Surviving Neurology in Medical School

Being completely honest, I disliked neurology. Not so much the subject, but rather the process of learning it. Every block in medical school requires countless hours of studying, but depending on how much you enjoy the subject, those hours can feel more or less tedious. Neuro is extremely complex, and there is still so much about the brain that we don’t understand! This makes it fascinating. but the course requires a ton of rote memorization. I personally enjoy more conceptual and application-based learning, but medical school certainly requires skill in both.

My best tips for studying neuro:

  • Remember that the brain is a 3-dimensional structure. Get comfortable looking at cross sections of the brain at different levels and using different cuts (coronal, sagittal, etc). These are good websites: 123
  • Neuro is like it’s own language. Become familiar with common vocabulary definitions.
  • Every time you learn about a neurotransmitter, ask yourself: What structure releases it? What is it’s function? What disease state occurs in it’s absence?
  • Know how to play your professor’s favorite game: “Where is the lesion?” This website can help you practice.
  • Learn the Brainstem “Rules of 4.” This is a handy shortcut which can help you quickly locate lesions. Here are good explanations: 1, 2
  • Armando’s hand-drawn tutorials are bomb.
  • Dr. Najeeb is also the bomb.
  • The Spinothalamic, Corticospinal, and Dorsal Column Medial Lemniscus pathways are the most important tracts to learn. Know where these pathways cross to the contralateral side (i.e. Corticospinal tract crosses in the inferior medulla at the pyramidal decussation).
  • The name tells you where the pathway/tract goes: the first word is where it starts, and the second word tells you where it’s going. For example, the Corticospinal tract starts in the cerebral cortex and goes to the spine, whereas the Spinothalamic tract starts in the spine and goes to the thalamus.
  • First Aid for the USMLE – I always recommended this with each systems course, simply to follow along and use it as a supplement, because you may want to annotate your hard copy. This way, when it comes time to study for boards, you have a condensed version of high-yield notes.


“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

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