Types of Brain Doctors: Career Information by Specialization

Brain doctors, also called neurologists, study how the brain interacts with the body and how outside stimulants affect the brain. Continue reading for an overview of the programs as well as job and salary information for some career options for graduates.

Essential Information

Multiple subfields in neurology allow doctors to examine the relationships between the brain and psychiatry or biology and pharmaceuticals. Some neurologists choose specializations that focus on neurological research, whereas others work directly with patients.

Career Neurologist Neuropharmacologist Neurosurgeon
Education RequirementsMedical DegreeMedical Degree Medical Degree
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 18%(for all physicians and surgeons)* 13%(for all medical scientists)* 18%(for all physicians and surgeons)*
Median Annual Salary (2015)$193,250**$81,430(for all medical scientists)**$387,170**

'Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics'


Career Options

Most applicants to medical school have a bachelor's degree. Students can choose practically any major during their undergraduate years, but each medical school has a list of academic prerequisite requirements. Most universities have a recommended pre-med path for students, and some schools may have a pre-med focus related to neuroscience.

Some career options for medical students interested in brain function include neurologist, neuropharmacologist and neurosurgeon.


Physicians and scientists in the field of neurology study how the brain and the nervous system interact with the body. Many neurologists focus on neurological disorders and diseases, such as Alzheimer's, epilepsy and chronic pain. They conduct tests on patients using specialized brain-mapping equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to take real-time pictures of the brain during active and inactive states. Results from such tests allow neurologists to see how well the brain communicates with the rest of the body and what ailments could be causing a problem.

Job growth for neurologists is expected to increase by 18% between 2012 and 2022 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The annual median salary for neurologists was $193,250 as reported by www.payscale.com.


Neuropharmacologists use different medications to correct problems in brain function. Many use research subjects to test how different chemicals alter brain activity. Similar to neurologists, they use special dyes within the medication, along with MRIs and other brain mapping equipment to watch the effects of medications interacting with the brain. Although some neuropharmacologists work as consultants in hospitals, most work at pharmaceutical companies or at other research facilities.

While specific statistics for job growth and salary information for neuropharmacologists is not available, information about medical scientists can offer comparable measures. Medical scientists earned a median annual salary of $81,430 as of May 2015 according to a report by www.payscale.com. Job growth for medical scientists is predicted to rise 13% between 2012 and 2022 as indicated by the BLS.


Some problems with the brain and nervous system require a neurosurgeon to make surgical repairs. For instance, some diseases, such as cancer, can require surgeons to remove malignant tumors. Neurosurgeons also focus on fixing brain damage that causes problems with movement, such as nerve damage, paralysis or other movement disorders. Since surgery of this type can be invasive and risky, neurosurgeons must make sure patients are healthy enough to deal with the procedure and any necessary rehabilitation.

A recent survey by www.payscale.com indicates that neurosurgeons earned a median annual salary of $387,170 in May of 2015. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals that jobs for all physicians and surgeons will increase by 18% by 2022.


Most medical school programs have students spending the first 1-2 years in the classroom learning the fundamentals of anatomy, biology and medicine. Students then enter into a clinical rotation schedule treating real patients. The rotation schedule covers various specialties, such as cardiology, oncology and infectious diseases. Students usually pick their field of specialty around the third year of medical school and try to align their remaining clinical experiences with that specialty. For example, students who want to become Neurologists would apply to join the neurology clinical rotation groups.


After graduating from medical school, the majority of Neurologists enter a residency program within neurology, per the BLS. A residency program works like an apprenticeship in that workers are paid to learn their trade through treating real patients. Most programs last 3-4 years, but certain specialty fields may require a longer residency. Programs offer residents a chance to use diagnostic equipment, treat a full range of patients and learn the latest trends in neurology.

Licensing and Certification

Each state has different requirements, but all states require doctors to be licensed. Doctors must first pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. After passing the exam, some states have additional exams they require doctors to pass, such as a jurisprudence test to understand state healthcare laws. Doctors in a particular specialty, such as neurology, can achieve board certification through successfully completing an approved residency program and passing an exam.

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