Exploring this Job

One of the best introductions to a career in health care is to volunteer at a local hospital, clinic, or nursing home. In this way it is possible to get a feel for what it's like to work around other health care professionals and patients and possibly determine exactly where your interests lie. As in any career, reading as much as possible about the profession, talking with your school's career counselor, and interviewing those working in the field are other important ways to explore your interest.

The Job

A neurologist evaluates, diagnoses, and treats patients with diseases and disorders impairing the function of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscles, and autonomic nervous system, as well as the supporting structures and vascular supply to these areas. A neurologist conducts and evaluates specific tests relating to the analysis of the central or peripheral nervous system.

In addition to treating such neurological disorders as epilepsy, neuritis, brain and spinal cord tumors, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and stroke, neurologists treat muscle disorders and pain, especially headaches. They also treat Illnesses, injuries, or diseases that can adversely affect the nervous system, such as diabetes, hypertension, and cancers.

Neurologists see patients in two capacities—as a consulting physician or as the patient's principal physician. A neurologist works as a consulting physician when asked by a patient's primary care physician to consult on a case. For example, when a patient has a stroke or shows signs of mental confusion, that patient's primary care doctor may ask a neurologist to consult on the case so that they can determine exactly what is wrong with the patient. In this circumstance, as a consulting physician, the neurologist conducts a neurological examination and evaluates the patient's mental, emotional, and behavioral problems to assess whether these conditions are treatable. To do the exam, the neurologist may interview the patient, give vision, balance, and strength tests, and order a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) of the person's brain. After the neurologist has gathered information from such a variety of sources, he or she will discuss the findings with the primary care doctor and make a diagnosis. Treatment plans are then made.

A neurologist is often the principal physician for people with such illnesses as Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, or multiple sclerosis. Because these are chronic and sometimes progressive conditions, the neurologist monitors the development of the illness and works to treat the patient's symptoms, which may include muscle spasms, seizures, or loss of coordination. The neurologist may prescribe medications (such as an anticonvulsant), physical therapy (to maintain strength or coordination), or new tests (such as a CAT scan). Depending on the patient's condition, the neurologist may see the patient anywhere from every few months to once a year.

The neurologist also works with psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals as necessary, because a patient's social condition and emotional issues are closely tied to neurological health. Patients with dementia, for example, often also suffer from depression. When a neurologist notices that a patient being treated seems withdrawn and unusually down, the neurologist may call in a psychiatrist to determine if anything can be done to help with the patient's emotional needs.