Your Guide to the Best Neurology Residency Programs (2023)

March 31, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/13/22

As recent discoveries about the human brain continue to surprise the medical community, neurology is an attractive specialization for graduating medical students and medical doctors looking to pursue a residency program.  

Neurology is not the most competitive residency program nor the easiest. According to 2021 Main Residency Match data, 127 eligible neurology programs received 1441 applications for PGY-1 and 951 for PGY-2. The number of matches were respectively 702 and 253; making the entry ratio approximately 1 out of 2 applicants for the preliminary year and 1 out of 4 for the categorical residency. 

Compared to the widespread Internal Medicine residency program (729 different programs) or more challenging programs like Medicine Primary (approximately 1 out of 6 applicants matched), Neurology’s figures encourage applicants to seriously research beforehand the specific residency program that speaks to their personal interests and previous experience. 

Various factors are considered when assessing the best neurology programs: 

  • The ranking of their respective hospitals as well as affiliated universities, 
  • The credentials and research output of their faculty members, 
  • The level of innovation in their facilities and departments, 
  • The total number of funds awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Based on these factors, we have named the five most attractive neurology residency programs for 2022. We explain what they are, what makes them special, and provide a helpful tip to consider when applying to them.

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The University of California, San Francisco

The Department of Neurology at the UCSF Medical Center offers two residency programs: four years in Adult Neurology and five years in Child Neurology.

Residents are exposed to the diverse range of health care populations present across UCSF hospitals, including the Veterans Administration Medical Center, the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, and the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, which serves uninsured and underinsured patients.

A unique element for neurology residents at UCSF is its Flexible Neurology Residency Program. In their fourth year, residents can opt to work on their own research component, lasting up to six months, and eligible for a range of laboratory training grants, including funds from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Residents at the Child Neurology program would also have the chance to spend a year in Adult Neurology and be incorporated within UCSF’s Pediatrics Residency Program. 

Facts and figures

Ranked 1st in the US News’ Best Hospitals for Neurology & Neurosurgery list, the UCSF Medical Center is arguably the best hospital to establish a neurology residency.

Former neurology residents at UCSF lead outstanding careers at the forefront of their discipline. Karen Hsiao, who completed her neurology residency at UCSF, would afterward belong to the team of neurologists that explained the genetic basis of the extremely rare neurodegenerative brain disorder, the Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker disease.

Excellent mentors will be accessible to neurology residents at UCSF. In 2011, Bill Seeley, the current Director of the UCSF Neurodegenerative Disease Brain Bank, became the first neurologist to receive a MacArthur “Genius” award.

The University of California, San Francisco is also ranked 1st by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research in NIH funding for Neurology. It amassed almost a whopping 74 million dollars from the organizational body – around 10 million more than Washington University at 2nd place. 

Things to Know

Applicants to the UCSF neurology residency program should be aware that it is  “primarily motivated in training future academic neurology physicians.” According to an internal study, more than 75% of UCSF-trained neurologists were still occupying academic posts two decades after the end of their residencies.

Therefore, prospective residents should showcase their research interests, and any relevant academic publications in the field of neurology. Applicants can also highlight research interests and experiences that speak to the specific focus of UCSF’s leadership. For example, Andrew Josephson, the Chair of the Department is known for his research on neurovascular disorders, while Robert Edwards, the Vice-Chair for Research works on Parkinson’s disease.

Columbia University

The Columbia University Department of Neurology offers two residencies: four years in Adult Neurology and five years in Child Neurology.

A highlight of the Adult Neurology residency program is its Ambulatory Neurology Continuity Clinic, which aims to “provide high-quality neurologic care to the members of our community and advance resident education and engagement in ambulatory neurology.” 

The training component is rigorous (week-long blocks every six weeks) and is meant to facilitate the post-residency transition of neurology residents. Most of them will practice in the outpatient setting once their program is completed.

Those interested in the Child Neurology residency program will be happy to learn that pioneering work at the Neurological Institute at Columbia University led to “the birth of child neurology as a subspecialty of neurology, the formation of the Child Neurology Society and the implementation of a formal Child Neurology Training Program.” 

Sidney Carter, the arguable founder of child neurology, headed Columbia’s Neurological Institute for thirty years.

Facts and figures

Ranked 2nd in the US News’s Best Hospitals for Neurology & Neurosurgery ranking, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, affiliated with Columbia University and Weill Cornell Medicine, is a great place for ambitious medical doctors to grow as neurology specialists. 

Neurology residents at Columbia will also have the chance to be taught by humane neurologists working at the front of global social justice. Hiral Shah, assistant professor of neurology at Columbia, worked with the World Health Organization on public health aspects of neurological illnesses; she is also a Global Health and Aging Policy Fellow. Residents under Shah’s supervision will also appreciate that she used to be a neurology resident at Columbia University.

