A neurologist is a physician who has undergone additional training to diagnose and treat disorders of the nervous system.
The training a neurologist receives enables the individual to recognize nervous system malfunctions, to accurately diagnose the nature of the dysfunction (such as disease or injury), and to treat the malady. While many people associate a neurologist with treating brain injuries, this is just one facet of a neurologist's responsibility and expertise. Diseases of the spinal cord, nerves, and muscles that affect the operation of the nervous system can also be addressed by a neurologist.
The training that is necessary to become a neurologist begins with the traditional medical background. From there, the medical doctor trains for several more years to acquire expertise in the structure, functioning, and repair of the body's neurological structures, including the area of the brain called the cerebral cortex, and how the various regions of the cortex contribute to the normal and abnormal functioning of the body.
Typically, a neurologist's educational path begins with premed studies at a university or college. These studies can last up to four years. Successful candidates enter medical school. Another four years of study is required for a degree as a doctor of medicine (MD). Following completion of the advanced degree, a one-year internship is usually undertaken in internal medicine; sometimes, internships in transitional programs that include pediatrics and emergency-room training are chosen. Finally, another training period of at least three years follows in a neurology residency program. The latter program provides specialty experience in a hospital and can include research. Postdoctoral fellowships lasting one year or more offer additional opportunities for further specialization.
After completion of the more than decade-long training, medical doctors can become certified as neurologists through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Those with an osteopathy background can be certified through the American Board of Osteopathic Neurologists and Psychiatrists. Most neurologists belong to professional organizations such as the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), which is dedicated to setting practice standards, supporting research, providing continuing education, and promoting optimum care for persons with neurological disorders. Numerous professional publications specialize in neurology, including Neurology Today, Neurology, Brain, and Archives of Neurology.
A neurologist can sometimes be a patient's principle physician. This is true when the patient has a neurological problem such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease or multiple sclerosis . As well, an important aspect of a neurologist's daily duties is to offer advice to other physicians on how to treat neurological problems. A family physician might consult a neurologist when caring for patients with stroke or severe headache .
When a neurologist examines a patient, details such as vision, physical strength and coordination, reflexes, and sensations like touch and smell are probed to help determine if the medical problem is related to nervous system damage. More tests might be done to help determine the exact cause of the problem and how to treat the condition. While neurologists can recommend surgery, they do not actually perform the surgery. That is the domain of the neurosurgeon.
One well-known neurologist is the English-born physician and writer Oliver Sacks (1933– ). In addition to maintaining a clinical practice, Sacks has authored numerous popular books that describe patients' experiences with neurological disorders and neurologists' experiences in treating them. Another notable neurologist was Alois Alzheimer (1864–1915). A German neurologist, he first observed and identified the symptoms of what is now known as Alzheimer's disease.
Bluestein, Bonnie Ellen. Preserve Your Love for Science: Life of William A Hammond, American Neurologist. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Restak, Richard. The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own: Insights from a Practicing Neurologist. Three Rivers, MI: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Sacks, Oliver. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales. Carmichael, CA: Touchstone Books, 1998.
"What Is a Neurologist?" Neurology Channel Healthcommunities.com. May 6, 2004 (June 2, 2004). <http://www.neurologychannel.com/aneurologist.shtml>.
American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc. 500 Lake Cook Road, Suite 335, Deerfield, IL 60015-5249. (847) 945-7900 or (800) 373-1166; Fax: (847) 945-1146. <http://www.abpn.com>.
Brian Douglas Hoyle, PhD
neu·rol·o·gy / n(y)oŏˈräləjē/ • n. the branch of medicine or biology that deals with the anatomy, functions, and organic disorders of nerves and the nervous system.DERIVATIVES: neu·rolog·i·cal / -rəˈläjikəl/ adj.neu·ro·log·i·cal·ly adv.neu·rol·o·gist n.