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Neurology and neurosurgery are lucrative fields in high demand almost everywhere you look. Before you can decide how to go about becoming a doctor of neurology, it first helps to know whether you’re interested in becoming a neurologist or a neurosurgeon.


What is a Neurologist?

A neurologist is a doctor specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of disorders involving the nervous system and the brain. Neurologists can serve either as consultants to patients’ primary care providers or, in cases where a neurological disorder requiring frequent care is present, as the principal care providers themselves. One thing neurologists cannot do, however, is perform surgery. For that, a neurosurgeon is required, although the neurologist is still involved in those patients’ care by monitoring their condition after surgery and supervising continuing treatment.

What is a Neurosurgeon?

A neurosurgeon is a doctor who specializes in providing surgical treatments of injuries, illnesses or congenital disorders of any part of the nervous system, including the peripheral nerves, spine, and brain. Sometimes, based on the nature of the illness, injury or congenital disorder, a neurosurgeon may also provide non-surgical care.

Neurological conditions

Neurological conditions that neurologists and neurosurgeons treat include disorders involving the brain, nerves, spinal cord, nervous system, muscles. They also treat nerve-related pain. Among the most common disorders neurologists treat are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • brain and spinal injuries
  • brain tumors
  • epilepsy
  • headaches
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • peripheral nervous disorders
  • sleep disorders
  • tremors

Among the most common neurological conditions that neurosurgeons treat are:

  • birth defects
  • brain aneurysms, clogged arteries in the neck and other cerebrovascular disorders
  • chronic lower back pain
  • peripheral nerve abnormalities (in the arms, face, hands, feet and/or legs)
  • trauma to the head or spine
  • tumors of the brain or spine
  • Educational Requirements to Become a Doctor of Neurology

    To become a neurologist or neurosurgeon, certain schooling is required. The educational requirements to become a neurologist are:

    • an undergraduate degree
    • four years of medical school
    • one year of internship
    • three years of training in the specialty of neurology

    It is common for neurologists to also receive further training in a specific specialty within the field of neurology, like epilepsy, movement disorders or stroke.
    The educational requirements to become a neurosurgeon are:

    • an undergraduate degree
    • four years of medical school
    • one year of internship
    • five to seven years in a neurosurgical residency program

    Medical School

    No specific undergraduate degree is required to enter medical school, although many would-be neurologists and neurosurgeons choose a major in advanced biological sciences in order to meet certain medical school admissions requirements. Despite this, there are certain pre-med pre requisite courses an undergraduate student must take in order to be accepted into medical school. These include classes like biochemistry, human anatomy, and microbiology. Also necessary to get into most medical schools is a GPA of at least 3.5 or at least ranking in the top of your graduating class.
    Students wishing to attend medical school after undergraduate school will ideally take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) during their Junior year in their undergraduate program. This is a skills assessment and multiple-choice question test that evaluates the training of each candidate. Following the passage of this exam, the prospective medical student then submits their application by mail or via a web-based service run by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
    There are certain additional measures a student may take to increase his or her chances of being accepted into medical school. These include:

    • learning a foreign language – as neurosurgeons often work with patients who don’t speak English
    • volunteerism – as it shows a candidate’s drive to serve his or her community
    • participation in job shadowing programs – as it demonstrates initiative and the exposure to some of the realities they’ll face in the field they’re pursuing

    While attending medical school, most of a student’s curriculum is already determined by required coursework and experiential units. However, a medical student may opt to tailor his or her training toward more specialized coursework in such areas as surgical practice, clinical research, disease management and medical diagnostics. In many cases, a student could also opt to earn his or her experiential units in rotations spent examining and treating patients in a teaching hospital while under the direct supervision of licensed and practicing brain surgeons. Once a student completes medical school, he or she receives the Doctor of Medicine certificate required to move on to the next stage of becoming a neurosurgeon or neurologist.