Columbia University is also ranked 3rd by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research of NIH funding for Neurology. It amassed almost a whopping 50 million dollars from the organizational body – around 15 million more than Stanford University at 4th place. 

Things to Know

It is important to note that the Department of Neurology recently added a new component to its neurology residency program, called Residency Tracks. The goal of the initiative is to encourage neurology residents to develop skills and knowledge in one of the four fields that Columbia University finds especially important for a holistic residency program: 

  • Basic, Clinical, and Translational Research
  • Medical Education
  • Global and Community Health
  • Quality Improvement

Applicants who can use their experience to elaborate on this new addition to the residency curriculum and reflect on its importance would help their application stand out from the rest. Columbia University advocates for a holistic residency experience that connects neurology with the larger domain of healthcare, and prospective residents should make clear their readiness to see the bigger picture.

Johns Hopkins Hospital

The Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital offers three residency programs: three years in Adult Neurology, three years in Pediatric Neurology, seven years in Neurosurgery Residency Program. 

Neurology residents at Johns Hopkins have recently benefited from the latest expansions to the hospital, especially after the unveiling of the Sheikh Zayed Tower in 2012. 

As a result of a $1.1 billion investment in patient care, the Sheikh Zayed Tower hosts several centers. This includes a brand new 24-bed neurosciences critical care unit, a Brain Recovery Unit, as well as a state-of-the-art intraoperative MRI machine that provides real-time images of the brain during surgery.

Johns Hopkins also prides itself on having an Adult Neurology residency program “distinguished by its collegial and investigative atmosphere.” 

Facts and Figures 

Ranked 4 in the US News’ list of the Best Hospitals for Neurology & Neurosurgery, the Johns Hopkins Hospital is an appealing alternative for aspiring neurology residents.

Johns Hopkins has prepared its former neurology residents for great leadership positions nationwide. In 2021, John F. de Groot, who completed his neurology residency at Johns Hopkins in 2002, was named Division Chief of Neuro-Oncology at UCSF Medical Center. Similarly, James B. Brewer, the current Chair of the UC San Diego Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, had also finished his neurology residency in Baltimore. 

Neurology residents at Johns Hopkins have access to professors who hold memberships at some of the world’s most prestigious science academies. One-third of the select number of faculty members from Johns Hopkins elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2021 belonged to its Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. 

Johns Hopkins is also ranked 8th by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research in NIH funding for Neurology. It amassed approximately 27 million dollars from the organizational body – almost as much as the amount collected by Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania combined. 

Things to Know

Residents in Child Neurology benefit from the close collaboration between their work at Johns Hopkins and its affiliate, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a pioneer institution in autism spectrum disorders. 

Applicants who have worked with persons with a disability are encouraged to highlight that facet of their past experiences. Experience can be clinical, but it can also occur  outside typical hospital settings. 

For example, working with NGOs that champion neurodiversity is especially welcome and shows a prospective resident’s desire to impact others both inside and outside the hospital they are applying to. 

Therefore, applicants are encouraged to learn about Kennedy Krieger Institute’s recent work of the and frame their applications according to these developments.

New York University 

NYU Langone’s Department of Neurology offers three residency programs: 

  • Three years in Adult Neurology
  • Five years in Child Neurology
  • Six years in Neurology and Psychiatry.

A notable facet in the NYU Langone Neurology Residency Program is its Patient-Oriented Research Curriculum. Residents are paired with research faculty who become their mentors throughout their residency and collaborate with them within their research projects.

Another gem available to NYU Langone neurology residents is the New York Simulation Center for the Health Sciences (NYSIM). Conceived following the 9/11 attacks, a range of emergency-tailored facilities – “everything from clinical birthing scenarios to critical injuries caused by natural disasters or accidents” – are made accessible for neurology residents and their specialized training needs.  

Facts and Figures

Ranked 5in the US News’ list of the Best Hospitals for Neurology & Neurosurgery, NYU Langone is an exciting and dynamic place to work as a neurology resident.

Former neurology residents at NYU Langone move to pursue cutting-edge research in their fields. Jessica Ailani, who completed her neurology residency at NYU Langone in 2008, is the current director of Georgetown Headache Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

Neurology residents at NYU Langone also have access to faculty members with impressive careers. The work of Richard W. Tsien, Professor at the Department of Neurology, has received recognition from all the major scientific institutions, including The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and The National Academy of Sciences.

New York University is also ranked 14th by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research regarding NIH funding for Neurology. It amassed approximately 17 million dollars from the organizational body – around three million more than its rival on the West Coast, UCLA.

