The neurology division of the School of Medicine will become its own department this summer, which should improve its ability to recruit faculty and students, administrators said.

Administrators will formally inaugurate the department July 1, giving neurology staff more autonomy and direct access to the Duke University Health System. The neurology division currently utilizes the administration within the department of medicine, which currently has 15 divisions in total, to connect with DUHS, the private diagnostic clinic and the medical school, said Ronald Beauvais, the division administrator for neurology. As a neurology department, staff will have direct access to these resources as well as stronger representation in department meetings.

“We will have a seat at the big table, and that is a big step forward,” Beauvais said.

Neurology is the third division to successfully lobby for department status—the first two departments were dermatology and ophthalmology. Currently, Duke is the only top ranked medical school to retain a neurology division rather than an individual department for the specialty, Beauvais noted. This discrepancy has made it more difficult to recruit faculty as well as medical residents, who largely expect neurology departments at prestigious medical schools.

“Although we always evaluate our own needs in the larger context, recruitment and retention of faculty and residents is facilitated by having a department, in line with national norms, rather than a division of neurology,” Dr. Nancy Andrews, dean of the medical school, wrote in an email Tuesday.

The process to become a department was multifaceted, and included planning a five-year budget and meeting with senior medical school officials, the University and the Board of Trustees, Beauvais said. Currently, the staff is awaiting DUHS approval before moving forward with recruitment for additional faculty.

The Charlotte-based Duke Endowment as well as an anonymous donor have provided additional funds for this project in order to hire more research-oriented faculty, Andrews noted.

This promotion to a department follows curricular changes in the medical school that require second-year students to complete a four-week rotation in neurology. This requirement emphasizes the importance of the field and prevalence of neurologic diseases in the world, said Dr. Joel Morgenlander, interim chief of neurology and associate director of the neurology residency training program.

“Neurologic problems are everywhere,” Morgenlander said. “It is important that physicians in all fields have some understanding of neurological diagnosis and treatments.”

Morgenlander noted that Duke’s investment in the future of the department shows confidence in the ability of neurology to continue the missions of the medical school, which include expanding research, enhancing clinical care and improving educational programs.

“We have worked together to build a very strong department that hopefully will be a leader in clinical care, research and education and are already a long way down that road,” he said.