Written by S.M. Audsley

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe,” said John Muir, American environmental writer and naturalist. Everything is connected in myriad ways. This is no more apparent than in studying the inner workings of the human body. The field of medicine is vast with many disciplines to choose from, but neurology is particularly intriguing as a specialty to consider for future medical students.

Neurology is the branch of medicine that studies the nerves and their disorders in the nervous system. With approximately 100 billion-plus neurons in the brain, constantly transmitting and receiving impulses from cells and nerves throughout the body, neurology is a fascinating field of study and therefore a great choice of specialty for medical students. This challenging and rewarding branch of medicine attracts many students who want to become a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in neurological disorders. Neurologists may be involved in clinical studies and research, run trials, and problem-solve with patients to help diagnose their disorders. Neurology is a nonsurgical field -- but if you want to get your hands on a scalpel, then the overlapping branch of neurosurgery might be for you, too.

“Memory is like a spiderweb that catches new information. The more it catches, the bigger it grows. And the bigger it grows, the more it catches,” writes Joshua Foer, author of the best-selling book on how memory works, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. A neurologist understands this and becomes an expert in understanding the intricacies of how the brain works, which helps in diagnosing when the web is under distress. Does your grandmother have Alzheimer's disease? Did your friend’s mother just get diagnosed with one of the many neurological disorders? You can make a difference in these people’s lives by studying and specializing in neurology.

Becoming a neurologist requires attending medical school and selecting neurology as your specialty. You will complete a neurological residency post-medical school and need to take national board examinations to become certified. No doubt it is a long road from school to becoming certified and working, but you will have fun along the way and bond with your med school cohort. Also, you will find yourself in a wonderful career as a neurologist with many perks and rewarding opportunities. If you are still on the fence about this specialty, here are five reasons to study neurology...

1. Neurologist shortage means demand is high

According to The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, there is a big shortage of neurologists. “A recent report by the USA's National Center for Health Workforce Analysis estimates that while the supply of US neurologists may have grown by 11 percent between 2013 and 2025, demand will have grown by 16 percent. So how do we train more neurologists? And are there any alternatives to simply increasing their number?” writes The Lancet.

“With the rapidly rising rates of brain diseases such as dementia and stroke at the same time as the number of US medical residents choosing neurology over other specialties is clearly declining, the US could face a crisis,” said Thomas R. Vidic, MD, with Elkhart Clinic in Elkhart, Indiana and a Fellow with the American Academy of Neurology. “Our study found that long wait times for patients to see a neurologist and difficulty finding neurologists to fill vacant positions are adding to the current national shortfall. In addition, the demand for neurologists is expected to grow as people gain coverage through health care reform.”

Suffice to say the demand for neurologists is high. If you decide to specialize in this field, you will likely not have any trouble securing a job.

2. Scholarship and fellowship opportunities

Funding higher education, especially medical school and specialties such as neurology, can be challenging. However, due to the high demand for this field, prospective neurologists will find that there are ample funding, scholarship opportunities, and fellowships for qualified candidates. For example, like many other medical schools, Stanford’s Clinical Neurology and Neuroscience department offers both clinical neurology fellowships as well as neuroscience fellowships. Doing your research and finding the best fit for your neurology program also means looking for financial assistance. Rest assured there are many scholarship and fellowship opportunities to help you launch your career in neurology.

3. Highly rewarding career

“Many neurologists have shared over the years that they enjoy the field of neurology because of the wide variety of conditions they see and diseases they treat, as well as the new discoveries being made in the field,” reports Andrea Clement Santiago from Very Well Health. Neurologists, generally, are constantly challenged and rewarded in their careers. They are problem-solvers, working in a fast-paced, dynamically exciting environment. “Furthermore, physicians who want a specialty that is somewhat procedure oriented, but also like an office-based practice (i.e. they don't want to necessarily be a surgeon operating in an OR full-time) also enjoy neurology,” adds Santiago. You’ll make a real impact and a difference in so many people’s lives as a neurologist.

4. Lucrative Salary and Opportunities to Work Abroad

Aside from feeling rewarded in your career as a neurologist, you’ll also be well-compensated for your hard work. Medscape, a comprehensive online resource for medical students and medical professionals reports consistent high salaries for certified neurologists. Your salary will be dependent on your department, clinical research project, credentials, as well as location, but neurologists in the US can expect to make an average six-figure salary and salaries are comparable in many countries. Whoever said education doesn’t pay is wrong!

Being paid well is definitely a perk. Another advantage of becoming a neurologist is the opportunity to work abroad. Due to the overall shortage of neurologists in the world, job opportunities exist all over the world. You can relocate to a foreign country and enjoy life as an expat in a beautiful location.

5. Options for Non-Medical Careers

Interested in neurology, but don’t want to work in medicine? No problem. Neuroscience is a diverse field with many non-medical careers available. You can do research, study brains, run medical trials, and even become a genetic counselor. This is a cutting-edge job that allows neuroscientists to study conditions like birth defects and genetic disorders. You’ll be able to delve deep into research in all of these neuroscience-related fields. Backyard Brains, an organization that promotes neuroscience outreach events, is another example of how you can put your neurology degree to good use.

Studying neurology will open up so many fascinating and rewarding career opportunities for you. As a prospective medical student, you might want to consider specializing in this branch of medicine. Neurology students continuously discover the secrets of our infinitely complex and incredible minds, making it a fascinating field of study and career. 

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