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How Do I Become a Neurologist?

Some neurologists specialize in geriatrics, working with elderly patients and their caregivers.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2014
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Neurologists are doctors who are specialists. They are particularly concerned with disorders that affect the brain, or in larger measure, the central nervous system, and these could include things like degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, or injuries to the brain caused by trauma or stroke. In order to become a neurologist, a person must undergo extensive training.

Training begins on the path to become a neurologist by graduating from high school, and it’s worthwhile to take lots of classes that emphasize math and science, since skill in these areas is necessary for continued medical training. The next step is either a four year university degree or direct application to medical school, as is common in places like the UK. In the US, people will first need to get a bachelor’s degree before applying to medical school, and there are requirements for application. These are excellent grades and good scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and application to some of the top schools is extremely competitive.

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Once in medical school in the US, a person will spend three to four years in training and learning prior to being eligible for licensing as a physician. They may also need to spend an additional year as interns, and the common choices of internships for those who want to become a neurologist are medicine/surgery or internal medicine. Once this is completed, and actually during the internship, people must look for fellowship or residency programs that will accept them for training in neurology. It helps to have had good grades in medical school in order to obtain a specialist residency.

At this point in the process, the person is now a doctor, and if neurology no longer appeals, there are other specialties or the person can practice general medicine. On the other hand, if the person would still like to become a neurologist he or she will need to spend much more time training. This training is at minimum at least three years, and some doctors may take longer because neurology has subspecialties.

There is a big difference in many parts of the world if a person wants to become a neurologist who works with children. This is not a subspecialty but instead involves applying for a three-year residency that focuses specifically on pediatrics and then on pediatric neurology. The two specialties are not interchangeable. Once training is complete in pediatric or adult neurology, doctors must take one final step. They must usually sit examinations to be board certified in their specialty, which allows them to claim they are neurologists and practice their specialty accordingly.

In total, it can take about eleven to twelve years after high school graduation to become a neurologist. It is a field that is fairly well compensated, but it can be a difficult one in which to work. Illnesses that affect the central nervous system may have devastating results on people and their families. A high degree of compassion is suggested for those who would like to pursue this field.

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