How to Become a Neurologist

April 25, 2024
Contents

”Luke

Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

The road to pursuing neurology is a long journey. This guide will explore how to become a neurologist, the major steps, and the ultimate goal of establishing a neurology practice.

Becoming a neurologist requires at least 12 years of progressive learning before practicing. However, all that time and effort eventually pays off. You can enter subspecialties, find research opportunities, and help patients who suffer from neurological diseases or disorders. 

For many, being a neurologist is worth all the hardship. From pre-med studies to board certification, tuition to average annual salaries, this guide will reveal everything you need to know about becoming a neurologist.

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Becoming a Neurologist: Step-by-Step

We’ll outline how to become a neurologist below, step-by-step. 

Pre-Med Program Prerequisites 

To become a neurologist, you’ll have to earn your bachelor’s degree, take the MCAT exam, and complete medical school. Striving for a high GPA in high school is crucial to entering a pre-med or related program where you can take the necessary prerequisite courses.

Undergraduate Program

To prepare for medical school, you should focus on relevant subjects during college. Early courses relating to neurology include biological sciences, microbiology, biochemistry, and human anatomy.

You should maintain a healthy GPA to give you a better chance of admission to your first-choice medical school. 

Imagine with a text explaining that GPA is important, but not everything that matters for college admissions

Even at such an early stage, you can gain relevant experience by shadowing a physician, volunteering in the field, or working administrative jobs in healthcare.

Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Sometime during your last two years as an undergrad, you must take the MCAT exam. The MCAT is a rigorous test that measures your problem-solving and critical thinking skills. It also tests your familiarity with scientific concepts and principles.

Medical School

Just like college, your medical school career will run for four years. However, unlike your pre-med experience, the content of your medical school curriculum focuses on the study of medicine.

Your medical school experience will likely be divided into two distinct parts: two years of pre-clinical followed by two years of clinical training. Your pre-clinical years are geared toward teaching you general medical concepts. However, clinical training is where you may gain hands-on experience interacting with patients in more specialized contexts. 

Internship

Now that you’ve gone through a collective eight years of academia, you’re ready to gain more experience. Your first step should be toward an internship.

This internship should be about one year long to give you more hands-on experience as a physician in a real-world setting. You’ll also hone the necessary interpersonal skills. Since a neurologist’s main duties are diagnostics and non-surgical treatment, effectively and sympathetically communicating with patients is an integral skill.

Before your internship runs its course, you should pursue residency opportunities related to neurology.

Residency

Your residency is where you can perform as a specialized physician. Since you’ve chosen neurology as your desired specialization, your residency is three years long.

You’ll become more familiar and experienced with neurological practice because of inpatient and outpatient rotations. Each year you’ll be given more independence and responsibility to work with patients and perform other duties.

Another notable difference between your residency and your previous internship experience is that you’ll be paid as a medical resident. The average annual compensation for a medical resident is $57,880. 

State Medical Licensure Examinations

You need a state medical license to practice as a medical doctor. To become state-licensed, you’ll pass three exams administered by the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

To avoid delays, ensure you apply for a license in all the states you hope to practice in. 

American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology Certification

Board certification is the final step before you can practice as a neurologist. The board certification exam tests your knowledge of neurological concepts and practices, especially the diagnosis of impaired nervous system function.

Note that there’s a separate board certification exam for neurology with special qualification in child neurology. After passing the USMLE exams and receiving a neurology board certification with or without a special qualification in child neurology, you can officially call yourself a neurologist. 

However, you can also pursue board certification in a neurological subspecialty. This step is only necessary if you wish to pursue an intensely specialized practice such as neuromuscular medicine, vascular neurology, neurodevelopmental disabilities, etc.

Maintenance of Board Certification

If you completed these steps, you’re now a neurologist. However, there is a caveat. Advances in neuroscience and neurological practice never cease to progress, so you shouldn’t either. To maintain your board certification and continue practicing as a neurologist, you’ll have to participate in a C-MOC program.

There is no end date for a C-MOC program as it serves to maintain your certification. These requirements include completing:

Meeting program requirements enables you to keep practicing as a neurologist.

What Does a Neurologist Do? 

You may have noticed that the complete nervous system is related to just about every major and minor bodily function. A neurologist’s duties consist of diagnosing, treating, and managing brain and nervous system disorders like: 

  • ALS
  • Dementia
  • Epilepsy
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • MS
  • Concussions

Neurology is a non-surgical practice, unlike its related practice of neurosurgery. Neurologists use detailed patient history with physical examinations to pinpoint disorders. 

The neurologist's role is more cerebral than other medical specializations since it relies on the neurologist’s diagnostic skills to uncover often rare nervous system disorders and diseases.

Neurologists can choose from fellowships that best fit their professional goals, from child neurology to clinical research and neuropharmacology.

How Hard Is It to Become a Neurologist?

Becoming a neurologist is almost as hard as actually practicing as a neurologist due to rigorous neurology education requirements. 

