Neurologists are licensed physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and disorders occurring in the brain, spinal cord, muscles and nerves. Extensive training is required, including four years of college and four years of medical school, followed by a four-year residency and an optional one- to two-year fellowship (for sub-specialties). Once their training is completed, neurologists are eligible for certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.
The first step to becoming a neurologist is earning a bachelor’s degree. No specific major is required, although most students major in biology or another related science. Regardless of major, courses in biology, anatomy, chemistry, physics, English and mathematics are required for medical school admission, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The list of medical school requirements includes competitive MCAT scores, a high GPA, letters of recommendation and participation in extracurricular activities. It’s also a good idea to learn a foreign language, since neurologists diagnose and treat patients from a variety of nationalities and ethnicities.
Neurologists, as well as all other medical doctors, must complete four years of medical school. Students spend the first two years immersed in classroom and laboratory work; courses include biochemistry, neurology, psychology, and medical laws and ethics, to name a few. Students also learn how to read and note charts, and diagnose, examine and treat patients. During the last two years, students gain clinical practice through rotating specialties, including psychiatry, pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics and gynecology and internal medicine. Future physicians must pass Part 1 of the USMLE, or United States Medical Licensing Examination, at the end of their second year in medical school, and must pass Part 2 of the USMLE at the end of their fourth year. Part 1 is a written examination which tests student knowledge, and Part 2 is a clinical exam which tests a student’s ability to apply their knowledge. Although students receive the MD or DO degree at graduation, they are still required to obtain a state license to practice medicine.
Internship and Residency
Future neurologists must complete a one-year internship in internal medicine/surgery, followed by a three-year hospital residency in neurology. Residency consists of continued supervised clinical practice within your specialty, as well as attendance at numerous seminars and lectures. Late in the second year, physicians sit for Part 3 of the USMLE; upon passing, they are granted a medical license.
Fellowship and Board Certification
Neurologists seeking certification in a sub-specialty must complete a one- to two-year fellowship for additional training. Sub-specialties include child and adolescent psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, clinical neurophysiology, geriatric psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, vascular neurology and psychosomatic medicine. Doctors are eligible to become board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology once they complete their chosen residency and/or fellowship and pass the written and oral exams.