Should You Choose a Neurologist or a Movement Disorder Specialist?

Sherri Woodbridge avatar

by Sherri Woodbridge |

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There was no reason for me to be sitting on the exam table in the doctor’s office wearing a flattering cotton gown.

Well, let me back up. There was a reason. I was trying to find a new neurologist. I had already given up on finding a movement disorder specialist near me. The closest one was four hours away. The next closest one was seven hours away. The neurologist in my town would have to suffice. But it certainly wouldn’t be the one who had me sitting there freezing and half-naked in a cotton gown.

Although my symptoms began manifesting more than 10 years earlier, my journey with my Parkinson’s care began in 2004 when my first neurologist diagnosed me. Although his bedside matter was lackluster, I didn’t negate his diagnosis.  

I saw another neurologist who was a movement disorder specialist (MDS). He became not only my MDS, but a good friend as well. However, it can sometimes be hard to hold on to good doctors. They may retire, move away to pursue a better opportunity, become ill, etc.

This is what happened to me. My doctor, who was the answer to so many prayers, moved. I followed him to three different states for my care: Washington, Arizona, and Minnesota. Then, due to finances and other issues, I decided it was time to find someone closer than 2,200 miles away. It was a hard decision. I had been with him for 14 years. 

A few days ago, I ran across a question posed in a Parkinson’s forum. A patient wondered if it was better to see a neurologist or a movement disorder specialist in regards to their Parkinson’s care. I thought it might be beneficial to some readers to share several of the replies, and my thoughts.

This particular patient shared that she was perfectly happy with her neurologist. However, after seeing that several other people with Parkinson’s disease also saw MDSs, she wondered if she should see one as well. She wondered if it could benefit her.

The initial question: Is there really a difference between a neurologist and a movement disorders specialist? 

Yes. 

Although both are qualified to treat Parkinson’s, an MDS undergoes more training that focuses on movement disorders, including, but not limited to, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, dystonia, Huntington’s disease, Tourette syndrome, and many other related disorders.

According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, a neurologist and an MDS “both complete a one-year internship in Internal Medicine after finishing medical school, followed by a three-year residency in neurology. A general neurologist stops training at that point and enters practice, whereas a Movement Disorders Specialist continues on to complete a movement disorders fellowship, which is an extra 1-2 years of training focused on [Parkinson’s] and related disorders.”

One patient put it this way: “An MDS provides a different level of care.”

That is a great way of explaining it. Specialists are favored because Parkinson’s is complicated, provided that the patient and their physician have a good relationship. If they don’t have a good working relationship, it doesn’t matter how much education the doctor has.

One person said she left her MDS and went with her neurologist. She felt her neurologist did a better job of staying current with Parkinson’s treatments. She also felt it depended on who was most interested in you as a person and who ultimately gave you the best care. 

Another person commented, “An MDS sees Parkinson’s cases daily, so they just know more about it.”

I don’t necessarily agree. While an MDS may see Parkinson’s patients more regularly, it doesn’t mean they know more about the disease. Some doctors, MDSs included, see their patients for a mere 10 or 15 minutes every three to six months. Collectively, that isn’t a long time spent getting to know patients who are pinning all their hopes of feeling better on you.

We all know that Parkinson’s disease is incurable. However, it can be treated in such a way that we don’t have to feel we’re fighting it at every turn. It takes time to discover which medications are best for you, and when and how often you should take them. Sometimes, it takes a very long time.

Sometimes, we can’t have the best doctor to care for us. Sometimes, we have to settle for one that is sufficient. But we don’t have to wear the cotton gown.

***

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

Comments

Wayne B Rose (Mrs) avatar

Wayne B Rose (Mrs)

My husband has had Parkinson’s for 20 years. I wish we had known about movement specialist a long time ago. I am convinc ed that moving or exercising is the most important thing people with PD can do. We are in Rocky Mount - less than 60 miles east of Raleigh. Do you know where the one nearest us is located?

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