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Salary Range: $99,000 to $353,000
Average Hourly: $76.00
Education: Doctoral or professional degree
Number of Jobs: Not available
Growth: Faster than average
Go here to see salary and job data specific to the United Kingdom.
A neurologist is a medical specialist that focuses on the functions and disorders of the nerves and brain, collectively known as the nervous system. Specifically, neurologists are tasked with researching illnesses and disorders, helping patients find solutions to neurological impairment, and exploring treatment and prevention strategies.
The nervous system can be divided into two main parts: the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral system – which is all other elements, such as limbs, extremities and sensory organs. The nervous system isn’t limited specifically to brain and nerve tissue - it also concerns nerve sheaths and surrounding muscle tissue, blood vessels and more. The nervous system can also be subdivided in another way: the somatic and autonomic systems. The first controls voluntary movements, such as when we reach for a glass of water. The second controls functions that go on “in the background,” such as breathing and heartbeats.
Depending on a neurologist’s specialty, they may deal with every part of the nervous system, or focus on disorders in only one part – for instance, in the hands and feet, or in the brain. Likewise, they may focus on disorders affecting either the somatic or autonomic nervous systems. In many cases, neurologists may use psychiatric techniques and treatments, because so many neurological disorders stem from and require treatment in the brain.
A neurologist may perform several different duties and job functions depending on the setting in which they work and the specific job description of their employer. They may conduct research and scientific studies to contribute to the academic body of knowledge in neurology, or they may spend their day interacting with and treating patients. They may study specific neurological conditions and craft experiments that develop new medical and drug treatment plans or explore a combination of medical and therapeutic approaches to help patients overcome disorders.
A neurologist may study or provide treatment for a wide range of disorders, including:
- Stroke or other diseases affecting the brain
- Diseases that affect nerve sheaths, such as multiple sclerosis, which are together termed “demyelinating diseases”
- Movement disorders (Parkinson’s, for instance)
- Headache and migraine disorders
- Infections of the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system (for example, meningitis or encephalitis)
- Degenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and others
- Epilepsy and other seizure disorders
- Speech and language issues
- Neuromuscular conditions, such as myasthenia gravis
- Spinal cord disorders from congenital issues or traumatic injury
Neurologists may specialize in one or multiple areas, such as critical care, childhood disorders, specific causes (such as stroke) or diseases (such as multiple sclerosis). Neurologists are responsible for the diagnosis, assessment, and recommended treatment of a patient, but they do not perform surgery (if that is the recommended medical approach to treatment). Surgery on the brain is performed by a neurosurgeon.
Neurologists work in many healthcare-focused environments. This includes work in private practice as a specialist in a certain disorder or disease, or in clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare settings. Neurologists frequently focus on research and teaching. They may conduct scientific research in a college, university, private industry, or government agency setting where the try to add to the understanding of nervous system disorders. They may also focus on clinical research and clinical trials.
The overall job outlook for neurologists is quite good. The Bureau of Labor shows a14% increase for physicians through 2024, a rate much faster than the average job. However, as technology continues to advance, physicians will be able to treat more patients at a quicker rate. This could cause a dip in job growth later on, as less people will be needed to do the same jobs. Job prospects are best for those willing to practice in low-income and rural areas, as these host the greatest demand.
How to Become One
To become a neurologist, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree in a field that will prepare you for medical school. The most common degree programs for students who hope to attend medical school include:
- Biology: With a biology degree, you will focus heavily on the anatomy, physiology and makeup of organisms and their systems. Biologists study both plant and animal life, as well as bacteria, viruses, funguses and other organisms, learning about evolution and other related concepts as well.
- Chemistry: This branch of scientific thought is concerned with atoms, molecules and the other basic building blocks that comprise the substances that in turn comprise both animate and inanimate objects. Chemists study how different substances and molecules interact, change one another and form new substances.
- Physics: Physicists study the laws of matter. These include properties related to light, sound, magnetism, electricity, the structure of atoms. Physics covers every aspect of matter, from the smallest fundamental building blocks of the universe – which are still hotly contested – to the universe on a galactic and even infinite scale.
- Pre-Med: Pre-med students take a variety of courses geared specifically toward preparing them for entrance to medical school. The pre-med track helps ensure that you cover every requirement for entrance to medical school without having to keep track of those you need above and beyond your major’s requirements. Common courses include microbiology, biochemistry and human anatomy.
Once you earn a bachelor’s degree and assuming you have earned all the prerequisites necessary to apply to medical school, you must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). With an MCAT score, you may submit your application to medical schools of your choice. If you want to improve your resume before application, consider volunteering, participating in extracurricular activities and/or learning a foreign language.
In medical school, you will spend approximately 2 years in a classroom setting and the following 2 years in clinical rotations at a teaching hospital. During the latter period, you are expected to apply the knowledge learned in the classroom to real-life medical situations. During a clinical rotation, students will shadow a physician and interact directly with patients, gaining valuable hands-on experience.