Types of Brain Doctors: Career Information by Specialization
Brain doctors, also called neurologists, study how the brain interacts with the body and how outside stimulants affect the brain. Multiple subfields in neurology allow doctors to examine the relationships between the brain and psychiatry, biology and pharmaceuticals, just to name a few areas. Some neurologists choose specializations that focus on neurological research, whereas others work directly with patients.
Career Information for Different Types of Neurologists
Physicians and scientists in the field of neurology study how the brain and the nervous system interact with the body. Many neurologists focus on neurological disorders and diseases, such as Alzheimer's, epilepsy and chronic pain. They conduct tests on patients using specialized brain-mapping equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to take real-time pictures of the brain during active and inactive states. Results from such tests allow neurologists to see how well the brain communicates with the rest of the body and what ailments could be causing a problem.
Neuropharmacologists use different medications to correct problems in brain function. Many use research subjects to test how different chemicals alter brain activity. Similar to neurologists, they use special dyes within the medication, along with MRIs and other brain mapping equipment to watch the effects of medications interacting with the brain. Although some neuropharmacologists work as consultants in hospitals, most work at pharmaceutical companies or at other research facilities.
Some problems with the brain and nervous system require a neurosurgeon to make surgical repairs. For instance, some diseases, such as cancer, can require surgeons to remove malignant tumors. Neurosurgeons also focus on fixing brain damage that causes problems with movement, such as nerve damage, paralysis or other movement disorders. Since surgery of this type can be invasive and risky, neurosurgeons must make sure patients are healthy enough to deal with the procedure and any necessary rehabilitation.
Neurologist Job Requirements
Most applicants to medical school have a bachelor's degree. Students can choose practically any major during their undergraduate years, but each medical school has a list of academic prerequisite requirements. Most universities have a recommended pre-med path for students, and some schools may have a pre-med focus related to neuroscience.
Most medical school programs have students spending the first 1-2 years in the classroom learning the fundamentals of anatomy, biology and medicine. Students then enter into a clinical rotation schedule treating real patients. The rotation schedule covers various specialties, such as cardiology, oncology and infectious diseases. Students usually pick their field of specialty around the third year of medical school and try to align their remaining clinical experiences with that specialty. For example, students who want to become Neurologists would apply to join the neurology clinical rotation groups.
After graduating from medical school, the majority of Neurologists enter a residency program within neurology, per the BLS. A residency program works like an apprenticeship in that workers are paid to learn their trade through treating real patients. Most programs last 3-4 years, but certain specialty fields may require a longer residency. Programs offer residents a chance to use diagnostic equipment, treat a full range of patients and learn the latest trends in neurology.
Licensing and Certification
Each state has different requirements, but all states require doctors to be licensed. Doctors must first pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. After passing the exam, some states have additional exams they require doctors to pass, such as a jurisprudence test to understand state healthcare laws. Doctors in a particular specialty, such as neurology, can achieve board certification through successfully completing an approved residency program and passing an exam.
Career and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted an 18% increase in employment from 2012-2022 for physicians overall. A survey by the website PayScale.com reported that most neurologists earned between $79,148 and $296,254 as of February 2014. The website also reported salaries ranging from $98,043 to $698,466 for most neurosurgeons at that time.
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