An examination of U.S. medical students and residents found that they considered neurology one of the most difficult medical specializations. These students and residents also felt they had the “least confidence in dealing with patients with neurological complaints.”

This same study concluded that this unease toward neurology stemmed from the “complexity of neurological diagnosis and basic neuroscience.” However, first-year residents suggest that more patient exposure helps aspiring neurologists break through the initial complexity of neurology.

Yes, it’s hard to become a neurologist. Yet, with practical experience, the path to being a neurologist gets easier. Moreover, a lack of prospective neurologists combined with an ever-increasing demand for them means very little competition for positions.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Neurologist? 

The average Neurologist salary in the United States is $280,400 as of September 2023, but the range typically falls between $245,000 and $329,200. The time and cost associated with becoming a neurologist is equally notable. There’s pre-med fees, med school fees, and the cost of living during your internship and residency period, too.

Let’s consider pre-med expenses first. The cost of pre-med education varies depending on the institution and location.The estimated direct and indirect costs for pre-med education are as follows:

  • Tuition and fees: $33,502
  • Room and board/living: $13,066
  • Books and supplies: $1,082
  • Miscellaneous/personal: $3,832

Then comes the medical school expenses. The cost of medical school varies depending on the institution type and location. The total costs of medical school range from $159,620 (in-state, public school) to $256,412 (out-of-state, private school). The cost of medical school includes tuition, fees, books, and living expenses. The average private school cost for medical school is $62,570 for one year.

After completing medical school, neurologists must complete a residency program, which typically lasts for four years. During residency, neurologists receive a salary, but it is generally lower than the average neurologist salary.

Once your residency comes along, the average Medical Resident salary in the United States is $57,880, but the salary range typically falls between $51,557 and $64,519. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession.

Even after years of neurological practice and the approximate $280,400 per annum that comes with it, you will still be dealing with student debt in addition to the cost of living. Yet once it is all paid off, your hefty annual salary will almost definitely give you freedom from all financial woes.

Is Neurology Right for You? How to Decide

Since neurology is a non-surgical practice, a neurologist spends most of their time communicating and diagnosing patients. This is why interpersonal communication skills are key for an aspiring neurologist.

Dr. Govindarajan, a neurologist specializing in neuromuscular disease, gives four adjectives to describe a typical physician in neurology: “Thoughtful. Empathetic. Sincere and responsive.” Since neurology is complex and relies on careful communication for diagnosis, a sincere emotional investment in the well-being of patients is fundamental.

As for the career path of a neurologist, the various fellowships make it possible to find the particular position that’s right for you. Neurology’s many subspecializations come with different work schedules and conceptual focuses. There are even research opportunities and non-medical positions to consider. 

Other Considerations

One important thing to consider is that a neurologist is not a neurosurgeon. While a neurologist’s role is non-surgical, a neurosurgeon’s role obviously is surgical. Both medical practitioners tend to work closely together, yet they are distinct from each other.

The path to becoming a neurosurgeon is much different from the neurologist's path. For one thing, a neurosurgeon must spend upward of six years in residency compared to a neurologist’s three years. The pay is also different. the average pay of a neurosurgeon in the United States is $666,401 as of September 2023. However, the range typically falls between $501,801 and $843,301.  

It’s also worthy to note that though neurology is somewhat competitive in top residency programs, it remains an overall relatively non-competitive residency. The discrepancy between the increasing demand for neurologists and the dearth of neurologists in supply means there’s little competition in establishing a practice, too. 

FAQs: Becoming a Neurologist

Do you have more questions about the path to being a neurologist? These FAQs can provide you with more direction. 

1. What Impacts a Neurologist’s Salary?

There are many factors to consider when trying to pinpoint a salary. Some of the most notable factors are as follows:

  • Type of practice (academic, hospital-employed, or private)
  • State and city of practice
  • Neurological subspecialties

Consider these factors first before accepting a position.

2. What Is the Highest-Paying Neurological Subspecialty?

The highest paying neurological subspecialty is neurocritical care, with an average salary of $350,000 or more. It is important to note that the highest paying neurological subspecialty can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and demand. 

3. How Long Does It Take to Become a Neurologist? 

How long it takes to become a neurologist depends on if you subspecialize, fast-track your college education, or take gap years. However, it takes approximately 12 years to become a neurologist. 

4. What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Neurologist? 

Schooling for neurology is a long process: you must obtain a bachelor’s degree, attend medical school, pursue an internship, and attend a residency program. 

5. How Much Do Neurologists Make?

The average salary for a neurologist is $290,000. 

6. Is Being a Neurologist Worth It? 

Neurology is certainly worth it if you're passionate about the field and want to help patients with neurological disorders or diseases. According to the American Academy of Neurology, approximately 1 in 6 people are impacted by a neurological disease. Your work makes a huge difference!

Help Improve Public Health as a Neurologist

The path to becoming a neurologist is a long and often arduous one. It takes a great deal of emotional investment to get through the 12-year learning process that precedes practice.

With the information in this guide, your path should be better illuminated. If you’re looking for additional support, an experienced admissions consultant can help you at any stage. Good luck! 

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