A Day in the Life of a Neurologist and Neurosurgeon

As you’ve learned in our series on neurology, this specialized medical field is complicated and requires years and years of schooling before you can enter into private practice.

Even though you’re now familiar with these details and the amount of education you need, you may still be wondering what a typical day is like for both a neurologist and a neurosurgeon. Are the time and expense worthwhile? Is it something you’d like?

To help you answer these questions, we’re going to review a typical day for both doctors – what’s different between them and what’s common to both. Although there may be some variations from doctor to doctor, it gives a good idea of what you can expect.

A Typical Day in the Life of a Neurologist

Daily Tasks

The day of a neurologist may start as early as 8:00 a.m. At the beginning of most days, a neurologist will see patients. Individuals make appointments or are referred to the neurologist because something may be wrong with their nervous system.

In an initial meeting, the objective of the neurologist is twofold. He needs to understand the complaint, and also how that impairment impacts their life. Does it prevent certain activities? Is there pain with one activity, but no pain with another? The location of the pain is another clue to the possible problem. The answers to these and other specific questions allow the neurologist to tailor a treatment plan so the patient’s health and lifestyle can be restored as much as possible.

If a neurologist has gone into a subspecialty of neurology, elements of the day will differ from one physician to the next. But in all cases, the job is solving what’s happening inside the brains of their patients. An ultimate diagnosis determines treatment and prognosis. In some cases, the appointment results in a referral to a neurosurgeon or other specialized doctor.


Neurologists can work in hospitals or in private offices. Their average week is approximately 40 hours. If you go into this career and would like to maintain consistent hours, then opening up a private practice or working in a research or medical school may be better for you. If you don’t mind working longer hours (50 or more), you may find a hospital environment more to your liking. In a hospital setting, you’ll treat a variety of urgent and emergency cases.

Working Environment

The day of a neurologist is fast-paced. It can also be very stressful. It’s not easy to see patients who are frightened, and many of them are. Some days a neurologist has to give bad news to someone. Imagine how hard it is telling someone they have multiple sclerosis, or epilepsy. No matter how well they break that kind of news, patients will be upset and begin a grief process. So compassion, patience, and understanding are characteristics the neurologist must demonstrate.

A Typical Day in the Life of a Neurosurgeon

Daily Tasks

Because many surgeries begin early in the morning, the day of a neurosurgeon may start as early as 5:30 a.m. The primary job of a neurosurgeon is performing surgeries to correct problems with the nervous system. Surgical procedures take hours to perform, so neurosurgeons do not meet with as many patients as a neurologist does.

When potential surgery is not an emergency, neurosurgeons see patients by appointment. In other cases, patients are incapacitated because they’ve experienced some trauma, like a car accident. Either way, since surgery may be involved in restoring the patient back to health, the patient and their families are frustrated and upset. As with a neurologist, it is the responsibility of the surgeon to gather a medical history to determine what’s wrong and how it can be corrected. In emergencies, an assessment must be performed as quickly as possible.

Neurosurgeons like family members to be present. People close to the patient can provide objective observations about how he or she eats, sleeps and engages in daily activities. These perceptions are clues leading to a diagnosis. Family may also be more candid about how well the patient sees or hears – both of which can point to impairments of the nervous system. During post-operative meetings surgeons discuss ongoing care and how family members can help.

Some days a surgeon removes a brain tumor. The next operation may be repairing nerve damage. Although there are surgeries essential for patients, other operations may be elective. Elective surgeries are usually scheduled later in the day since they are not as great a priority. However, it is typical for scheduled elective surgeries to be postponed at the last minute because an unscheduled emergency surgery has to be performed. Emergency surgeries include aneurysms, strokes or even a craniotomies due to head traumas. Because neurosurgeons have to make allowances for emergencies, their day may not go as originally planned. They must be flexible.


Neurosurgeons work long, sometimes arduous hours. They frequently perform multiple operations in a single day. Some are straightforward and don’t take very long. Others, like brain surgeries, are complex and last for hours. Successful neurosurgeons may start the day before dawn and not get home until 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

Working Environment

The work of a neurosurgeon is intense. There are significant stressors and pressures on a neurosurgeon. Interactions with patients receiving bad news is an emotional stressor. Performing an operation to save a life takes hours and hours of time, putting a surgeon under considerable pressure. If you want to become a neurosurgeon, you must be capable of working under constant stress. You must also be confident in your decision-making abilities, especially since some decisions have to be made quickly.

