Neurologist

Each year an estimated 1,170,000 people in the US are diagnosed with an adult-onset neurological disorder. These conditions include dementia, Alzheimer’s, strokes, meningitis, muscular dystrophy, traumatic brain injury, sleep disorders, and epilepsy. To address these neurological conditions, patients often seek out the expertise of neurologists. 

Neurologists are either doctors of medicine (MD) or doctors of osteopathy (DO) who have completed a neurological residency. They have the education and skills to address general neurological disorders in patients. After a general neurology residency, neurologists can complete a fellowship in a specialization such as pediatrics, sleep medicine, epilepsy, headaches, pain management, and many more. 

Becoming a neurologist takes years of dedication and education. Upon completing a bachelor’s degree, prospective neurologists must complete medical school and then a residency. This takes at least 12 years after graduating from high school. Neurologists must be licensed by their state’s medical board and be board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). 

Below is everything an aspiring neurologist needs to know, including the education requirements, a step-by-step guide, typical job duties, and an overview of some of the top residencies in the country.

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Neurologist Specializations & Degree Types

All neurologists must be either a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO) and have completed a neurology residency. Medical school takes at least four years to complete, and a residency is typically four years. The first year is internal medicine, which covers more general medical care followed by three years specializing in neurology. 

There are numerous fields neurologists can choose to specialize in, including headache medicine, pediatrics, neurodevelopmental disabilities, sleep medicine, epilepsy, and neuro-oncology, just to name a few. 

To be a neurologist, doctors must obtain board certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). Specialized certifications can be obtained through additional testing through the ABPN or the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS)

Admissions Requirements for Neurologist Programs

Aspiring neurologists must attend medical school. Requirements for admission vary based on the school but generally require students to have completed a bachelor’s degree in biology, physical sciences, health sciences, or related field. Most medical schools also require students to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Upon completing medical school, prospective neurologists will need to apply for a neurology residency. These residencies can be very competitive, and students apply through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), known as “The Match.” This rigorous process involves comprehensive applications, in-person interviews, and skill evaluation. Letters of reference, experience in neurology while in medical school, extensive related coursework, and a well-written personal statement can help improve the chances of being matched to a top residency program.

Neurologist Program Accreditation

Medical schools in the United States are required to be accredited. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredits doctor of medicine (MD) programs. A directory of accredited programs is published each year that prospective students can reference. The Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) accredits doctor of osteopathy (DO) programs. 

Students should ensure their medical school is accredited because residency programs will not accept students who have attended an unaccredited program.

On-Campus Neurologist Residency Programs

To become a neurologist, aspiring professionals must first complete four years of medical school. In medical school, students receive general medical training and complete rotations in all medical specialties, including surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, and neurology. 

Listed below are seven of the top medical schools in the country that have neurological residency programs. 

The University of Chicago – Pritzker School of Medicine

The University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine’s neurological residency program emphasizes anatomical and physiological diagnosis and treatment. Doctors completing their residency here will be supported by a full hospital staff and services such as neuroradiology, neuro-ophthalmology, neuro-oncology, neurophysiology, and neuropsychiatry.

Residents enter this program in the second year of their residency, having completed a general residency year elsewhere. One of the biggest draws of this program is the experiential diversity it offers its residents. During the three-year program, residents will have rotations in general neurology, pediatric neurology, neuroradiology, neurophysiology, and neuropathology. Three full months of vacation are also budgeted into the time required to complete this program. 

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Compensation: $63,654 to $73,202 per year

Washington University in St. Louis – School of Medicine

Residents can complete all four years of their neurology residency at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. Residents who wish to specialize can complete an advanced fellowship or residency in pediatric neurology, critical care medicine, neurodevelopmental disabilities, pain management, vascular neurology, or clinical neurophysiology here as well. 

Within the regular residency, program participants are allotted a large amount of time to pursue electives, making this residency an excellent choice for doctors with a desire to explore all aspects of the career. 

With a focus on resident wellness, diversity, and inclusion, this progressive program aims to care for its residents while caring for their patients. Residents have access to wellness classes, counseling, crisis relief support, and discounted fitness center memberships. 

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Compensation: $60,540 to $77,290 per year

Tufts University – School of Medicine

At Tufts University School of Medicine, the neurology residency program’s goal is to produce superior clinicians who are focused on patient care. Residents can choose to focus on either laboratory investigative, academic, or community-based careers. 

This program is four years long and encompasses a preliminary medical year, a year of general neurology, and two years of specialized neurology rotations. Specializations residents will work within include neuroradiology, neuropathology, pediatric neurology, and psychiatry. A full month of vacation is scheduled for each year of the program. 

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Compensation: $66,265 to $72,645 per year

Rutgers University – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

The Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School neurology residency has a strong tradition of excellence in research. In 2019 alone, the faculty and residents of this program published 33 peer-reviewed publications. Residents in this program work in the 610-bed Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, where they can train in the state-of-the-art neurocritical care unit.

