What makes a neurologist?

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

Aside from brains 🧠, guts 💪🏻, and a strong support system 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦, what makes a neurologist?


I've seen a lot of people and places use the term "neurologist" recently. Ask anyone what a neurologist is, and you may get answers varied from a medical doctor to neurosurgeon to chiropractor or psychologist. See my previous post explaining what a neurologist does and the difference between a neurologist and say, a neurosurgeon or psychologist. But now that you know what kinds of patients and diseases a neurologist sees, you may wonder how a neurologist becomes ... well, a neurologist.


Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

A neurologist is a type of specialist, which is a specialized medical doctor. After their primary and secondary education, a neurologist has to complete:

  • four years of undergraduate (college/university) education to obtain their bachelor's degree

  • four years of medical school to obtain their M.D. (during which the first two years he or she learns all of the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the human body and its diseases; and the final two years he or she rotates through many of the various medical and surgical specialties in and out of the hospital, independently interviewing, examining, researching, and presenting on their assigned patients, accumulating over 5,000 patient contact hours)

  • three 8-hour US Medical Licensing Exams (USMLE) as well as one all-day in-person exam where he or she interviews, examines, and documents several "mock" patients, to become licensed to practice medicine

  • one year of Internal Medicine training (internship), during which the intern is the "front line" of the medical team, rotating mostly in the hospital, on various medical rotations, from cardiology to infectious diseases, amounting to almost 4,000 patient contact hours on average

  • three years of Neurology training (residency), during which the resident is primarily responsible for neurology patients and is overseen by "attending physicians," amounting to another 11,000 or so patient contact hours on average

  • another 8-hour examination by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, to become "board-certified."

By the end of their education and training, a neurologist has accrued over 20,000 patient contact hours, most of which where he or she independently managed their patients (though attendings were available to supervise, advise, and revise the plan if necessary). If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is. 20,000 hours is the equivalent of almost ten years of a job with 40-hour workweeks.


Always be sure your neurologist is a medical doctor and is board certified. Some offices use physician's assistants (PAs) or nurse practitioners (NPs). These "midlevel" providers have different education and training philosophies. PAs have 2-3 total years of education including a year of clinical rotations much like a medical student; they do not complete formal specialty training. NPs, though traditionally had nursing degrees, have recently been able to obtain their degree without a nursing background, in online programs, some of which have 100% acceptance rates (though there are still excellent NPs that were traditionally educated following a nursing background). NP students often find their own physicians to shadow and have a couple of days' experience in each specialty. PAs and NPs can be valuable members of the healthcare team, but be wary if you are only meeting with the PA or NP in your doctor's office; in the ideal situation, they would have direct oversight from their supervising physician.


Rarely, you will meet a "functional neurologist" which is not a neurologist as defined above, but rather a type of chiropractor. Chiropractors complete four years of chiropractic school after college to obtain their "doctorate" (D.C.), which includes 4,200 patient contact hours, mainly in the alternative treatment of the musculoskeletal system. Chiropractors are not medical doctors.


Are you interested in becoming a neurologist? Call Dr. Chalfin and see what it's like!


If you or your loved one is searching for a board-certified, holistic neurologist in Boca Raton or its surrounding areas, search no further. Dr. Renata Chalfin is a board-certified neurologist available to treat you or your family members. Call 561-961-8575 to make an appointment today!

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