Neurologists are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and management of disorders of the brain and nervous system. Neurologists may act as the primary care provider or in a consultant role. Although they may recommend surgery in some cases, they are not surgeons, and must refer the patient -- usually to a neurosurgeon -- for surgical treatment. The American Medical Group Management Association reports neurologists earned an average of $246,500 in 2011.
All physicians go through the same basic educational process. A doctor’s training begins with a bachelor’s degree, often in biology or a similar field. Medical school is the next step on the educational path. The aspiring doctor may choose to become a doctor of medicine or a doctor of osteopathy. The next step is a residency, which includes the specialized training a neurologist must have to practice. The minimum time a neurologist spends in the educational process is 12 years; if she chooses to go on for a fellowship or to specialize in a particular area, the training may extend to as much as 15 years.
Neurologists treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Among these are relatively rare problems such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, and multiple sclerosis. More common conditions include headache, chronic pain, brain tumors, brain or spinal cord injuries and strokes. People with conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, seizure disorders or multiple sclerosis may see a neurologist who manages all their medical needs rather than a primary care physician. A patient who has chronic headaches, however, may only see a neurologist for consultations while an internist or family practice doctor manages the rest of the patient’s care.
Neurology has a number of subspecialties. A neurologist who chooses to specialize may have additional training during her initial education or may obtain training after she has been practicing for a while. Subspecialties include managing patients with strokes, epilepsy, diseases that involve the muscles and nerves or movement disorders. Some neurologists might also specialize in genetics, sleep medicine or chronic pain management. A neurologist might choose to become board certified as either a general neurologist or in a particular neurological specialty.
Tests and Exams
Neurologists must be qualified to perform and interpret a wide variety of medical diagnostic tests and exams. The first step in the diagnostic process is a thorough health history and physical exam. Among other things, the neurologist must be able to test for and recognize abnormalities in mental status, vision, strength, coordination and sensation. Neurologists use complex technologies to help them make a diagnosis, such as computer-assisted tomography or CAT scans, electroencephalograms or EEGs, sleep studies and spinal taps.