Careers in Neurology/Psychology
By Rachel Kimball
Neurology and Psychiatry are fascinating fields. Many of us have heard the term “neurologist:” a doctor who focuses on the nervous system’s anatomy, function, and disorders. Likewise, psychiatry is a well-known career. However, there are hundreds of career paths within neurology and psychiatry.
In this blog post, we’ll be discussing many different types of careers within the broader field. This will include an overview of what a day-in-the-life may look like and the path required to get there.
Neurology is a branch of medicine that deals with nervous system disorders including the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and ganglia. Some of the disorders and diseases they may study and treat include spinal cord disorders, sleep disorders, movement disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, speech and language disorders, and seizure disorders. The key difference between a neurologist and a neurosurgeon is that while both careers require an M.D., a neurologist does not perform surgery.
To become a neurologist, one must receive a 4-year undergraduate degree, obtain their M.D. or D.O., a one-year internship in either internal medicine or medicine/surgery, and complete a 3+ year residency training in an accredited neurology program. After residency, many neurologists choose to pursue further specialization through an additional fellowship program .
Psychiatry is the specialty of medicine that focuses on preventing, diagnosing, and treating behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) that completed medical school, a four-year residency training in psychiatry, and board exams. Psychiatrists may choose to further specialize their training in child and adolescent psychiatry, g eriatric psychiatry, forensic/legal psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, pain medicine, psychosomatic (mind and body) medicine, or sleep medicine.
Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, they can diagnose and treat various disorders. In addition, they can order medical tests and prescribe medications due to their medical degree. Treatment often includes psychotherapy (“talk therapy”) and prescription medications such as antidepressants, sedatives, hypnotics, mood stabilizers, stimulants, and antipsychotic medications.
Neurosurgeons must also obtain a medical degree and residency program to practice. Neurosurgeons differ from neurologists in the sense that they perform surgery. They diagnose and treat a variety of disorders, including congenital anomalies, trauma, tumors, vascular conditions , brain/spinal infections, and degenerative diseases. Neurosurgeons may perform minor procedures or more complex extensive ones, and they also typically spend time in a clinical setting seeing patients before or after their procedures.
Clinical Psychologists do not need to obtain an M.D. or D.O. The path requires completion of an undergraduate degree, and a doctoral degree that sometimes requires a Master’s degree as a prerequisite. clinical psychologists make up one of the largest branches of psychology. Clinical psychologists work in a variety of environments: schools, hospitals, research settings, and training. Some work with patients with physical health concerns such as obesity or diabetes. Others work with patients with mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, and other clinical psychologists work with students with learning disabilities.
Social workers are clinicians who serve to enhance their clients well-being and promote social change and the development of communities. Social workers often strive to help their clients reach their essential socio-emotional needs. Social workers may focus on a specific specialty within social work, such as civil rights, unemployment insurance, disability pay, worker’s compensation, reduced mental health stigma, Medicaid and Medicare, or child abuse and neglect prevention. Like clinical psychologists, they often work in medical settings, research environments, or schools, thus, providing a great amount of variety within the sub-field. Some poisons require only completing an undergraduate degree in social work, but most programs require a master’s degree in social work after completion of the undergraduate years.
Genetic counselors work with patients to assess the risk of various genetic disorders and congenital disabilities in their children. They often work in medical settings, such as clinics or hospitals, and cross genetics with counseling to prevent genetic disorders and comfort families. Outside of their clinical hours, many genetic counselors also engage in research to deepen the field’s understanding of genetics and inheritable disorders. A genetic counselor must first complete a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree in genetic counseling that includes clinical hours.
Neuropathologists focus on neural tissue and diagnose neurological diseases and disorders by examining the brain , spinal cord, and nerves. Neuropathologists contribute greatly to neurological research as they examine different structures and learn more about various diseases while individually diagnosing patients. Neuropathologists play a significant role in biopsies, diagnosis during procedures, and autopsies. Neuropathologists focus a lot of their research on causes of death, degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and brain tumors. To become a neuropathologist, one must complete their undergraduate degree, obtain an M.D. or D.O, complete residency training in pathology, and then further specialize in neuropathology through a fellowship program and training.