This residency comprises years two through four, so applicants will need to complete their preliminary year of residency at a different institution. In addition to completing at least four weeks of research, residents will have the opportunity to rotate through electives such as sleep medicine, epilepsy, pain management, neurophysiology, neurosurgery, headache, neuropathology, and noninvasive cerebrovascular diagnosis. 

  • Location: Piscataway, NJ
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Compensation: $61,749 to $83,618 per year

University of California San Francisco 0 Weill Institute for Neurosciences

Residents in neurology at the Weill Institute for Neurosciences at the University of California San Francisco have the option of completing their training in adult or child neurology. There is also a third option for residents looking for more options called the “flexible residency.” This option can be pursued starting in the second year of residency and is a program that allows residents to tailor their training to their liking. Options can include research, education, public health, and global health. 

Widely heralded as one of the top neurology programs in the county, graduates of this program excel in patient care and research. For the past decade, 100 percent of graduating residents have passed the American Boards of Psychiatry and Neurology. Many residents who complete this program choose to continue their training with a fellowship or clinical or laboratory research.  

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Compensation: $75,697 to $82,953 per year

Johns Hopkins University – School of Medicine

The neurology and neurosurgery department at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine offers three residency options in either adult neurology, pediatric neurology, or neurosurgery. The goal of all three programs is twofold: to create exceptional academic physicians who have outstanding clinical skills. Residents will receive a wide variety of experiences, including providing consultations, delivering inpatient services, and working in outpatient settings. 

To help residents have a well-rounded skill set they are required to rotate through various disciplines. These include neuropathology, epilepsy, psychiatry, neuroradiology, and sleep disorders. Residents are given the option to utilize some of their time during their third year to engage in clinical or laboratory research projects either in the department of neurology or in any other department at Johns Hopkins.  

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Compensation: $59,570 to $65,051 per year

Weill Cornell Medicine

With only seven or eight positions offered each year, the neurology residency program at Weill Cornell Medicine is a highly competitive program. Weill looks for residents who have an aptitude for training, research, leadership, or public service. This program has a strong emphasis on a clinical approach to neurology and strives to educate its residents on pathology, biochemistry, physiology, and molecular biology. Residents are also trained to take psychological and social factors into consideration when diagnosing a patient. 

Since Weill is located in the heart of New York City, they offer their residents many perks to make living in the city more comfortable. There is housing available close to the hospital, including apartments for residents with families. 

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Compensation: $73,489 to $90,484 per year

Neurologist-Related Online Education

Due to the hands-on nature of obtaining a medical degree and completing a required neurology residency, there are no hybrid or online programs available. However, there are online continuing medical education (CME) options for practicing neurologists. Here are three options:  

American Academy of Neurology

The American Academy of Neurology offers its members several different and engaging ways to earn CME credits. These include a neurology question of the day, journal articles, self-assessments, and self-paced courses. 

For busy neurologists, there are short online videos and a one-minute podcast that can be completed on the go. All learning activities are designed by top neurology faculty and have an assigned number of American Medical Association (AMA) Physician’s Recognition Award (PRA) credits. Most activities and modules are free from AAN members. 

  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) 
  • Tuition: Many free courses with AAN membership

Mayo Clinic – School of Continuous Professional Development

To help physicians and other medical professionals complete their required CME, the prestigious Mayo Clinic has established a School of Continuous Professional Development. 

They have published an extensive library of online self-paced courses that can be completed at leisure. Topics covered encompass every area of medicine, including neurology and neurosurgery. Courses vary in length and can be as short as an hour-long webinar and as long as a week-long conference. Costs also vary depending on the length and topic. 

In addition, the Mayo Clinic has partnered with GIBLIB to offer an online and on-demand medical education library. Videos can be accessed by purchasing a subscription to the service, and physicians can earn unlimited AMA PRA credits. 

  • Location: Rochester, MN
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) 
  • Tuition: Free to $500 or more

Stanford University – School of Medicine 

With online workshops, conferences, and courses, neurologists can complete their CME requirements through the Stanford University School of Medicine Center for Continuing Medical Education. In addition to neurology and neurosurgery, this department offers courses in almost every type of medicine as well as allied health professions. 

In total, they have over 580 activities, nearly 70,000 participating physicians, and over 50,000 other learners. There is even a physician leadership certificate program for doctors who are looking to move into executive positions.  

  • Location: Stanford, CA
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)
  • Tuition: Varies but many courses are free

How Long Does it Take to Become a Neurologist?

Because becoming a neurologist requires completing medical school, finishing residency, and obtaining board certification, it can take between 12 to 15 postsecondary years to complete all the necessary steps. 

How To Become a Neurologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

Completing school or obtaining a GED is the first step towards becoming a neurologist. Not only is it required for most bachelor’s programs, but it also demonstrates a minimum level of education and dedication towards completing education. Aspiring neurologists should focus on biology, chemistry, physics, and other science courses. 

