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  • Writer's pictureNancy Hammond

What is a Neurologist?

I want to explain what a neurologist is and what a neurologist does. Often people, even other physicians, think our specialty is mysterious. Being a Neurologist is a lot like being a detective. We take pieces of a puzzle (your symptoms) and put them together (your diagnosis).

A Neurologist is a medical doctor who evaluates and treats problems in the nervous system. There are 2 main parts of the nervous system, the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is made up of the nerves and muscles. Some of the most common diseases a Neurologist will treat are stroke, epilepsy or seizures, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, headaches, neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Neurologists have thousands of hours of training to take care of patients. After graduating high school, a Neurologist will go to college and get a bachelor’s degree, usually for 4 or 5 years. Next is medical school, usually 4 years. After graduating from medical school, a Neurologist is a doctor (MD or DO in the United States). Next the newly minted doctor will move on to specialized training in Neurology for another 4 years, a time period called residency. While in training the Neurologists will learn to evaluate and treat neurological diseases. After the neurologist finishes residency, she will sometimes do additional training in a specific area of Neurology for another 1-2 years, called fellowship. Finally, a Neurologist is almost ready to practice on her own, 13 years after graduating from high school! The final step is to take a series of examinations to test her knowledge, called board examinations. Once she passes, she will be a board-certified Neurologist.

What do Neurologists do?

My favorite thing about being a neurologist is learning about my patients. The most important part of meeting a new patient is taking the time to hear their story. The history often holds cues that help me unlock your diagnosis. It is common that I will ask you what your friends and family have noticed about you too. There is no such thing as too much information to a neurologist.

Neurologists have a thorough and comprehensive way in which we examine patients. I will examine people from head to toe. Some of the things I assess are- vision, eye movements, muscle strength, reflexes, coordination, and sensation. Finally, I will ask you to walk so I can see how your nervous system puts everything together.

Neurologists can do lots of procedures:

EEGs which look at brainwaves.

EMG which tell me how your nerves and muscles work.

Injections for headaches

Interpret imaging studies such as CT scans and MRIs.

Why is this important?

Neurologists are the only physicians who truly understand the nervous system. One out of every 6 people is affected by a neurological illness. It is likely you know someone with a neurological disease. It is a great time to be a neurologist as we are finding new treatments and cures for neurological diseases. Neurologists are also your best advocate to help you live your best life.

If you want to find out more about what neurologists do check out this short video:

If you have a neurological disorder look for a board-certified Neurologist to guide your treatment. A good place to start is here:

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