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Disorders of the brain and nervous system can have subtle and far-reaching consequences, ranging from headaches and uncontrolled mood swings to gradual, chronic loss of mobility. Neurologists are the specialized physicians who treat these conditions, diagnosing the root cause of the patient's symptoms and drawing up a plan of care. Despite the profound importance of their work, neurologists aren't among the highest-earning physicians.
Industry magazine "Modern Healthcare" collects and reviews a number of physician salary surveys each year for a special issue on physician compensation. In the 2012 issue, those 15 salary surveys reported average salaries for neurologists ranging from a low of $209,394 to a high of $380,275. The highest figure, reported by Delta Physician Placement, was significantly above the rest. No other survey reported an average neurologist salary of more than $300,000 a year, and eight of the 15 reported averages of between $250,000 and $280,000.
Some surveys provide specific insights into neurologists' compensation. Recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins' 2011 report showed an average salary offer of $256,000 for neurologists, from a range as low as $160,000 and as high as $345,000. Rival firm Jackson & Coker shows the effect of non-salary compensation. Its 2012 figures showed an average salary of just $209,394, but benefits averaged an additional $41,879 per year. Another recruiting firm, Profiles, specializes in placing newly trained doctors. In its 2011-2012 survey, neurologists in their first year of practice earned a median salary of $190,000. Neurologists at the six-year mark reported an average salary of $237,000 per year.
By the standards of any other profession, these would exceptional salaries. Within the medical profession, they're only midrange. For example, neurologists outearned most primary care physicians in the "Modern Healthcare" survey. Family doctors reported average salaries ranging from $168,700 to $235,228, while internists' salaries ranged from $180,000 to $279,233. In comparison gastroenterologists earned $299,432 to $534,257 per year, and radiologists showed average salaries of $358,000 to $560,000. Surgeons also outearned neurologists, with average salaries for general surgeons ranging from $310,000 to $410,115 and orthopedic surgeons reporting averages from $369,905 to $610,188.
Becoming a neurologist generally requires an investment of at least 12 years in education and training. Earning an undergraduate premedical degree accounts for the first four years. Medical or osteopathic college requires another four years, divided between classroom instruction and hands-on clinical rotations. After graduation, new doctors with an interest in neurology must find a placement in a neurological residency approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The residency is at least another four years, with a one-year general internship and three years of focused training in neurology. At the end of the residency, doctors can take exams from the Board of Neurology and become certified in the specialty.
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