A neuropsychologist is a clinician that focuses on the relationship between behavior/emotion and the biology/neuroanatomy of the brain. Neuropsychologists must obtain a doctorate in psychology and further post-doctoral training in neuropsychology. Neuropsychologists often diagnose and treat memory disorders, mood disturbances, learning disabilities, nervous system dysfunction, and developmental disorders. Their biological and psychological background enables them to use both qualitative psychological testing and medical imaging/tests to diagnose a set of symptoms. This multidisciplinary sub-field of psychology is excellent for those interested in the biological factors of neurological disorders.
A neuroradiologist is a radiologist that specializes in diagnosing neurological disorders through the use of medical imaging. Neuroradiologists must obtain a bachelor’s degree, attend medical school, complete residency training in radiology, and further training such as a fellowship in neuroradiology. Similar to neurosurgeons and neurologists, neuroradiologists are a type of physician. Neuroradiologists often analyze X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans of the brain and spinal cord. They also diagnose neurodegenerative diseases, tumors, and brain injuries.
Neuropharmacology is the study of the effects of various drugs on the nervous system. Neuropharmacologists work to understand how different chemicals, such as medications and illicit drugs, affect the nervous system while synthesizing drugs that treat neurological disorders. Neuropharmacologists need to obtain a master’s or doctorate in neuropharmacology after completing a bachelor’s degree.
As the name alludes, psychophysics studies the relationship between psychology and physics,specifically between physical stimuli and the psychological response/sensations it produces. Psychophysicists often work in research settings and may play a role in a clinical setting. Their research accounts for much of what we know about neurology and how our brain responds to stimuli. To become a psychophysicist, you must complete a master’s or doctorate in psychology and obtain further training in psychophysics. Most psychophysicists also have an undergraduate background that includes Physics to some extent.
Electroneurodiagnostic Technicians are radio-techs that specialize in the nervous system. They use various imaging techniques and tests including electroencephalographs (EEGs), nerve condition studies, electromyography (EMG), evoked potential (EP) Machinery, and inoperative monitoring (IOM). The tests they perform allow neurologists and neuroradiologists to diagnose disorders and diseases. Electroneurodiagnostic Technicians work in hospitals, research institutions, epilepsy monitoring units, and sleep disorder centers. To become an electroneurodiagnostic technician, one must complete a two-year associate’s degree and complete further training to pass the exam administered by the American Board of Electroencephalographic and Evoked Potential Technologists.
A neuroscience nurse is an RN that treats and monitors patients with neurological disorders such as brain trauma, neurodegenerative diseases, and strokes. They may work in an in-patient or out-patient setting and tend to be in clinics or hospitals.
Psychobiologists work to study the physiological and evolutionary mechanisms responsible for human behavior. They often work in research settings to understand the relationship between biological factors and psychology, similar to that of a neuropsychologist (just without the clinical background oftentimes.) Psychobiologists believe that biology plays a significant role in human behavior and perform research to show why and how. Their findings play a major role in the field of neuropsychology and psychobiology. To become a psychobiologist, you must first complete an undergraduate degree and obtain a master’s or doctorate in psychology or a Ph.D. in biology. The key difference between neuroscience/neuropsychology and psychobiology is that psychobiologists focus on biological factors outside of just neurology.
Neuroanatomists focus on the anatomy and structure of the nervous system, often working on research and providing much of the information necessary for clinicians to diagnose. They make discoveries every day as they examine tissue. Their role is similar to that of a neuropathologist, but the career path does not require an M.D. or D.O. To become a neuroanatomist, you must obtain a master’s degree or doctorate.
The wide variety of careers within neurology makes it an excellent choice for anyone interested in the field. An interest in neurology can take you in so many directions from neurophysicists to neuropathologists, and everything in between! This post included many of the different types of careers within neurology/psychiatry, but not all of them: there are many more to choose from, and a quick google search will show you countless opportunities in the field. Passion and an open mind will lead to a career in neurology that you love! Best of luck 🙂
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