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.
We’ll outline how to become a neurologist below, step-by-step.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $64,000.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Though the annual salary for a neurologist is considerable, averaging at $290,000 with about $39,000 in incentive bonus pay. However, the time and cost associated with pursuing neurology are equally notable. There’s college tuition, medical school tuition, the cost of living, and many other factors to consider.
The National Center for Education Statistics recently concluded that the “annual current dollar prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board” was:
However, the cost of your college education varies depending on the school you attend, your financial aid package, whether you’re an in-state student or not, and many other factors.
Then comes the medical school expenses. The recent debt of graduating medical students averaged $207,000 for four years. This includes:
In residency, the compensation you receive may ease the financial burden. However, the money you retain is subject to your particular living expenses and lifestyle.
Even after years of neurological practice and approximately $290,000 per annum, you’ll likely still have student debt.
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.
Do you have more questions about the path to being a neurologist? These FAQs can provide you with more direction.
There are many factors to consider when trying to pinpoint a salary. Some of the most notable factors are as follows:
Consider these factors first before accepting a position.
Interventional neurology and neurocritical care are among the highest-paying neurology subspecialties, often bringing in $350,000 or more.
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.
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.
The average salary for a neurologist is $290,000.
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!
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!