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Our nervous system is composed of the brain, spinal cord and the central nerves. When the nerves do not function properly, various disorders like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, epilepsy and meningitis attack the human body, debilitating and slowly picking away at the brain. Neurologists are physicians who diagnose and treat disorders of the nervous system.

Neurologists are either principal care providers or referred to as consultants and specialists to other physicians. However, patients with disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's or multiple sclerosis may have a neurologist as their primary physician. In a consulting role, the neurologist will diagnose and treat a neurological disorder and then advise the primary care physician managing the patient's overall health. For example, if a patient has a stroke, the neurologist will treat the patient and then recommend actions to their general physician.

Neurologists recommend surgical treatment, but do not perform surgery. Therefore, they may refer a patient with a brain tumor to a neurosurgeon, who specializes in surgery of the brain or nervous system. Specifically, neurologists treat clinical disorders of the nervous system, brain, spinal cord, nerves, such as: headaches, epilepsy, sleep disorders, multiple sclerosis, brain and spinal cord injuries, brain tumors, and peripheral nerve disorders. Neurologists also deal with disorders involving muscles, including strokes, tumors and muscular dystrophy.

During a neurological examination, the neurologist will review a patient's health history paying special attention to their current condition. They give the patient a neurological exam, which typically tests vision, strength, coordination, reflexes and sensation. In some patients, very detailed questions regarding memory, speech and language and other cognitive abilities will be part of the examination. This information helps the neurologist determine if the problem is in the nervous system. For example, if a patient is having trouble making a fist with their hand due to a lack of strength, a neurologist may infer that it is related to the nervous system and not to the fact that the patient is weak. They are very careful in ruling out any possibilities. Further tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis or to find a specific treatment.

Neurologists use special tests such as CAT scans, MRIs and EEGs to diagnose the problem a patient is having. A CAT scan (computerized axial tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can provide detailed anatomic pictures of the brain, spinal structures and the blood vessels. Neurologists sometimes perform a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to obtain the cerebrospinal fluid for analysis. Some neurologists interpret EEG (electroencephalography) used in the evaluation of seizure disorders. Other neurologists undergo specialty training to perform the EMG/NCV (electromyography/nerve conduction velocity testing) which is used to diagnose nerve and muscle problems.

Neurologists may decide to narrow their field and study a subspecialty which would require extra training. So those specializing in geriatric neurology would require special training in genetic and metabolic problems, geriatric depression, retardation and other problems. Some neurologists do a good deal of paperwork, filling out insurance forms, writing letters and even writing articles for medical and scientific research.
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  Interests and Skills  
Neurologists are interested in helping people, first and foremost. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the required academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy.

Neurologists should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. They must also be proficient in neurological medicine -- they must have and apply this knowledge to diagnose illnesses of the nervous system. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Diagnose and treat organic diseases and disorders of nervous system
  • Order and study the results of chemical, microscopic, biological, and bacteriological analyses of patient's blood and cerebro-spinal fluid to determine nature and extent of a disorder
  • Identify the presence of pathological blood conditions or parasites
  • Prescribe and administer medications and drugs
  • Order and study the results of electroencephalograms or x-rays to detect abnormalities in brain wave patterns, or indications of abnormalities in brain structure
  • Advise patients to contact other medical specialists, such as neurosurgeons
  • Neurologists' working conditions depend on where they work. Most put in long days, at least 60 hours per week. They may work rotating shifts or be on call. When on call, they can be called into the hospital at any time, day or night. Some also work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients' schedules. In a typical day, most neurologists see a succession of patients, and may spend a considerable amount of time doing paper work. This occupation can be both emotionally demanding and emotionally rewarding.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Neurologists work in hospitals, public or private clinics, and universities or research facilities. A great number of neurologists are in private practice. Neurologists working in academic settings are required to teach classes as well as offer bedside training and rounds to medical students, residents and others.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Neurologists can learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs. With further training, they may work as neurosurgeons, directors of research, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. They may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a neurologist requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most neurologists start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate studies. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

The next step is medical school, which usually takes four years. Graduation from an approved medical school will result in the title Medical Doctor (MD). A one- to two-year internship and three years of specialized residency training are required after graduation from medical school.

Finally, before entering medical school, it is a good idea to volunteer in a hospital, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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