If you’re interested in how the brain and nervous system work, a career in neurology might be just the ticket. It takes a while to get your education, and a strong interest in science is helpful, but neurologists can get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping people with neurological problems. And the salary is good -- the American Medical Management Group reported that neurologists had an average annual salary of $246,500 in 2010.
A neurologist is trained in the diagnosis, treatment and management of brain and nervous system disorders. The training starts with a premed track in college followed by four years of medical school. The next step is a medical residency program, which will last at least three years. If you want more extensive training or have an interest in specialty neurology -- such as stroke, epilepsy, neuromuscular disease or movement disorders -- you may want to head for a fellowship. Depending on the fellowship, this may add one to five years to your education.
Licensing and Certification
OK, you’ve gotten your education, practiced your clinical skills and you’re ready, right? Not so fast. You must have a license to practice in your state, so you’ll need to apply for that piece of paper. If you’ve done your training in one state and are already licensed there but plan to move, you’ll need a new license in the new state. You will probably also want to become board-certified in your specialty. Certification means another exam to prove your competence. To maintain your certification you will need to complete continuing education courses and a performance improvement project or retake the test every five years.
As a neurologist, you’ll spend your days seeing patients in your office or the hospital. Your patients may suffer from Alzheimer's disease, brain and spinal cord injuries, brain tumors, headaches, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy. You’ll interview patients about symptoms and medical history and perform a physical examination to check vision, reflexes, strength and coordination. You’ll also look for any signs of problems with balance, speech or comprehension. You may perform tests such as lumbar punctures or muscle and nerve conduction studies. You also might order diagnostic procedures such as MRIs, CAT scans and sleep studies. You may order medications or physical therapy.
Skills and Characteristics
Neurologists spend a lot of time talking -- they talk to their patients, family members, nurses, other doctors and health-care professionals. Good communication skills, and especially the ability to translate complex medical concepts into language a patient can understand, are very important. Listening skills are equally important, as patients may tell you long stories while trying to explain their symptoms. You should really enjoy working with people and want to help them. If you are good at puzzles, that’s a plus, since neurologists often have to figure out a diagnosis based on a lot of information that may or may not be significant.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.