Commonalities to the Days of Neurologists and Neurosurgeons

Working with Patients

Neurosurgeons and neurologists must be prepared to work with patients who are scared and angry. Patients are on edge, and these doctors have to be capable of managing intense emotional situations in both emergency and non-emergency situations. They must be able to interact with all kinds of personality styles. Family conflict over potential treatments, a patient’s anger at a diagnosis and other intense feelings are significant elements in relationships between patients, neurosurgeons and neurologists. If you want to enter the field of neurology, you must be prepared to manage uncomfortable conversations.

If someone’s neurological condition is not an emergency, the physician has time to develop rapport and trust. He or she has more opportunity to explain procedures, potential outcomes and any ongoing prognosis. But in emergency situations, trust must be obtained quickly. Emotions are extreme, especially if someone’s life is at stake. Rapport must be established regardless of the situation at hand.

Whether working in an office or hospital, neurologists typically see 14 to 16 patients a day, many of them for follow-up visits. Neurosurgeons will see fewer patients since one surgery may cover the same amount of time as seeing five patients does for a neurologist. For both doctors, watching a patient decline without being able to fix their problem is one of the biggest challenges and disappointments. However, one of the greatest rewards of working with patients is helping them recover from severe neurological setbacks.


Both neurologists and neurosurgeons have administrative details they must tend to at some point during the week or day. They have to maintain records, write prescriptions and fill out paperwork. If they run a private practice, they will meet with any staff who work for them. They may serve on boards and hospital committees, which they have to schedule into their days. Both of these specialized physicians may provide training to medical students or staff members. Additionally, they may supervise medical technicians or surgical nurses.

Other administrative necessities include returning phone calls, responding to emails, and dictating case notes. While they may have some support staff, there are some things only they can do. It’s all part of being a successful neurosurgeon or neurologist.

Continued Education and Collaboration

Neurologists and neurosurgeons actively participate in continuing education. They do this to remain informed about changing trends in the field. They may research with colleagues, or obtain additional certifications through medical organizations. They may pick up a fellowship.

They also collaborate with other neurologists and neurosurgeons as well as neuroradiologists. Because issues with the brain overlap with many conditions, doctors, and surgeons in neurology often work with physicians outside of their field. Besides interacting with physicians in neurology subspecialties, neurologists and neurosurgeons will also meet with speech therapists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists.

Best Personality Traits for Neurologists and Neurosurgeons

Stress Tolerance

As you have read, neurologists and neurosurgeons work in highly stressful environments. Either of these career choices require a person to focus on all kinds of conditions and to perform exceptionally well even when facing intense pressure. Patients who seek a doctor due to a neurological condition are under considerable stress themselves, so even the most trusting relationships are tense. These doctor-patient relationships create emotional stress on top of work environment pressure. If you decide to enter the field of neurology, you must be able to manage all of this effectively without negatively impacting your relationships and without lowering exceptional standards of patient care.

Displaying Empathy and Compassion for Patients

Neurosurgeons and neurologists must be compassionate and demonstrate empathy while establishing and maintaining professional boundaries. Keeping firm boundaries is tough because the doctors may have emotional responses to the conditions of their patients. It helps if individuals in these careers have strong support from friends or family in their own lives. Physical activities can also alleviate these stress factors.

Diligent attitude

Much time is spent by both neurosurgeons and neurologists observing patients and monitoring their brain activity. So neurodoctors must be patient and follow through on these observations. When people see a neurologist or neurosurgeon, it may be their last hope for relief. If you pursue a career in neurology, it can mean interruptions to your personal life, especially if you become a neurosurgeon whose practice is fraught with emergency surgeries. The diligence and dedication required to be in this field may require you to set aside everything else in your life to care for your patients.

Openness to new diagnostic tests and therapies

As you have seen, the field of neurology is constantly changing. If you go into this area, being open to new ideas and new ways of approaching neurological problems is essential. While adjusting to change can be difficult for most people, physicians in neurology have to make the adjustments, especially new therapies and procedures improve the care of patients. The more open neurologists and neurosurgeons are to medical breakthroughs, the higher the standard of care they can provide for their patients.

Attention to Detail and Precision

Accuracy and attention to detail are perhaps two of the most important characteristics of neurosurgeons and neurologists. If you become a neurosurgeon, you must possess a high level of manual dexterity and coordination. If you don’t, it will be difficult performing many of the surgical tasks required. For both professionals, exceptional attention to detail is crucial. Details of a medical history are vital in providing accurate and appropriate neurological diagnoses.


As you can see, a day in the life of either a neurosurgeon or neurologist is intense, although rewarding. The ability to adapt well to change, stamina to work long hours, and genuine pleasure working with patients are the key ingredients to enjoying each day. Based on our four-article series, you now have an understanding of this profession and what it would take pursue the career.

Get started becoming a neurologist or neurosurgeon today!

If you’ve decided you’d like to enter the field of neurosurgery, regardless of your age, you can start learning today.

