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What is a Neurologist?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A neurologist is a doctor who treats disorders of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and some of the muscles. Neurologists should not be confused with neurosurgeons, surgeons who have pursued specialized training so that they can operate on the nervous system. Neurologists and neurosurgeons may in fact work together on complex cases, with the neurologist referring a patient to a neurosurgeon for surgical treatment, while surgeons may recommend that their patients pursue follow up appointments and long term care with a neurologist after a surgery is successful.

In order to become a neurologist, someone must complete a four year undergraduate degree, obtain a medical degree, which requires another four years of training, and then complete an internship in neurology. The neurology internship takes four years, and requires an initial year of internal medicine or pediatrics, for someone who intends to be a pediatric neurologist. All told, 12 years of schooling are involved, and a neurologist may pursue a fellowship after his or her internship is complete to gain additional training.

Neurologists can work at hospitals and clinics. They treat emergent neurological conditions along with congenital issues, and chronic illnesses. Patients who are at risk for damage to their nervous systems may also be evaluated by a neurologist during their general workup, as for example when a patient is thrown by a horse and requires medical treatment. Some neurologists choose to focus on particular areas of interest, such as inherited neurological diseases, and they may work as researchers in addition to being doctors, as in the case of a neurologist who supervises studies on conditions like multiple sclerosis.

Hours for neurologists tend to be very regular, as they can set specific office or clinic hours, although some neurologists may be on call to deal with emergent neurological problems in emergency rooms, which can require attending to patient needs at odd hours. Rates of pay can be quite good for these physicians, reflecting their years of highly specialized training and the scope of diagnostic and treatment options they can wield.

Pediatric neurology, a subfield within the broader discipline of neurology, focuses on the treatment of children with neurological conditions. A pediatric neurologist may work at a children's hospital, neurological clinic, or general hospital, acting as a consultant when pediatric patients are brought in with neurological conditions. Work in this field can be especially interesting, because the nervous systems of children are still growing and developing, and this can create some intriguing clinical situations and medical issues.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By goldenmist — On May 22, 2011

My favorite publishing neurologist is Oliver Sacks who's written very readable books on various neurological case studies. Don't worry, it's not too heavy on jargon, but it's enlightening to read and realize the many different ways our brains work (and occasionally don't work). He goes into great narrative detail about the ways in which people deal with and adapt to their conditions while at the same time illuminating how the human brain manages matters of perception, memory and the idea of the self.

He has his critics, though. Some people have accused him of exploiting his patients in order to write about them. I disagree; I think his books are more about being informative than entertaining.

By Engelbert — On May 20, 2011

I think because, like @roser said, the brain is such a complex thing, it makes neurology research all the more interesting. It's fascinating to read about neurologists attempting to attack such controversial questions like what is the difference between a so-called religious experience and schizophrenia? Why is it that so many of the famous religious giants also appear to have suffered from some form of epilepsy?

I'm agnostic and don't believe science can prove for certain that God is just our temporal lobe talking, but it's still interesting to think about nonetheless.

By roser — On May 19, 2011

I've been seeing a neurologist for the past four years or so, since I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 18. I can speak from experience that it's important to find a neurologist that's right for you because neurological disorders are not to be treated lightly. Medications used to treat neurological disorders are usually something that needs to be monitored very carefully to avoid some quite scary adverse effects.

The brain is such a complex thing; if only we knew more about how to treat it and what actually causes conditions like epilepsy.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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