Neurology is the study of diseases and disorders that affect the human nervous system, which includes the brain, the spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. It is a highly complex medical field because any problem with the brain is going to mean some degree of disorder involving normal health and normal functioning. The principal medical people who treat such disorders are known as neurologists, pediatric neurologists, and neurosurgeons.
What is a neurologist? He or she is a doctor who specializes in the diseases and conditions that affect the nervous system. This is a complicated and demanding medical field that calls for complicated and extensive training to earn the degree of medical expertise that is needed.
As a first step, the future neurologist must earn a bachelor’s degree. Although no specific major is required, the next step is medical school admission, which does require knowledge in such areas as biology, anatomy, and chemistry. The first two years of medical school mainly involve classroom and laboratory work. The last two years give the future doctor clinical practice dealing with such fields as psychiatry, pediatrics, geriatrics, and obstetrics. By the end of medical school, the future neurologist must complete the two parts of the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination). This is followed by a one-year internship in internal medicine/surgery, and that is followed by three years of a hospital residency in neurology. At that successful conclusion, passing part 3 of the USMLE earns a medical license. A neurologist who wants a sub-specialty must complete one or two years of further training such as child or geriatric psychiatry. Once completed, he or she must pass written and oral exams to become board certified.
The medical conditions and treatments for the problems that involve the neurologist do not include surgery. Instead, the neurologist concentrates on curing difficulties through the use of medications, physical therapy, and/or rehabilitation procedures. For instance, if a person suffers a stroke, his or her primary care doctor might call for a neurologist in a consulting role. The primary care doctor remains the main physician in this case and the neurologist has the role of suggesting and supervising the patient’s treatment. Besides stroke, other common medical problems to be treated by a neurologist include: Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, and spinal cord injuries. The object is to help a patient with such a disorder to maintain the best possible quality of life.
The start of a neurologist’s treatment of any neurological disorder generally begins with a review of the patient’s health history and a physical examination. This includes a test of vision, strength, reflexes, and coordination in order to be certain that the problem stems from the nervous system and in order to find a specific treatment for it.
To diagnose and treat a suspected neurological problem, the neurologist may use these procedures:
- Lumbar puncture. A needle is inserted into the lower back (lumbar area) to collect cerebrospinal (CSF) fluid, called a culture, which is examined to find
the cause of various problems, such as bleeding in the area.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG). Electrodes are applied to the scalp to test electrical activity in the brain.
What is a pediatric neurologist? He or she is a medical doctor who has special training to deal with problems in children from birth to young adulthood. These problems may include seizures, head injuries, cerebral palsy, and behavioral and developmental disorders such as autism or delayed speech. The child neurologist may work as part of a team with a primary care doctor or pediatrician. Generally, a pediatric neurosurgeon salary falls between that of a pediatrician and a neurologist.
Depending upon the problem, the child neurologist may provide follow-up care on the young patient into adolescence. These doctors complete four years of medical school, followed by one to two years of pediatric residency, and three or more years of residency that deals with child neurology. A child neurologist may work with a primary care doctor or with other pediatricians to diagnose and care for problems in children and young people. Any parent who has reason to look for a “pediatric neurologist near me” generally will begin the search with his or her primary care doctor.
A neurosurgeon treats patients with injury to or diseases of the brain, spine, or peripheral nerves. Such problems may include damage from injuries to the head and spine; birth defects; clogged neck arteries, which puts the person in danger of a stroke; tumors of the brain and spine; and any injury or condition that affects the face, arms, and legs.
Training for the neurosurgeon involves four years of medical school and an internship program, followed by a five- to seven-year neurosurgical residency program. After residency and some years in practice, a neurosurgeon is eligible to take the American Board of Neurological Surgery examination. This is a test of knowledge as well as skill, and when the test is passed, the neurosurgeon will receive board certification.
A neurosurgeon has a responsibility to keep abreast of changes in the complicated and changing area of neurological disorders. In addition, they are often asked for assistance by family or emergency room doctors for aid with a complicated or poorly understood neurological condition.
Neurology in Today’s World
Neurology may be one of the least understood practices in the medical world and one of the most important. No one thinks much about the work of the neurologist until a child is born with a birth defect or a construction worker falls from a fifth-floor scaffold and breaks his spine, or an elderly woman suffers a stroke and is no longer able to talk. Then the knowledge, understanding, and experience of the neurologist or the child neurologist or the neurosurgeon can be of vital importance. Often working with the family doctor as a consultant or knowledgeable aide, the neurologist can be – and often is – of vital importance in the modern medical world.