Things to Know

Adult Neurology at NYU Langone is split between Manhattan-track and Brooklyn-track students. Applicants to the program are often unsure which of the two programs they should apply to, given that each has a different application procedure. 

Their choice should depend on whether they prefer a centralized or decentralized residency experience. While residents placed in Manhattan are exposed to “diverse patient populations and the full range of neurological disorders, all within a 10-block radius,” Brooklyn-track students benefit from a more tight-knit and local residency experience within NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn. It is a tertiary referral center for neurointensive care, vascular neurology, and epilepsy. 

Life in New York City is dynamic and unpredictable. Choosing between the Manhattan-track and the Brooklyn-track is an important element, and prospective neurology residents should weigh which of the two is more fitting to them personally.

Northwestern University

The Ken & Ruth Davee Department of Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine offers only one type of residency program: four years in Adult Neurology.

Current neurology residents have access to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, “the first-ever translational research hospital where clinicians, scientists, innovators and technologists work together in the same space, applying research in real time to physical medicine and rehabilitation.” 

The lab is currently at the forefront of research in neuroplasticity and neurostimulation. It hosts a Neurorehabilitation, a Neural Engineering Laboratory and a Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.

Future neurology residents will also benefit from a new neuroscience institute. Forbes revealed that Northwestern received a record donation worth 480$ million from the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Family, a lion share of which will be going to improve studies of the brain.  

Facts and Figures

Ranked in the US News’ list of the Best Hospitals for Neurology & Neurosurgery, Northwestern Memorial Hospital is an esteemed working environment for prospective neurology residents.

Former neurology residents at Johns Hopkins have led successful careers in their fields. Binit B. Shah, who completed his neurology residency at Northwestern, now serves as the associate director of the University of Virginia Medical Center’s neurology residency program. Another former neurology resident at Northwestern, Adam J. Wolff, is currently the Director of Neurology and Stroke at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver.

Neurology residents at Northwestern also have the chance to be taught by faculty members who stood in their shoes. Scott Heller, current Clinical Associate Professor of Neurology at Northwestern, also completed his neurology residency there.

Northwestern University is also ranked 5th by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research in NIH funding for Neurology. It amassed almost 33 million dollars from the organizational body – slightly more than Yale University at 6th place. 

Things to know

A specific highlight of Northwestern’s residency program is its investment in the close relationship between neurology and radiology. Not only does Northwestern find that “close collaboration with neurosurgery and interventional radiology is a highlight” of its residency program, but that “a monthly combined neurology – neuroradiology didactic conference is also a popular part of the didactic curriculum.”

Applicants who can build on these fertile connections as part of their application, perhaps by elaborating on their previous experience with medical imaging, will especially attract the attention of Northwestern’s neurology team.

FAQS: Best Neurology Residency Programs

1. Is there any US clinical experience requirement for admissions into the top neurology residency programs?

Yes. UCSF Medical Center requires its neurology residency applicants to have completed a minimum of 4 months of evaluated clinical experience in the US. Northwestern’s Department of Neurology requires one year of US experience.

2. I graduated from medical school a while ago. Can I still apply to these neurology residency programs?

It will depend on the hospital you apply to. Like the UCSF Medical Center, some hospitals will only consider applicants who graduated from medical school within the last five years. Columbia University, however, does not have any graduating cut-off date. 

3. Do neurology residency programs sponsor visas?

Yes. Northwestern sponsors H1B and J1 visas for its accepted neurology residents. Most neurology residencies sponsor these visas too. 

4. How many recommendation letters do I need to include in my application?

Most residency programs require applicants to submit 3 to 4 recommendation letters.   

5. Will I be able to teach medical students as a neurology resident?

Absolutely. At Columbia University, for example, Residents as Teachers is an integral component of its neurology residency program. 

6. How many positions are available at neurology residency programs?

The number of accepted residents depends on the hospital. UCSF Medical Center usually advertises 11 to 12 positions for Adult Neurology each year. Johns Hopkins, however, welcomes eight residents every intake.

Final Thoughts

There is no simple formula for picking the best neurology residency programs. We showed the different angles with which neurology can be considered from one hospital to another, and applicants should look for similar insights as they choose their preferred program. 

Prospective neurology residents should choose programs that speak to their research and career interests. After completing their residency, they will have the chance to pursue research fellowships with some of the leading minds in the field of neurology. It would be an advantage if their mentors shared their own interests and pushed them to follow in their footsteps during their residency program.

Now that you have an idea of the top country's neurology residency programs, researching how to ace the residency interview and pen your best personal statement can help you maximize your chances of acceptance. Best of luck!

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