Medical Specialities: Neurology

by Natasha Sosa

“One out of every six patients that enters the hospital is a neurology patient,” said Dr. Leslie Weiner, MD, former Chair of the Department of Neurology at the Keck School of Medicine.

With stroke being the third-leading cause of death in the United States and neurological disorders being the leading cause of disability, neurology has come into its own as an important field in the medical world.

Neurology is an increasingly popular field, currently populated by around 16,000 licensed physicians. These doctors see patients dealing with a variety of different disorders and diseases, from Alzheimer’s Disease to Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and stroke. However, neurologists also see patients with more common problems such as migraines, seizures and neck pain.

Imagine that you are a physician presented with a healthy young woman who suddenly became comatose. She had been fine the day before, but now she is unresponsive. What would you do? Would you order an MRI to see what her brain looks like? If so, you are thinking like a neurologist.

But what does it take to become a neurologist? After medical school, aspiring neurologists complete a year-long internship in internal medicine followed by 3 years of neurology residency. Once this training is complete, most do a fellowship specializing in a particular disorder of interest.

Aside from the medical training, however, neurology also tends to require a certain type of personality.

“It’s intellectually quite challenging,” Weiner said. “Neurology is complicated. The brain is complicated. You have to be curious and like to think about problems.”

Not all neurology cases are straightforward; if an MRI is not enough to give you a clear picture of what is going on, the diagnosis can be quite challenging. Also, sometimes an MRI can look positive for one disease while the tissue biopsies test negative, so neurologists must always think about alternate solutions to problems.

In the end, however, the most important quality for an aspiring neurologist to have is a passion for the field.

“Follow what you’re most interested in,” Weiner said. “Do what you think will do the most good.”

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