According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) database, there are between 2,000 and 3,000 future neurologists looking to specialize in neurology each year. So what exactly does a neurologist do? How do you become one, and why should you consider becoming one?

So much more than just the brain

Neurology is a fascinating specialty that entails a wide breadth of all things neurological. So what does that actually mean? One of the most common misconceptions about the field is that the neurologists only deal with diseases of the brain. Our nervous system is comprised of much more than just the 3 pound organ; it also includes the spinal cord, the peripheral nervous system, the neuromuscular junction, and much more. Neurologists work with patients with diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, migraine, pain, lower back pain, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, diplopia, and sciatica, stroke, to name a few. The majority of neurologists practice in an outpatient setting, but many pursue a hybrid model, especially in academia, where they spend several weeks each year attending the inpatient neurology service, spanning the general neurology, consults, or stroke service. The other end of the spectrum includes neurohospitalists and neurocritical care physicians, who are mainly involved with inpatient services. 


Upon graduating from medical school in the US, one typically joins either a categorical or an advanced neurology residency program through the AAMC residency matching system. This post focuses on the adult neurology residency (there is a separate application process for child neurology residency). Adult neurology residencies are either...

  • Categorical: A 4-year combined residency program where residents complete the 1-year mandatory internal medicine year, followed by the 3-year neurology residency program, in the same or affiliated institution. This is usually (but not always) the preferred choice to minimize having to move twice in one year.
  • Advanced: A 3-year neurology residency program where residents typically have to secure a separate 1-year internal medicine year (commonly called the “prelim” year – short for preliminary internal medicine year). Some applicants prefer this if they want to maximize training at different institutions to widen their exposure, and/or prefer to stay near their medical school they are graduating from for personal reasons (e.g. couples matching, proximity to family, etc). 

The majority of programs are becoming categorical programs. It is not uncommon to see programs that offer both options, where they designate a certain percentage of incoming residents into a categorical vs. advanced position. 

Common myths

In addition to the aforementioned misconception (re: neurologists only work with diseases of the brain), another common myth is that neurologists often diagnose the diseases, but cannot treat them. This cannot be further from the truth. Neurology is not just about localizing the pathology, but about how to intricately manage the disease, whether the management be curative, preventive, and/or maximizing the quality of life. It is true that certain types of insults to the nervous system cannot be undone and require lifelong management, but the same argument can be made for every other organ system. Furthermore, with the advent of clinical research, such as gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy, diseases that were once considered “incurable” are making these descriptions obsolete. 

Another common myth is that neurologists do not perform procedures. There are myriads of procedures that neurologists can perform, including lumbar punctures, Botox injections (for dystonia, sialorrhea, migraine, etc), nerve blocks, thrombectomies, and muscle biopsies.

What comes next?

After the 4 years of residency (1 year of internal medicine, followed by 3 years of neurology), well-above 90% of graduating neurology residents pursue fellowship training in their respective areas of interest, to become a sub-specialized neurohospitalist, neurointensivist, neuro-ophthalmologist, neuroimmunologist, epileptologist, strokologist, or others. Length of fellowship programs range from 1 to 4 years, and many fellowships have dedicated research track.

Is neurology the right path for you?

It really depends! I personally fell in love with the field of neurology because of the cerebral nature of the field, and the mentors (including residents and attending neurologists) I had the opportunity to work with during medical school; when I saw them interact with the patients, and share their passion for the field, it became clear to me that these were the physicians I want to emulate, someone who is caring, pensive, inquisitive, thorough, and cerebral. Furthermore, neurology arguably is one of the most exciting fields when it comes to translational research, so if you are driven by the inquisitive nature to understand how the nervous system functions, and how to manage issues that arise within the intricate neurobiological pathways, neurology may very well be the perfect fit for you! 


academics study skills MCAT medical school admissions SAT expository writing college admissions English MD/PhD admissions GMAT LSAT GRE writing strategy chemistry physics math biology ACT graduate admissions language learning law school admissions test anxiety interview prep MBA admissions academic advice premed homework help personal statements AP exams career advice creative writing MD study schedules summer activities Common Application history test prep philosophy computer science secondary applications organic chemistry economics supplements PSAT admissions coaching grammar law statistics & probability psychology ESL research 1L CARS SSAT covid-19 legal studies logic games reading comprehension dental admissions mathematics USMLE Spanish calculus engineering parents Latin verbal reasoning DAT case coaching excel mentorship political science French Linguistics Tutoring Approaches academic integrity chinese AMCAS DO MBA coursework PhD admissions Social Advocacy admissions advice biochemistry classics diversity statement genetics geometry kinematics medical school mental health quantitative reasoning skills time management Anki English literature IB exams ISEE MD/PhD programs algebra algorithms art history artificial intelligence astrophysics athletics business business skills careers cold emails data science internships letters of recommendation poetry presentations resume science social sciences software engineering study abroad tech industry trigonometry work and activities 2L 3L Academic Interest DMD EMT FlexMed Fourier Series Greek Health Professional Shortage Area Italian Lagrange multipliers London MD vs PhD MMI Montessori National Health Service Corps Pythagorean Theorem Python STEM Sentence Correction Step 2 TMDSAS Zoom acids and bases amino acids analysis essay architecture argumentative writing brain teaser campus visits cantonese capacitors capital markets cell biology central limit theorem chemical engineering chess chromatography class participation climate change clinical experience community service constitutional law consulting cover letters curriculum demonstrated interest dental school distance learning electricity and magnetism enrichment european history executive function finance first generation student freewriting fun facts functions gap year genomics harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science hybrid vehicles hydrophobic effect ideal gas law induction information sessions institutional actions integrated reasoning intern international students investing investment banking lab reports logic mandarin chinese mba mechanical engineering medical physics meiosis microeconomics mitosis music music theory neurology neuroscience office hours operating systems organization pedagogy phrase structure rules plagiarism pre-dental proofs pseudocode psych/soc quantum mechanics resistors resonance revising scholarships school selection simple linear regression slide decks sociology software stem cells stereochemistry study spots synthesis teaching technical interviews transfer typology units virtual interviews writer's block writing circles