What Does a Neurophysiologist Do? (And How to Become One)
Updated 15 July 2023
A neurophysiologist, also known as a clinical physiologist specialised in neurophysiology, is a health care specialist. They study how the nervous system reacts with the electrical parts of the brain. Typically, they work with patients suffering from brain and nervous system conditions who they diagnose, treat or rehabilitate. Neurophysiology is a progressive discipline that many doctors specialise in after many years of study, so it may be beneficial to know what they do before embarking on this career path. In this article, we explain what a neurophysiologist does, what their primary duties are, the different conditions they treat, the skills they need and how to enter this career.
What does a neurophysiologist do?
Neurophysiologists are health care specialists who study particular disorders of the nervous system and brain. Their job differs slightly from neurologists, who focus primarily on brain conditions. Neurophysiologists often work in hospitals or clinics and treat patients who are referred to them by general practitioners. Neurophysiologists are experts on nervous system conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease and motor neurone disease.
What are the duties of a neurophysiologist?
The duties of a neurophysiologist have similarities to other specialised medical practitioners. They include:
Performing tests on patients to see if they have various nervous system conditions
Revising the results of the tests with patients and answering medical questions
Creating and assigning a suggested course of treatment or medicine
Administering medication when necessary
Having follow-up appointments with patients to see how the treatment is working
Referring patients to other doctors when they do not find a neurophysiological condition to be the cause of particular symptoms
Referring patients to other professionals who could help them change their home and lifestyle to accommodate their condition
Researching and keeping up to date with new findings in neurophysiology
Communicating with other doctors and healthcare professionals to discuss individual patients or the hospital or surgery
What conditions do neurophysiologists treat?
Neurophysiologists are specialised in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the nervous system. These are often chronic conditions, such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. As most of the conditions and disorders that neurophysiologists work with do not have a cure, the treatment that they administer typically focuses on reducing the symptoms or making their lives more comfortable. Neurophysiologists may also refer patients to therapists or counsellors to help with their mental health.
What are the skills of a neurophysiologist?
Neurophysiologists typically have several hard and soft skills. Here are some important skills needed to be successful in this career:
Neurophysiologists typically have an excellent knowledge of science, particularly biology. They must study biology throughout secondary school and achieve good grades in the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) in order to attend medical school or complete a suitable science degree.
Information technology abilities
Neurophysiologists use computers to type up patient notes, communicate with colleagues and research treatment options. They may also write reports or presentations on computers. Therefore, most neurophysiologists are competent at using computers and can demonstrate skills with various computer software.
Along with computers, neurophysiologists may use other specialised equipment to diagnose patients. For example, they may operate scanning machines or electrical activity tests. Neurophysiologists generally learn how to operate specialised machinery while working. Nonetheless, a general understanding of new technologies is helpful to people who want to become a neurophysiologist.
Neurophysiologists may spend a considerable portion of their career researching disease and treatment methods. While neurophysiologists may not decide on new treatments themselves, they may research different treatments authorised by their employer. They can read journals and books about neurophysiology and stay informed about the latest developments in the field.
Neurophysiologists typically speak to many different people during their work, including other doctors, leading experts in the field and patients. They may communicate with other doctors to discuss a treatment plan, adverse symptoms or a specific patient's condition. Additionally, they may discuss particular disorders with patients and their families in non-scientific terms. They may also liaise with scientists at conferences and events. Effective and adaptive communication skills are beneficial to these tasks.
Neurophysiologists are often required to have compassionate conversations with patients and their families to discuss a diagnosis. They may need to explain how the disorder will change a patient's life and discuss treatment options. They usually do not take on the role of a counsellor but can refer patients or families to other mental health experts. Nonetheless, empathy and care are generally crucial.
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Like many health care specialists, neurophysiologists often decide on the best course of treatment for a particular patient. They may analyse a patient's situation, considering factors like their age, general health, any other conditions and preferences, and put together a plan that meets them all. Neurophysiologists are typically comfortable making decisions for their patients and have the confidence to explain their choices.
Neurophysiologists typically work with many different patients but can remember each patient's situation and treatment. Therefore, prospective neurophysiologists benefit from having strong memory and organisational skills. To help them stay organised, they need to keep notes recording each patient's condition and treatment plans. Keeping their notes clear and organised is very helpful for effective patient management.
How to become a neurophysiologist
Here's how you might become a neurophysiologist:
1. Complete your secondary education
Most prospective neurophysiologists complete their secondary education with an emphasis on sciences, such as biology, chemistry and physics. It is also beneficial to have high grades in mathematics and information technology.
2. Study for a bachelor's degree
Many neurophysiologists complete a bachelor of medicine (or medical science) majoring in clinical measurement. Or they may have a degree in another relevant field, such as a bachelor of science with a human anatomy and physiology component. Once you have completed your bachelor's degree, you can pursue a master's. Completing both degrees typically takes five to six years.
A postgraduate degree, such as a master of medicine majoring in clinical neurophysiology allows candidates the opportunity to choose a speciality area. Consider focusing your attention on neurophysiology or neurology.
3. Gain some vocational experience
Working in a surgery or hospital setting is beneficial to those thinking about becoming a neurophysiologist. For example, you could apply to shadow a neurophysiologist in your local hospital or secure a junior role in a surgery or hospital after graduating. Generally, vocational experience is highly advantageous to those looking to secure neurophysiologist positions.
4. Undertake postgraduate education
To specialise in neurophysiology, most candidates do a doctoral degree in the field. This qualification enables them to demonstrate that they are fully competent in neurophysiology and secure more advanced roles in the sector. Candidates may complete their postgraduate education straight after graduating or gain some experience working in a hospital setting before undertaking further study.
5. Apply for neurophysiologist positions
The level at which you enter neurophysiology may depend on your previous education and hospital experience. Most candidates begin their career at junior level positions where they report to other members of staff. Those who have studied neurophysiology to a high level may progress to senior roles quickly.
Here are the answers to some FAQs about neurophysiologists:
Where do neurophysiologists usually work?
Neurophysiologists typically work in hospitals or other healthcare settings. Large hospitals usually contain a neurophysiology department. Neurophysiologists may have their own office to see patients in this section of the hospital. In addition, neurophysiologists may visit other hospital areas to consult with other doctors or healthcare professionals. They may also work in specialised neurophysiology clinics.
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What are the working hours of a neurophysiologist?
Neurophysiologists typically have appointments in the daytime, but they may work weekends or sometimes in the evenings. While they usually have a set number of practice hours, they may work overtime in certain situations or complete research in their own time. If they work on shifts, their patterns may vary from week to week.
What career progression is there for a neurophysiologist?
Neurophysiologists may begin their career in junior roles, assisting other doctors. Once they are fully qualified, they may move to treat patients independently, with some support from superiors if necessary. As they accrue more years of experience, neurophysiologists typically earn more responsibilities and may progress to become the head of a department. There generally are only a few roles for head neurophysiologists. Candidates may move around to find promotions.
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