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How to Become a Neurologist in 2023

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by Blen Tesfu in Residency

Do you want to know how to become a neurologist? Are you interested in a medical career that provides not only patient care but also offers unique opportunities for medical research and a chance to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine?

If so, a neurology career may be the perfect choice for you. In this blog post, I will explain what a neurologist does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.

Summary:

  • Neurologists specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions related to the nervous system.
  • Neurology residency training is four years, with the option of fellowship training afterward.
  • Going to a top medical school doesn’t help much. But, how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs appear to have no advantage to becoming a neurologist (and maybe a slight disadvantage)

Table of Content

What Are Neurologists?

Neurologists specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. The nervous system handles transmitting signals throughout the body; thus, any nervous system dysfunction results in a variety of symptoms including pain, weakness, numbness, and vision changes.

Neurologists evaluate these symptoms by using a variety of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the problem. Once a patient’s neurological condition has been diagnosed, neurologists develop a treatment plan, which may include medication and physical therapy. Neurologists typically do not perform surgery.

Is a Neurologist a Doctor?

Are neurologists doctors? The answer to this question is yes; Neurologists are doctors.

A neurologist is a specialized physician who has completed medical school, usually followed by a four-year residency in neurology. During this time, the neurologist trains to diagnose and manage patients with conditions involving the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Some of these conditions include migraines, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.

Neurologist vs Neurological Surgeon: What’s the Difference?

Neurologists and neurological surgeons are medical specialties that focus on treating conditions affecting the nervous system. But they differ in how they treat these conditions and the type of training they receive.

Neurologists specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the brain, spinal cords, and nerves. Neurologists use a variety of diagnostic tests to determine the underlying causes and then develop a treatment plan for the patient.

A neurosurgeon is a surgical specialist who operates on the brain, spinal cords, and nerves to treat conditions requiring surgical intervention. Neurosurgeons undergo extensive training in surgery, anatomy, and neuroscience; thus, they are skilled in using surgical techniques to treat conditions like brain tumors and spinal cord injuries.

In summary, the major difference between neurologists and neurological surgeons is that neurologists diagnose and treat neurological conditions non-surgically, whereas neurosurgeons do so surgically.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Neurologist?

Becoming a neurologist is no easy feat and requires considerable time and energy. But if you’re up to the challenge, the results can be gratifying.

It takes a minimum of 12 years after high school to become a neurologist. That includes four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and four years of neurology residency. Along the way, you’ll have to take various standardized exams, including the SAT, the MCAT, and the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming a neurologist is entering and completing an undergraduate program. This means taking the SATs and doing well enough to be accepted into a college or university. Once accepted into an undergraduate program, you’ll have to complete a minimum of four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and other general education courses.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT, a standardized exam that measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You’ll have to complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Neurology Residency (4 Years)

After you’ve completed medical school, you’ll have to match into a neurology residency. To do this, you’ll have to take the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams. These exams measure your knowledge and skills in the areas of clinical medicine. Once you’ve passed these exams, you’ll be eligible to apply for residency.

Once you’ve matched into a neurology residency, you’ll have to complete four years of clinical training to become a neurologist. During this training period, you’ll learn how to diagnose and treat conditions related to the nervous system.

Fellowship (Optional; Usually 1-2 Years)

After completing your neurology residency, you may pursue further training in a specialized area of neurology. Neurology fellowships allow physicians to gain subspecialty expertise. Fellowship choices include neuro-oncology, movement disorders, and epilepsy. Most neurology fellowships are one to two years in length, allowing physicians to gain additional experience and hone their skills in a specific area of neurology.

After Neurology Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

Upon completing your residency, you’ll be eligible to apply for a medical license, a requirement for practice. You’ll also be able to take the board exam from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to become a board-certified neurologist. While passing the neurology boards is voluntary, many employers will see this as important – or even necessary – for you to be employed as a neurologist.

Becoming a neurologist takes a minimum of 12 years after high school. It’s a long and arduous process, but if you’re dedicated and passionate about becoming a neurologist, the rewards are worth it.

How Competitive is it to Become a Neurologist?

Neurology is one of the less competitive specialties in matching into a residency program. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a limited number of positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is neurology in the US? To answer this question, it is important to look at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in that specialty but did not get matched. It considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. So, if you applied to a different specialty as a “backup” but didn’t match because you matched in your first choice, this wouldn’t be included. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 2.3% unmatched rate to neurology. This makes it one of the less competitive specialties, unlike other specialties like plastic surgery (unmatched % 37.3%), orthopedic surgery (34.2%), or otolaryngology (sometimes called “ENT” for ear-nose-throat; 30.8%).

For more on the competitiveness of neurology relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Neurologist Annual Compensation

Neurologists have an average annual salary of $301,000. However, this can vary dramatically based on practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Neurologist Annual Salary

Neurologists make $301,000 per year on average

How Much Do Neurologists Make an Hour?

You may also be wondering, how much do neurologists make per hour? And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there aren’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data re: hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including neurology.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Allergy/Immunology$298,000.00$125.9349.3
Anesthesiology$405,000.00$146.24Medium6145.4
Cardiology$490,000.00$177.5457.5
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Dermatology$438,000.00$211.11Low45.445.7
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Endocrinology$257,000.00$110.40Medium48.5
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
Gastroenterology$453,000.00$168.53Medium5647.7
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Nephrology$329,000.00$122.40Medium56
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Neurology$301,000.00$129.09Medium50.845.9
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Oncology$411,000.00$143.43Low59.7
Opthalmology$417,000.00$173.97Medium5147
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Otolaryngology$469,000.00$184.01High53.148
Pathology$334,000.00$147.74Low47.1
Pediatrics$244,000.00$108.16Medium4748
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Psychiatry$287,000.00$131.04Low46.547.1
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Rheumatology$289,000.00$112.3353.6
Urology$461,000.00$172.49High58.146
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (neurology highlighted in red):

Neurologist Hourly Salary

Neurologists make $129 an hour on average

Note: when data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was used as an estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Helps in Becoming a Neurologist

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students’ hard work and dedication.

Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies and demonstrate an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Each medical school may elect up to 20% of their graduating class to be inducted into AOA.

Induction into AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships and can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is particularly notable for the most competitive fields and/or residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 2% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in neurology. In other words, AOA membership provided some advantages to matching into a neurology residency.

AOA Membership Advantage for Neurology 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 2% match rate advantage for Neurology in the 2022 Match

See this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become a Neurologist?

When pursuing a career in neurology, attending a top medical school can make a difference in matching into your desired specialty. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 4.1 out of 5.

However, graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding is associated with a 1% decrease in the likelihood of matching into neurology as a field.

It is important to remember that the name of the school does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages in some specialties, it is ultimately up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more, including things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school Neurology match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with a -1% match rate advantage for Neurology in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become a Neurologist?

Medical training is long and arduous. Remarkably, many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential neurology residents due to their additional qualifications. But do these additional degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

The truth is that having an additional degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In neurology, the match rate was 3% lower for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances of matching into neurology and may even hurt them (slightly).

Neurology other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a -3% match rate disadvantage for Neurology in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the overall match rates of medical students with another degree. The data doesn’t look at the type of degree, the school it was obtained from, and the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some additional career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

Becoming a neurologist is a challenging but rewarding career path. It is perfect for those who love physiology, problem-solving and working as part of a team in intense situations. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, neurologists can make a real difference in the world of healthcare.

Looking for a Neurology Residency Advisor?

Looking for a neurology residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.

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Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.

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