As a neurologist, you will be able to identify and treat a wide variety of conditions, and you can help improve the quality of life for people suffering from severe and often life-threatening maladies.
If you are considering a career as a neurologist, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you fascinated by the nervous system?
- Are you interested in helping relieve pain in patients?
- Do you think the brain is the most interesting part of the body?
- Do you like solving complex puzzles?
- Do you want to study a dynamic and constantly evolving science?
- Do you want a field that offers professional challenges and specialized options?
- Are you passionate about helping people with epilepsy and other neurological disorders?
- Do you want a career in one of the most in-demand fields of medicine?
If your answer to these questions is “yes,” then neurology may be the specialty for you.
What Does a Neurologist Do?
A neurologist specializes in disorders of the autonomic nervous system, brain, muscles, peripheral nerves, and spinal cord, as well as the blood vessels within these structures. Many neurological problems are characterized by severe pain, and they can be chronic, debilitating, and difficult to treat. Much of neurology is consultative, but a neurologist may also be a primary physician. Neurology is linked with psychiatry, and the two branches of medicine have a combined certification board.
Many are curious to know exactly what does a neurologist do? What does a neurologist treat? Neurologists treat any disease that affects neurological function. High blood pressure, for example, is a cardiac problem, but if it causes a stroke (a sudden loss of blood supply to the brain), it becomes a neurological problem as well. Neurologists may also deal with infectious diseases. Meningitis, for example, can cause brain damage and lead to epileptic seizures. Neurologists also treat peripheral nerve diseases that cause muscle weakness or sensory impairment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in six people worldwide suffer from neurological disorders, and millions of people die from those disorders every year.
Neurologists—internists who then specialize in neurology—generally care only for adults. (Pediatric neurologists specialize in the treatment of children’s conditions, which may include developmental or neurogenetic problems.) Neurologists work with patients suffering from such nervous system disorders as:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Huntington's disease
- Learning disorders
- Migraine headaches
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peripheral nerve disease
- Tourette syndrome
Neurologists are different from neuroscientists, who are not medical doctors. Neurologists also differ from neurosurgeons, who perform brain or spinal cord surgery. Neurologists and neurosurgeons may work closely together, however—sometimes even in the operating room. Neurologists are tasked with solving the most complex puzzles of the brain and the rest of the nervous system. They do this by studying a patient’s history and by examination. Physical exams may test coordination, gait, mental status, reflexes, sensation, speech, strength, and vision. Technological exams probe deeper into the nervous system. They include:
- Computed tomography (CT) or computer-assisted tomography (CAT) scans
- Electroencephalography (EEG)
- Lumbar puncture (LP) for cerebral spinal fluid analysis
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nerve conduction studies and electromyography (NCS/EMG)
Many neurologists are also active in academic circles and participate in conferences and publications dedicated to advancing neurological knowledge and therapeutic options. Through neurology advocacy organizations, political action campaigns, and visits to legislators, neurologists also work to ensure patients have access to high-quality health care.
How to Become a Doctor of Neurology
To become a neurologist, you must first become a physician by graduating from an accredited medical school*—such as Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM). The steps to a medical degree at RUSM, which is located on the Caribbean island of Barbados, are the same as at United States-based schools: two years of medical science classes and two years of hands-on clinical training. For RUSMs students, the medical sciences curriculum is completed at the Barbados campus; the clinical training can be completed at affiliated teaching hospitals in the United States.
During clinical training, RUSM students complete core rotations in internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, family medicine, obstetrics/ gynecology, and psychiatry. It is up to each student, then, to select elective rotations to fulfill their clinical requirements. Students can complete their remaining clinicals in any of 40 specialty elective areas (including neurology).
During the fourth and final year of medical school, students prepare for the next step in their medical education: residency. At RUSM, the Office of Career Advisement (OCA) helps students determine which residency specialty—such as neurology—suits them best. The OCA then helps students negotiate the National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP®)—a placement system which medical students who want to obtain licensure in the United States use to “match” with a medical residency. Residencies are required to become a licensed physician, and they last from three to eight years. Neurologists first complete a year-long preliminary internship in internal medicine (or two years of pediatrics for child neurologists) before entering a three-year residency in neurology.
In 2021, RUSM had a first-time residency attainment rate of 92 percent for 2020-2021 graduates, a match percentage rate comparable with the overall match rate (93 percent) for medical schools in the United States. In recent years, RUSM MD’s have matched with neurology residencies at such hospitals as Garden City Hospital in Michigan; Larkin Community Hospital and the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida; and WVU Ruby Memorial Hospital in West Virginia.
After the successful completion of neurological training, a doctor is eligible to become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc. (ABPN). A board-certified neurologist can then become a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology® (AAN). Doctors who want to subspecialize in a specific field of neurology must take additional training. They can then be certified by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS) or the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Such subspecialties include:
- Brain injury medicine
- Clinical neurophysiology
- Endovascular surgical neuroradiology
- Geriatric neurology
- Neurodevelopmental disabilities
- Neuromuscular medicine
- Pain medicine
- Pediatric neurology
- Sleep medicine
- Vascular neurology
MEET A NEUROLOGIST
Ovais Inamullah, MD, a 2016 RUSM graduate, is a Vascular Neurology Fellow at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. We asked Dr. Inamullah to answer a few questions about his role as a neurologist, and his answers were succinct.
Q: Why did you decide to go into your specialty?
A: Brains are awesome.
Q: Any advice to medical students considering the specialty?
A: Learn neuroanatomy.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Patient care.
If you want to become a doctor, and a career in neurology appeals to you, learn more about the RUSM MD Program and investigate the Office of Career Advisement. When you’re ready, take the next step on your path to a specialization in neurology: apply for admission to Ross University School of Medicine.
A Career in Neurology
Neurologists may work in a clinic, hospital, or medical office, and some have their own private practice. You may be wondering, what is a neurologist's typical routine like? Most time is spent caring for outpatients and performing procedures, but many hours are spent doing laboratory work, corresponding with patients, and visiting hospital wards. Meetings and administration tasks absorb a lot of time, and hours are also spent consulting with other specialists, doing research, studying, and teaching. Most neurologists work a typical 40-hour week, and some are also on-call—available for consultation at night or on days off.
Because neurological conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and headaches are common problems around the world, neurologists can have a great impact on the individual lives of patients as well as overall community health.
Demand for Neurologists
The American Academy of Neurology found that demand for neurologists far exceeds supply. This is evidenced by wait times for people seeking to see a neurologist—typically more than one month—and by vacant neurological positions in many parts of the United States. The demand for neurologists will continue to grow as the population ages—neurological problems disproportionately affect older people. In many parts of the world—including parts of the United States—neurological care is virtually nonexistent.
Neurologists too—like doctors in all medical fields—are an aging population, and as those doctors retire, the United States will see an increasing shortage of neurological specialists. In July 2020, an Association of American Medical Colleges report showed that one third of United States physicians are aged 60 or older, and well over half—57 percent—are over 50.
Now that you know what a neurologist does, you can make the decision on whether neurology is the right career for you! Take the next step on your path to a specialization in neurology: Apply for admission to Ross University School of Medicine.
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