Other Qualifications
The common path to practicing as a neurologist requires 8 years of education beyond high school and 3-8 additional years of internship and residency. All states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories license physicians.
Education and Training
To become a board-certified neurologist, several requirements must be met:
- Four years of premedical education in a college or university.
- Four years of medical school resulting in an MD or DO degree (doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy degree).
- One-year internship in either internal medicine or in medicine/surgery.
- At least 3 years of specialty training in an accredited neurology residency program.
People who want to become neurologists must have a desire to serve patients, be self-motivated, and be able to survive the pressures and long hours of medical education and practice. Physicians also must have a good bedside manner, emotional stability, and the ability to make decisions in emergencies. Prospective physicians must be willing to study throughout their career to keep up with medical advances.
Nature of the Work
A neurologist is a medical doctor or osteopath who has trained in the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders, including diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles.
Neurologists perform neurological examinations of the nerves in the head and neck; muscle strength and movement; balance, ambulation, and reflexes; and sensation, memory, speech, language, and other cognitive abilities.
They also perform diagnostic tests, such as the following:
- CAT (computed axial tomography) scan
- MRI/MRA (magnetic resonance imaging/magnetic resonance angiography)
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
- EEG (electroencephalography)
- EMG/NCV (electromyography/nerve conduction velocity)
Some neurologists are also involved in research. These neurologists, often called academic or research neurologists, focus on discovering how the nervous system works. They conduct research on a variety of neurological topics including what goes wrong in disease cases, like epilepsy or Parkinson's, and how people perceive emotions, like happiness and anger.
Many neurologists work in small private offices or clinics, often assisted by a small staff of nurses and other administrative personnel. Increasingly, neurologists are practicing in groups or healthcare organizations that provide backup coverage and allow for more time off. Neurologists in a group practice or healthcare organization often work as part of a team that coordinates care for a number of patients; they are less independent than the solo practitioners of the past.
Many neurologists work long, irregular hours. They may travel between the office and hospitals to care for their patients. While on call, a neurologist will deal with many patients' concerns over the phone and make emergency visits to hospitals or nursing homes.
Research or academic neurologists may also spend time in laboratory settings in addition to hospitals.
On the Job
- Examine patients to obtain information about functional status of areas such as vision, physical strength, coordination, reflexes, sensations, language skills, cognitive abilities, and mental status.
- Identify and treat major neurological system diseases and disorders such as central nervous system infection, cranio spinal trauma, dementia, and stroke.
- Perform or interpret the outcomes of procedures or diagnostic tests such as lumbar punctures, electroencephalography, electromyography, and nerve conduction velocity tests.
- Coordinate neurological services with other health care team activities.
- Communicate with other health care professionals regarding patients' conditions and care.
- Determine brain death using accepted tests and procedures.
- Develop treatment plans based on diagnoses and on evaluation of factors such as age and general health, or procedural risks and costs.
- Diagnose neurological conditions based on interpretation of examination findings, histories, or test results.
- Inform patients or families of neurological diagnoses and prognoses, or benefits, risks and costs of various treatment plans.
- Interview patients to obtain information such as complaints, symptoms, medical histories, and family histories.
- Order supportive care services such as physical therapy, specialized nursing care, and social services.
- Order or interpret results of laboratory analyses of patients' blood or cerebrospinal fluid.
- Perform specialized treatments in areas such as sleep disorders, neuroimmunology, neuro-oncology, behavioral neurology, and neurogenetics.
- Prepare, maintain, or review records that include patients' histories, neurological examination findings, treatment plans, or outcomes.
- Prescribe or administer treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation, and deep brain stimulation.
- Prescribe or administer medications, such as anti-epileptic drugs, and monitor patients for behavioral and cognitive side effects.
- Advise other physicians on the treatment of neurological problems.
- Refer patients to other health care practitioners as necessary.
- Interpret the results of neuroimaging studies such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT), and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans.
- Supervise medical technicians in the performance of neurological diagnostic or therapeutic activities.
- Counsel patients or others on the background of neurological disorders including risk factors, or genetic or environmental concerns.
- Participate in continuing education activities to maintain and expand competence.
- Participate in neuroscience research activities.
- Provide training to medical students or staff members.
Companies That Hire Neurologists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Apparent Motion & Animation
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- Classical Music and Cognitive Tasks
- Crossed Up: Does Crossed Hand/Eye Dominance Affect Basketball Shooting Percentage?
- Do Preferences Bias Our Choices?
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- Do You Love the Taste of Food? Find Out if You Are a Supertaster!
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- Fear Factor: Using Pulse Rate to Measure Emotion
- Get the Scoop on Stroop
- Guidance Cues and Orientation
- How Many Numbers Can You Remember?
- I See a Full Moon Rising...and Shrinking...or Do I?
- Measuring Your Taste Threshold
- Mixing Light to Make Colors
- Motion After-Effects in Vision
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Neurologist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago's Epilepsy Center. (2013, March 26). Meet Dr. Doug Nordli, Division Head, Epilepsy Center at Lurie Children's. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ya7Zx9FZ-k
- Maimonides Medical Center. (2013, March 8). Amit Schwartz, MD, Neurosurgeon. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSOEWtB1aZA
- PBS: NOVA. (n.d.). Inside Oliver Sacks' Brain. Retrieved July 26, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyY1ul_DbcQ