How to Become a
Neurologist

Female doctor looking a CT scan plaques while a father and daughter wait in the background

A career as a Neurologist requires significant formal education and extensive training. You have come to the right place to learn about the education, job duties, salaries, certification and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

What Does a Neurologist Do?

Neurologists are licensed physicians who diagnose and treat patients with nervous system disorders. Some Neurologists may also work in research or as university professors. This career requires extensive medical training and may be a good choice for those with a passion for learning about and treating diseases that affect the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.

Neurologists generally work in hospitals, clinics or universities to treat patients, or conduct research or teach students. They diagnose and treat neurological disorders like stroke, dementia and neuromuscular diseases. As they are also clinicians, their jobs entail examining patients and possibly ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests in order to determine a diagnosis and corresponding treatment. As researchers, they may participate in clinical studies and write articles for medical journals as well as present findings at professional meetings. Some common Neurologist duties and responsibilities include:

  • Patient Examination and Treatment, neurologists may work with primary care physicians on a consulting basis when a patient has symptoms that suggest a neurological issue.

  • After diagnostic testing they develop a treatment plan, they would also need to counsel patients or others on the background of neurological disorders including risk factors, genetic or environmental concerns.

  • Some neurologists work in research, to develop and administer clinical trials to expand neurology knowledge.

  • It is important for Neurologists to remain current in their fields and remain certified, in order to provide their patients with the best care for brain and central nervous system disorders.

Neurologist Skills

Neurologists are highly motivated and dedicated people, they are specialists who work with some of the most difficult medical conditions under highly stressful situations. Neurologists work in hospitals, private practice or a combination of both. The basic work hours for neurologists in a clinical practice may vary depending on patient needs and issues. They work shifts, weekends and have on-call responsibilities. A typical day involves seeing patients and completing paperwork. Although it can be an emotionally demanding career it can also be highly rewarding. A typical day for a researcher might be morning conferences, checking in with your team in the morning and research or clinic visits in the afternoon, and checkout rounds. Some Neurologists may only work 4 days a week depending on the size of their team and their seniority.

Other key Neurologist skills include:

  • The intellectual capacity to apply concepts of neurological medicine

  • The ability to find solutions to problems, dealing with people and directing the work of others

  • A self-assured and a strong decision maker

  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills

  • Ability to empathize with others

  • Emotional strength and maturity

  • Able to work under pressure and have the stamina for work long hours

  • Strong ethics

How Do You Become a Neurologist

Education and Training

It is a rather lengthy process to become a Neurologist. It involves many years of concentrated schooling. For those who want to become a Neurologist they must begin by first completing a Bachelor's degree. Although there is no prescribed undergraduate degree, it is beneficial to major in a scientific field like biology, chemistry or physics. Alternatively one can choose to major in pre-med which is a degree that includes all the necessary subjects required to apply to a medical school.

Once you become a qualified medical practitioner, those who would like to specialize in neurology must complete a one-year internship gaining experience in many different areas of medicine. When the internship is complete, prospective Neurologists should complete a three year residency where they will learn more about neurology while working with patients under the supervision of a licensed Neurologist. This residency may include rotations in related specialties like behavioral neurology, multiple sclerosis and child neurology. After the residency is complete, clinical fellowship programs in neurology are available for those doctors who wish to further advance their specializations in areas like epilepsy and neuroscience.

Because the majority of employers prefer that Neurologists are board certified, prospective Neurologist candidates should consider certification by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). The ABPN offers a board certification to eligible Neurologists who have passed a written, multiple-choice exam. Becoming board certified shows a level of professionalism and instils confidence in patients.

All states in the U.S. require that physicians and surgeons, including neurologists be state licensed. To qualify for this state license, all education requirements should first be met preceded by an exam. Thereafter passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination will allow one to be nationally licensed.

Finding a job

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment opportunities for physicians and surgeons, including neurologists, are expected to increase by 14 percent through 2024. The job growth is much faster than the average for all occupations as medical doctors are in high demand.  This projection is based on an increased demand for healthcare services by a growing and aging population.

A well-crafted resume that showcases your skills and experience is the first step in any successful job search. For guidance on creating a resume, take a look at our library of Neurologist resume samples.

The next step in your online search for Neurologist job opportunities is to look for job openings.  As you do this remember to leverage the professional network you have built up during your internship or any relevant work experiences.

Do not underestimate the advantage a well-articulated cover letter can give you. A cover letter should express your interest in the position and highlight your qualifications and what you can bring to the role. If you need some cover letter inspiration, check out our collection of cover letter samples.

How Much Do Neurologists’ Get Paid?

Salaries for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of all occupations. As reported by the BLS, physicians and surgeons with a variety of specializations, such as neurology, were paid a mean annual wage of $157,670 when working at hospitals in 2015, and those who worked for colleges and universities averaged $99,450 that year.

Top 10 States for a Neurologist Salary

Neurologists’ in the following states make the highest median annual wage in the U.S.

    New Hampshire

    $117.65

    Alabama

    $117.11

    Wyoming

    $116.25

    Minnesota

    $114.97

    Montana

    $113.86

    South Dakota

    $113.41

    Tennessee

    $112.79

    Colorado

    $112.34

    Indiana

    $109.51

    Wisconsin

    $108.55

    Neurologist Resources

    If a career as a Neurologist intrigues you but you would like to know more then we have put together this list of additional resources to help you as you continue to explore your career choice.

    On the Web

    American Association of Neurological Surgeons
    an organization that represents clinical and academic neurologists in the USA

    American Academy of Neurology
    members have access to publications, tools to help track and maintain certification, and notices of annual meetings

    Industry Groups

    American Academy of Neurology
    Provides clinical practice guidelines and information on neurological conditions

    World Federation of Neurology
    promotes education and research in Neurology by encouraging preventive measures and treatment

    Neurologist Books

    Common Neurosurgical Conditions in the Pediatric Practice
    creates a framework for neurosurgical conditions

    Genetic Neuromuscular Disorders
    a collection of cases on genetic neuromuscular disorders

    The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.