A neurologist is one of those doctors who always gets on people's nerves. That’s because she’s a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the brain and nervous system. Some of the disorders include Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and Parkinson’s. They also include brain tumors, strokes, sleep disorders and concussions. To become a neurologist, you need to get an undergraduate degree, attend medical school for four years, do a year-long internship and complete at least three years of continued specialized training. Neurologists are medical physicians who don’t perform surgery. Neurosurgeons are the specialists who perform surgery on the brain.
A neurologist often acts as a consultant to a patient’s primary-care physician. As a neurologist, you’ll be called on to help diagnose a patient suffering from a neurological disorder or injury. You might be asked to treat the patient for the disorder you discover and continue to serve as an advisor for the primary-care physician who is managing the patient’s health in general. To make your diagnoses, you’ll rely on a variety of tests, including lab tests, x-rays and sleep studies.
Neurologists can also act in the role of a primary-care physician, especially for patients who have chronic neurological disorders. You’ll be caring for patients with seizure disorders or multiple sclerosis, or someone with Parkinson’s. You’ll supervise their treatments and prescribe medications to help control their symptoms. Many of your patients just need you to relieve pain and discomfort because a lot of the disorders you treat aren’t curable.
Though a neurologist doesn’t perform surgery, you can recommend surgical treatment when appropriate. When you do recommend a patient for surgery, you’ll still be able to follow up with the post-operative treatment and manage the continued care as needed. You can refer patients back to their primary-care physicians if the follow-up treatment plans warrant it. You’ll have the option of recommending rehabilitative treatment too, such as physical rehabilitation to strengthen the patient’s body, which might help alleviate some of your patient’s symptoms.
Research studies help neurologists to better understand the functions of the human brain. These studies can bring about new and better treatments for nervous-system disorders, such as the discovery of clot-busting drugs in treating strokes. You may play a role in performing research projects, but at the very least, it’s your responsibility to keep up with the latest findings. Your role in caring for your patients will continue to be even more rewarding as you’re able to incorporate new drugs and new treatment plans as they appear.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."