Types of Brain Doctors: Career Information by Specialization

Jul 18, 2019

Take a look at the different types of brain doctors or neurologists. Learn about career options and education requirements. Find out salary and job outlook information.

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  • 00:00 Essential Information
  • 00:36 Neurologists
  • 1:30 Neuropharmacologists
  • 2:27 Neurosurgeons
  • 3:21 Education & Training
  • 4:43 Licensing & Certification

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Brain Doctor Career Information

Brain Doctor Name Neurologist Neuropharmacologist Neurosurgeon
Education Requirements Medical Degree Medical Degree Medical Degree
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026) 13% (for all medical scientists)* 13% (for all medical scientists)* 14% (for all surgeons)*
Median Annual Salary $209,590 (2019)** $84,810 (2018 for all medical scientists)* $399,239 (2019)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,**PayScale.com

A brain doctor, also called a neurologist, is a doctor who studies the brain and how it interacts with the body and how outside stimulants affect the brain. 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 Options

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


A neurologist is someone who studies the brain and the nervous system and how they 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 these brain specialists to see how well the brain communicates with the rest of the body and what ailments could be causing a problem.

For this brain scientist name, we look at the job growth for medical scientists, which is expected to rise 13% between 2016 and 2026, as indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The annual median salary for neurologists was $209,590 as reported by Payscale.com in 2019.


Another type of brain specialist doctor is called a neuropharmacologists. They 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. Job growth, as mentioned, is projected to be a 13% increase between 2016 and 2026. Medical scientists earned a median annual salary of $84,810 as of May 2018, according to the BLS.


Some problems with the brain and nervous system require more than medication, so another type of brain doctor, called a neurosurgeon, makes surgical repairs to the brain. 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 this type of surgery 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 Payscale.com indicates that neurosurgeons earned a median annual salary of $399,239 in June of 2019. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals that jobs for surgeons will increase by 14% by 2026.


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.

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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