Understanding How to Strengthen the Neurology Pipeline With Insights From Undergraduate Neuroscience Students

Despite increased neuroscience interest at the undergraduate level, a significant shortage of neurologists in the United States exists. To better understand how to generate more interest in neurology, specifically at the undergraduate level, we conducted an anonymous cross-sectional online survey comprising 1,085 undergraduates in either neuroscience courses or majoring/minoring in neuroscience from across the United States to better understand their clinical neurology experiences and perspectives. The survey quantitatively and qualitatively assessed students’ clinical neurology exposure inside and outside of the classroom, research experiences, and career goals. Students were from a broad spectrum of undergraduate institutions (public research university [40.8%], liberal arts college [29.7%], and private research university [29.0%]). Most students (89.9%) were looking to pursue graduate studies; 56.9% reported wanting to be a physician, and 17.8% expressed interest in obtaining an MD/PhD. Of importance, students reported first exposure to neuroscience at age 16 years but felt that they could be exposed to neuroscience as early as 13 years. Half (50.5%) decided to major in neuroscience before college, and a quarter (25.6%) decided to major in their first year of college. Despite high interest in clinical neurology exposure, less than one-third of students had spoken with or shadowed a neurologist, and only 13.6% had interacted with clinical neurology populations. Only 20.8% of students felt volunteer and internship opportunities were sufficiently available. Qualitative results include student perspectives from those who did and did not work with a neurologist, describing how they were or were not able to obtain such opportunities. We discuss translating the survey findings into actionable results with opportunities to target the undergraduate neuroscience interest to improve the neurology pipeline. We describe existing programs that could be integrated into everyday neurology practices and new approaches to learning and training to help leverage the significant undergraduate neuroscience interest. We also raise questions for further research, including exploring (1) how students learn of neurologic conditions/expand their knowledge about additional neurologic conditions, (2) whether qualitative investigation of the experiences of neuroscience undergraduates at specific institutions might provide an additional insight, and (3) systems to maintain interest in neuroscience/neurology as students enter medical school.

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