The Apprentice Doctor offers an online neurology program. In addition to fact and theory, the course also provides opportunities for you to practice some of the skills neurologists, and neurosurgeons perform. The Apprentice Doctor’s For Future Doctors Course and Kit is ideal for aspiring medical professionals. You become an apprentice in the field.

If you missed any article in our neurology series and would like to catch up, click on the following links:

The Nervous System and How it Works

What’s the Difference Between A Neurologist & Neurosurgeon?

Path to Becoming a Neurologist or Neurosurgeon.

Interview with a practicing neurosurgeon.



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    Comments : 19 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Neurologist and Neurosurgeon”

    1. Hi! I’m an aspiring neurosurgeon, although I’m still at junior high school. I just want to ask if the time spent studying this field worth it? I am aware that it takes a lot of years so I am having second thoughts if I should pursue this field. Also any advice on how I can prepare at a young age? Thank you!

      • Hi Risa – it is natural to have doubts at your age – and there is still a lot of time to prepare and to change your mind. Take it one step at a time.
        Why not do the Apprentice Doctor Foundation Medical Course? It will help you making decision, and it will add extracurricular hours to your resume! https://www.theapprenticedoctor.com/pre-med-course/

    2. Hi am Tiwa, i always wanted to be a neurosurgeon but the work sounds abit combersome. I think i will go in to be a neurologist… I want to ask if its possible to be a neurologist and still perform some neurosurgeries in the absence of a neurosurgeon, because, i love the idea of operating

      • Hi Tiwa – I think that will be unlikely – as most neurosurgical procedures is out of the scope of practice of a neurologist.
        Having said that – neurologists and neurosurgeons often work together in and outside of the OR.

    3. This article is very interesting. I’m curious as to what level or type of professorship is required for one to be a behavior researcher. I’m interested in research such as deep brain stimulation. Thank you.

    4. Hi Doctor,
      I want to become a neurologist but I am only in Year 8. I’m curious on what I can do now to boost my chance of becoming a neurologist. I know I need a good ATAR, but what school subjects should I select and what scores should I be getting in each of those subjects?

      • My advice is at this stage to just do your best – thus lay a good foundation. The details will become apparent as you progress. At 8 everything is important – but later on the science and maths subjects will weigh more – not to say that languages and communication are not equally important. Trust it helps!

    5. Hey dc ‘m gudiya Kapoor my son is suffering from seizour disdor nw his pblm are control but he cn’t unstand wht’m saying coz my son mind is week nd he cn’t standing no sitting no walking no speaking plz tl me wht’m doing just symptoms said wht he wanted nw physiotherapy started 2yrs nw his neck r hold but sitting is not properly cn u help me coz i h v no money u say when i meet u sir plz help me my son is 5yr old plz it’s vry tougft r me nd my husband plz help me

      • I am sorry to hear about the situation with your son. However, this site is about education; not about medical advice. I can only recommend pursuing medical advice/treatment.

    6. I really enjoy all this articles……….,a million thanks for the update
      i have so much urge to become a neurologist and am working
      Toward that likewise taking action on it……….My mentor do say
      But my question is that is they not any platform for assisting the student in terms of finance via scholarship etc..!

      • Dear Daniel,

        Thank you for being a regular visitor to our site. It is gratifying to know you enjoy our articles and that they have prompted you to pursue a career in neurology. Throughout your academic and professional careers, your mentor’s advice will stand solid.

        As far as a platform for assisting students with financing and scholarships, in the United States, most colleges have you fill out a FASFA form. This particular document provides, based on income, what is called an estimated family contribution (EFC). Then, the financial aid office at the college will tell you how much non-loan money (grants) you are eligible for from the federal government and possibly the state. The balance, which includes your EFC, is what you have to come up with.

        That’s when you can go looking for scholarships. Sometimes the school can award you an athletic or academic scholarship. Those requirements vary, but they are worth asking about. Beyond that, you want to discover if any other scholarships are available outside the college.

        Small organizations within your community can offer small scholarships and many of those your high school guidance office would be able to talk to you about. The advantage of a local scholarship is that you are only competing with college-bound seniors in your area as opposed to the entire nation. The amounts may be smaller, but the competition is less fierce.

        Then you can do additional research on one of four following sites.


        You will repeat this type of process for medical school. Some schools, like Harvard, no longer charge tuition. But the competition is stiff. By the time you graduate, other medical schools may follow suit.

        Scholarships and grants represent money that doesn’t have to be repaid and reduces any loan amount you may have to take on. So, spending time researching up front could save you a lot of money on the back end, meaning that the net return on your investment starts much sooner.

        Good luck.

        Dr. Anton

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