    Internship and Residency

    Once an aspiring neurologist or neurosurgeon has earned an M.D., he or she moves on to attending a yearlong internship at a hospital. During the student’s internship, he or she will learn how to manage real patients while developing a host of other useful skills to benefit them in their later careers.
    The internship portion of the educational requirements for becoming a neurologist or neurosurgeon is followed by a residency in neurosurgery lasting between 6 and 8 years. During the residency portion of an aspiring neurosurgeon or neurologist training, he or she works beside a licensed and practicing neurologist or neurosurgeon acquiring a hands-on education in the essential techniques and skills in the field. This includes care for the spine, cerebrovascular system, trauma, tumors, and pediatrics. At some point during this residency, the student actually scrubs in to assist in performing neurosurgical procedures.
    Learn more about pediatric neurologist salary here.
    Because there are so many components to the human nervous system and such advanced medical techniques used to perform neurosurgery operations, many neurosurgery students choose to take on a second fellowship after their initial residency, focusing on a more specific area of the field.
    Once neurosurgery students feel they are ready, they can take the American Board of Neurological Surgery exam. Passing this exam will grant a student board certification as a neurosurgeon.

    Licensure and Certification to Be a Doctor of Neurology

    To become a doctor of neurology of any sort, a medical license is required. The candidate takes the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) administered by the Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Board of Medical Examiners. The candidate can choose to take this exam immediately following medical school or whilst attending the initial portion of a residency training program. That said, however, many residency programs base their determinations of a candidate’s qualifications on his or her results from this exam. No person in the United States may legally practice medicine without first passing this exam.
    To be licensed as a neurologist or neurosurgeon, a candidate must do the following:

    • apply through the medical board of their state
    • pay the necessary fees
    • submit their scores from the required exams and their school transcripts

    A few years after beginning to practice as a licensed neurosurgeon, the individual can also choose to apply to the American Board of Neurological Surgery for Board Certification. In addition to passing another exam, the individual must demonstrate that he or she has met certain additional practicum and educational requirements in order to receive Board Certification.
    Neurologists and neurosurgeons can also opt to obtain certain voluntary certifications as well, which can be used to help expand a job-seeking physician’s or surgeon’s career opportunities.

    Continuing Education for Neurologists and Neurosurgeons

    Neurosurgery is an ever-evolving field with constant new discoveries and advances emerging, Therefore, neurosurgeons must keep continuing their education long after they’ve received their board certification in order to renew their license and board certification. This continuing education can come in the form of specialized symposia, annual meetings, and monthly scientific journals, among other opportunities.

    Demeanor Required to Be a Neurologist or Neurosurgeon

    Treating patients with illnesses, injuries, and disorders of the brain, spine and nervous systemrequires a certain demeanor in its practitioners. Besides being compassionate and empathetic towards the needs and plight of their patients, neurology doctors must also be able to maintain a calm demeanor and sharp, clear-headed focus, particularly when facing life-threatening situations. Doctors of neurology should also possess strong leadership abilities and communication skills, so they can manage their team, as well as strong problem-solving and organizational skills, so they can most effectively care for their patients. Neurosurgeons, in particular, must also possess great dexterity and stamina in order to sustain long, focused periods in the operating room. It also goes without saying, perhaps, that a detailed working knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and spinal cord is also necessary.

    How Much Do Neurosurgeons Make?

    The big factor in deciding to pursue a career-path in neurology, of course, may well be the answer to the question of how much do neurosurgeons make. As of 2004, a Neurosurgeon salary is approximately $240,440 per year. A neurologist, meanwhile, makes slightly less, with an average salary that ranges between $144,000 and $216,000, depending on the particular neurologist’s level of seniority.
    To discuss the possibility of becoming a neurologist or neurosurgeon, search the Internet for “neurosurgeon near me”, and ask if you can pick his or her brain (no pun intended). And if you find that there is no “neurosurgeon near me”, then maybe that role is meant to be fulfilled by none other than you.

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