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program (Four Years)

A bachelor’s degree is necessary to apply for medical school. Prospective doctors can complete several different degree programs, but the most common majors include pre-med, biology, physical sciences, and social sciences. Students should ensure to keep a high GPA as applying for medical school can be very competitive. Experience volunteering in medical settings can also improve medical school applications. 

Step 3: Take the MCAT Exam (Timeline Varies)

Students pursuing a career in neurology will need to take the MCAT to apply for most medical schools. This exam is to be taken in April or May of the year before they wish to start. This translates into taking it during the spring of their junior year to start fall after graduating from undergrad. 

Step 4: Apply for Medical School (Timeline Varies)

The majority of medical schools have moved to using the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). Students can apply to multiple schools through this application service without having to submit documents multiple times. Applications must be submitted a year before the desired start date. Students currently completing their bachelor’s degrees typically apply for medical school admission during the summer between their junior and senior years, just after taking the MCAT. 

Step 5: Attend Medical School (Four Years)

Medical school takes four years to complete. During this time, students will receive general medical training and complete rotations in a variety of medical specialties. Students who want to pursue neurology should consider medical schools with neurology residencies, as this will allow them to complete a rotation in their desired specialty.  

Step 6: Apply for a Neurology Residency (During Medical School)

Residency is completed at hospitals and medical schools across the country. During the final year of medical school and after completing clinical rotations, students can apply for a neurology residency. This process is highly competitive, so having completed rotations in neurology can boost applications as candidates can speak to their experience in their personal statement. 

Other ways to improve the chances of getting the desired residency are interviewing well and having outstanding references. Students are informed of their residency match in March.  

Step 7: Fulfill Residency Requirements (Four to Seven Years)

Requirements to complete a residency vary based on the program. Most neurology residencies are four years long but can be longer or shorter depending on the specialization and school. 

Step 8: Sit for the National Licensing Exams (Timelines Vary)

Neurologists must sit for a national licensing exam. The exam varies based on the type of medical school completed. 

Students who have completed an MD will take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), and those who have completed a DO will take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States (COMPLEX-USA). These exams evaluate both the knowledge and skills obtained during medical school and residency. 

Step 9: Obtain State Licensure (Timelines Vary)

Finally, after medical school, residency, and examination, doctors may apply to their state boards for licensing. 

Step 10: Take the Exam to Become Board Certified (Timelines Vary)

Neurologists must take the additional step to be board-certified to practice in this field. The exam is offered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). This ten-year certification must be maintained with continuing education requirements submitted every three years. 

What Do Neurologists Do?

Neurologists are either medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathy (DOs). They work in hospitals, clinics, and research centers. Job duties vary based on place of employment but typical day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Meeting with patients to discuss neurological problems 
  • Diagnosing illnesses and diseases based on patient history, physical exams, or diagnostic test results
  • Writing treatment plans to help patients manage neurological disorders
  • Admitting patients to the hospital when necessary
  • Participating in research to determine the cause or treatment of neurological disorders
  • Performing lumbar punctures
  • Administering spinal blocks or epidurals 
  • Maintaining patient records

Neurologist Certifications & Licensure

All doctors must be licensed by their state medical board. Requirements vary by state but include completing medical school, finishing a residency, passing required exams, and paying an application fee. They can be licensed as either an MD or a DO. 

In order to practice as a neurologist, doctors must be board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). Requirements to sit for the exam include completing an accredited medical school program, finishing a residency, holding an active and unrestricted medical license, completing the board’s specialized training requirements, and paying an application fee. Upon passing the exam, doctors can call themselves a neurologist. 

Further specialization certification can be obtained through the ABPN or United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS).

How Much Do Neurologists Make?

Neurologists earn $206,500 per year on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020). The average wage is $218,850 and is based on all doctors, excluding pediatricians. Currently, there are an estimated 375,390 doctors in the US. The percentiles for wages for doctors are:

  • 10th percentile: $61,380
  • 25th percentile: $126,470
  • 50th percentile (median): >$208,000 per year
  • 75th percentile: >$208,000 per year
  • 90th percentile: >$208,000 per year

Please note that the BLS does not give specific figures for ranges in excess of $208,000.

Neurologist Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a neurologist. 

Become a Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists attend the same medical school as neurologists but complete a residency in psychiatry instead. They work with patients who have a mental illness disorder and perform research on human behavior. Physicians who work in psychiatry can provide general care or can focus on sleep disorders, addiction, pediatrics, adolescents, or geriatrics. 

  • Typical Education: Doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN)

Become a Pediatrician 

Physicians who specialize in caring for infants, children, and adolescents are called pediatricians. In addition to four years of medical school, they are required to complete a four-year residency. There are numerous areas of specialization, including surgery, oncology, psychiatry, and neurology. 

  • Typical Education: Doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Pediatrics (ABP)

Become a Surgeon

Most invasive medical procedures that involve making an incision on a patient are performed by surgeons. To become a surgeon, one must first graduate from medical school then complete five years of residency in surgery. Additional fellowships can be completed in order to specialize further in obstetrics, neurology, pediatric, cardiothoracic and more. 

  • Typical Education: Doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Surgery
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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