How to Become a Neurologist: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on January 20, 2024

Deciding to pursue a career as a neurologist takes commitment, but the ability to diagnose and treat conditions of the brain and nervous system can be incredibly rewarding. First and foremost, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree, typically focusing your undergraduate studies on pre-med subjects like biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Next, you’ll apply to medical school, which involves taking the MCAT exam. After that, you’ll spend four years earning either an MD or DO, then move on to a residency in neurology which generally lasts four years as well. Ultimately, becoming board certified demonstrates your expertise in neuroscience and ability to manage complex neurological conditions. With advanced training and determination, you can join this meaningful specialty helping patients young and old affected by brain, spinal cord, muscle, and nerve disorders.

What is a Neurologist?

A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases and disorders related to the brain and nervous system. Neurologists are experts on the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles.

What do Neurologists do?

Neurologists diagnose and treat disorders of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. Their main responsibilities include:

Educational Requirements to Become a Neurologist

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a neurologist is earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Some common majors for aspiring neurologists include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or pre-med. Make sure to maintain a high GPA and take prerequisite courses for medical school such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Learn more about pre-med undergraduate requirements from this guide.

Attend Medical School

After completing a bachelor’s degree, the next educational requirement is to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. This involves completing 4 years of medical school where you will take courses in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, pathology, medical ethics, and more while also participating in clinical rotations. Check out this list of top medical schools in the US.

Complete a Residency in Neurology

Following medical school, aspiring neurologists must then complete a 3-4 year residency program in neurology. The residency provides supervised training under licensed neurologists during which residents examine patients, order and interpret tests, make diagnoses, and provide treatment. Learn more by reading this overview of a neurology residency.

Pursue a Fellowship (Optional)

After completing the neurology residency, future neurologists can choose to pursue a fellowship which is an additional 1-2 years of specialized training. Some common neurology fellowships include stroke, epilepsy, neuromuscular medicine, headaches, and more. Browse available neurology fellowships here.

Postgraduate Training

After completing medical school, aspiring neurologists must complete a residency in neurology, which typically takes 4 years. During a neurology residency, trainees gain hands-on experience diagnosing and treating neurological disorders under the supervision of experienced neurologists. Some key aspects of a neurology residency include:

After completing their residency, many neurologists pursue 1-2 years of fellowship training in a subspecialty like stroke, neurocritical care, epilepsy, clinical neurophysiology, neuromuscular medicine, headaches, movement disorders, or neuroimmunology. This allows them to gain expertise in a specific niche of neurology.

Overall, postgraduate neurology training provides the comprehensive preparation needed to effectively diagnose, treat, and manage patients with complex neurological conditions. It establishes neurologists as experts of the nervous system and its intricate diseases.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Neurologist

Becoming a neurologist requires dedication, compassion, and a strong academic background. Neurologists need both medical knowledge and interpersonal skills to excel in their careers.

Skills: Neurologists require an analytical mindset to assess patients’ symptoms, order appropriate diagnostic tests, and develop effective treatment plans. According to the American Academy of Neurology, neurologists should have strong critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities.

Additionally, neurologists need communication and listening skills to understand patients’ concerns and explain diagnoses and treatment options in an understandable way. The Johns Hopkins Medicine neurology residency program states that excellent verbal, nonverbal, and written communication skills are essential for neurologists.

Qualities: Beyond medical expertise, the best neurologists have certain personal qualities that make them effective. According to Cedars-Sinai, top neurologists show compassion, patience, and empathy when interacting with patients and families. Dealing with serious neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke can be emotionally difficult, so compassion is key.

Neurologists also need emotional stability and stress management techniques to handle the challenges of this demanding specialty. No two cases are alike, so adaptability and creative thinking help neurologists develop individualized treatment plans for patients. Finally, organization and attention to detail are vital when reviewing complex test results and coordinating care with other specialists.

Neurologist Salaries

When considering a career as a neurologist, most prospective students want to know about the earning potential. Neurologists are well-compensated for their many years of education and specialized skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for neurologists in 2020 was $237,960. However, salaries can vary widely depending on factors like years of experience, location, and type of practice.

As shown in the table below, salaries tend to correlate with years of experience in the field. Entry-level neurologists who have completed their residency training have an average starting salary offer of around $200,000 per year. With each year of experience gained, neurologists can typically expect to see their compensation increase. Those with more than 10 years of experience often earn over $300,000 annually on average.

Experience vs. Average Salary for Neurologists

Years of ExperienceAverage Annual Salary
Entry-level/0-2 years$200,000
2-4 years$225,000
5-10 years$275,000
10-20 years$325,000
20+ years$350,000

The top-paying industries for neurologists based on BLS data are offices of physicians and universities, where average wages can exceed over $250,000 per year. By geographic region, the highest average salaries are found among neurologists practicing in the northeastern United States. Those working in metropolitan areas also tend to earn more than those in rural locations.

Neurologists who specialize in treating certain conditions—such as stroke, epilepsy, sleep disorders, multiple sclerosis, neuromuscular disorders, headaches, or brain tumors—may also have greater earning power. Salaries can also be higher for neurologists who take leadership roles, hold prestigious academic appointments, participate in research activities, or see higher patient volumes in their clinical practice. Overall, neurology remains one of the most lucrative medical specialties.

