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Medical Education
Medical Student Education

Career Information: Neurology

Specialty: Neurology

Completed by: Vanja Douglas, Andy Josephson, Dan Lowenstein

Date completed/updated: August 2012

  1. What can students do in the 1st and 2nd years to explore and/or prepare for this career?
    The first-year neuroscience course - Brain, Mind and Behavior – offers lots of opportunities to meet neurologists and get an idea of the world of neurology.  In addition to the apprenticeships that are part of BMB (and which involve direct patient interactions), you should feel free to ask the course faculty about opportunities to go on ward and consult rounds, and shadow clinicians in the outpatient setting. (Of course, you can do this anytime, not just during BMB!). Many students who are interested in neuroscience also seek out a research fellowship during the summer between first and second year.

  2. What common variations exist in the length/content of residency programs for this career?
    Neurology residency is typically 4 years long: 1 year of internal medicine (internship) and 3 years of neurology (residency). Some programs accept students into internship and residency at the same time; others only accept students into residency and they have to find a separate internship.

  3. What common variations exist in this career after training?
    Neurology offers a wide range of career choices. Most neurologists practicing in the community are general neurologists who see a wide range of patients.  Subspecialty training exists in epilepsy, stroke, headache, neuromuscular disease, movement disorders, memory disorders and dementia, neurocritical care, neuroimmunology and multiple sclerosis, neuro-infectious disease, and neurohospitalist neurology. Some residents pursue neuroscience research after their training. Occasionally neurology residents pursue additional training in neuro-interventional radiology, global health, palliative care, ethics, and pain management.

  4. What is a typical work day for someone in this field?
    This will vary widely depending on specific career choices, but for a general neurologist the majority of one’s practice is in the outpatient setting.  Neurologists see a mixture of young patients (with conditions like migraine headaches and multiple sclerosis) and old patients (with conditions like stroke and dementia).  There is also a mix of patients with chronic conditions who are followed for years (e.g. myasthenia gravis or epilepsy) and patients with temporary conditions who are followed for only a short period (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome or lumbar radiculopathy).

  5. What is the culture of this career?
    The culture of neurology is, of course, defined in large part by the type of individuals who are attracted to the field. Neurologists tend to be motivated (rather than disillusioned) with the fact that there is a tremendous amount that we do not know about the functions of the nervous system.  They see the care of patients with neurological illness as a great mixture of compassion, careful observation and intellectualism, and don’t mind the fact that the work is not heavily procedure-based (although neurologists are the ones that usually decide which procedures are needed).  

  6. How compatible is this career with raising a family? How is this different for men and women?
    Neurology is a family-friendly career. Many residents at UCSF – both men and women – have had children during residency.

  7. What are the most important qualities or character traits for a person in this field?
    Intellectual curiosity, patience, some level of comfort with ambiguity, an intense interest in the patient’s story, fascination with the nervous system.

  8. How competitive are the residency programs in this field?
    Not very – essentially all UCSF graduates get into one of the first-tier programs in the country. That being said, a few programs are competitive and nearly every applicant from UCSF will get into one of their top 3 choices.

  9. How competitive is the job market after residency?
    Jobs are widely available. Although desirable urban areas with a high cost of living (e.g. Boston, San Francisco, New York) may have more competitive job markets, neurology residents graduating from UCSF and Stanford in recent years have been very successful finding jobs in the Bay Area at Kaiser and other community practices.

  10. What programs have been popular among UCSF applicants, or how should applicants go about considering programs?
    We are happy to discuss this question in person.

  11. What resources (eg, websites, books, professional groups) would you recommend for students interested in learning more about this field?
    Check out the activities of the UCSF Brain Interest Group (BIG) at There are also useful resources at the American Academy of Neurology’s website ( and that of the American Neurological Association (

  12. How important is each the following for admission to a competitive program?


Very Important

Somewhat Important

Not Important


volunteer work










Honors in third year




Honors in some courses are preferable but not specific ones




















Strong performance on clinical rotations and strong letters of recommendation.