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Neurology is a rewarding career path with excellent job prospects and opportunities to advance. As the population ages and neurologic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and stroke become more prevalent, the demand for neurologists is expected to grow faster than average over the coming decade.

Neurologists have a variety of practice settings to choose from, including hospitals, university medical centers, private practices, and research institutes. Those working in hospitals and medical centers may advance to serve as department heads or medical directors. With experience, neurologists in private practice may expand their clinic with additional providers or specialize in niche areas of neurology.

In addition to clinical work, neurologists can pursue opportunities in research and academia. Those with a passion for research can lead studies exploring the underlying mechanisms of neurologic diseases or testing new treatments. Neurologists may also teach at medical schools, training the next generation of physicians. Publishing research and serving on editorial boards of neurology journals can further a neurologist’s professional reputation.

Board certification plays an important role in career advancement for neurologists. Becoming board certified demonstrates a neurologist’s expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of complex neurologic disorders. Many top positions at hospitals, universities, and research institutes require board certification. Neurologists can pursue subspecialty certification in areas like child neurology, clinical neurophysiology, and neurodevelopmental disabilities.

In summary, neurologists have fulfilling career opportunities spanning clinical work, research, teaching, and leadership roles. With hard work and continued learning, neurologists can advance their careers over time to positions with greater responsibility and impact. Those willing to pursue board certification and share their knowledge have paths to professional success.

Conclusion

In summary, becoming a neurologist requires extensive education and training, but offers the reward of helping patients with complex neurological conditions. The road starts with a strong foundation in science and math in high school, followed by obtaining an undergraduate degree. You must then be accepted to medical school and complete four years to earn an MD. The next step is a four-year neurology residency where you gain hands-on clinical experience treating patients. After residency, some pursue additional subspecialty fellowships. Though the path is long, those with a passion for the brain and nervous system find the hard work worthwhile. For more guidance on succeeding in medical school check out the AAMC website. With drive and dedication, an aspiring student can attain the credentials to practice neurology and make a difference in patients’ lives.

Resources

  1. American Academy of Neurology: A professional association for neurologists, providing information on training pathways, career development, and advocacy.
  2. American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology: Offers board certification exams in neurology, with details on eligibility, fees, and maintenance of certification.
  3. Association of American Medical Colleges: Provides resources and guidance on choosing a medical career, including information on prerequisites for medical school.
  4. US News – Best Medical Schools: A source for ranking and information about top medical schools in the United States.
  5. University of Michigan Neurology Residency: Information about the neurology residency program at the University of Michigan, giving insights into the structure of a neurology residency.
  6. American Academy of Neurology Career Opportunities: Information on career opportunities and resources for neurologists, including job listings and career development resources.
  7. The Johns Hopkins Medicine Neurology Residency Program: Provides an overview of the neurology residency program at Johns Hopkins Medicine, emphasizing the importance of communication skills for neurologists.
  8. American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine: Lists various neurology fellowships available in the field of neuromuscular medicine and clinical neurophysiology.
  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Physicians and Surgeons: Offers information on the employment outlook and median pay for physicians, including neurologists.
  10. American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology Subspecialty Certification: Details on subspecialty certification options in neurology, which can enhance a neurologist’s qualifications.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a Neurologist?

A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases and disorders related to the brain and nervous system.

What do Neurologists do?

Neurologists diagnose and treat disorders of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. They conduct physical exams, order tests, interpret results, and develop treatment plans. They may also perform procedures like lumbar punctures and botulinum toxin injections.

What does it take to become a Neurologist?

To become a neurologist, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree, attend medical school, and complete a residency in neurology. Some neurologists also choose to complete a fellowship for further specialization.

What are the educational requirements to become a Neurologist?

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a pre-med field like biology or chemistry, then a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree from medical school. After that, you’ll complete a residency program in neurology, which typically lasts 3-4 years.

What skills are required to be a successful Neurologist?

Neurologists require an analytical mindset, strong critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities. They also need excellent communication and listening skills, as well as empathy and compassion for their patients.

How much do Neurologists make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for neurologists in 2020 was $237,960. Salaries can vary widely depending on factors like years of experience, location, and type of practice.

What are the career opportunities for Neurologists?

Neurologists have a variety of practice settings to choose from, including hospitals, university medical centers, private practices, and research institutes. They can also pursue opportunities in research and academia, and with experience, may advance to serve as department heads or medical directors.

What is board certification in Neurology?

Board certification demonstrates a neurologist’s expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of complex neurologic disorders. It’s granted by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology after a neurologist meets specific educational, licensure, and experiential requirements and passes an examination.

What subspecialties are there in Neurology?

Neurologists can pursue subspecialty certification in areas like child neurology, clinical neurophysiology, and neurodevelopmental disabilities. These subspecialties allow neurologists to gain expertise in a specific niche of neurology.

Where can I find more resources on pursuing a career in Neurology?

The American Academy of Neurology, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and the Association of American Medical Colleges are excellent resources for those interested in a career in neurology. They provide information on training pathways, board certification, and career opportunities.