Learn exactly how to become a radiologist right here. Below is a carefully crafted guide designed to help you make a decision regarding a career as a radiologist. This overview will help you assess if going down this career might be right for you. We will answer questions such as how do you become a radiologist, how long does it take to become a radiologist, how many years of school are needed, the type of individual who might enjoy and excel in this field and more. Let’s dive in!
What Does a Radiologist Do?
A radiologist is a licensed medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries with the assistance of medical imaging technology. Radiologists examine and interpret images of the body’s tissues, organs and bones, acquired from X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, mammograms, positron emission tomography, and nuclear medicine imaging. Their job is to accurately identify signs of physical damage or unhealthy functioning, and to diagnose the nature and severity of the problem if possible. They may also provide treatment services for the conditions they uncover, depending on their choice of specialty.
Diagnostic radiologists work in close consultation with other medical professionals. They pass on their results and conclusions to surgeons, obstetricians, pediatricians, internists, and other specialists who design treatment plans at least partly based on the information obtained through radiological examinations. Interventional radiologists use minimally-invasive imaging technologies to perform or assist with actual medical procedures. They deliver carefully targeted treatments for conditions that might otherwise require major surgery. Radiation oncologists specialize in diagnosing and treating cancer. They develop comprehensive recovery plans that include the expert administration of radiation therapy and the monitoring and management of its potential side effects.
How Much Does a Radiologist Make?
The current mean salary for a radiologist is $309,710 per year, according to data compiled by PayScale. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean salary for surgeons and physicians of all types in 2019 was approximately $208,000 annually, which makes radiology one of the higher-paying specialties in the medical field.
The demand for physicians and surgeons is expected to grow by four percent between 2019 and 2029. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not list projected job growth for particular specialties, the increase in demand for radiologists is likely to be higher-than-average, since job growth rates for radiologic and MRI technologists (who work closely with radiologists) are projected to rise by seven percent during the same 10-year time period.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Radiologist?
How to Become a Radiologist: A Step-by-Step Guide
Here is our step-by-step guide on how to get into radiology.
Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor of Science Degree
Before beginning their formal medical training, aspiring radiologists must obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.
You would be eligible to apply for admission to medical school regardless of the nature of your undergraduate degree. But your chances for acceptance will be increased if your degree is in some type of relevant science, such as biology, human physiology, biochemistry, or physics. Courses in these subjects will prepare you well for the subject matter you’d be exposed to as a student in medical school.
Step 2: Gain Admittance to Medical School and Study to Become an MD (Medical Doctor)
Radiologists are medical doctors who must be awarded an MD from an accredited medical school before they will be eligible to practice their craft professionally.
The medical school application process is highly competitive. The success or failure of your application to medical school will depend on your grade point average, your letters of recommendation, and your score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which all prospective medical students must take.
Medical school programs last for four years. During your first two years, you’ll study topics in science that are relevant to human health and physiology, such as anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, and psychopharmacology. In the classroom you’ll also be introduced to various topics that relate to medical practice specifically, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, psychiatry, or surgery. You’ll also begin to develop some of the rudimentary skills that doctors must possess, which means you’ll have opportunities to practice taking medical histories, examining patients, making diagnoses, or preparing treatment plans.
Your final two years of medical school will be devoted to learning radiological techniques and methods of analysis, as you complete your clinical practice in a licensed medical hospital or clinic. Under the supervision of medical professionals, your medical school internship will include clinical rotations that cover a broad range of specialties, such as surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine, oncology, and so on. Radiology will likely be included in your list of specialties covered, but you won’t receive truly in-depth instruction in that area until you serve your post-medical school residency.
Once you’ve completed your prescribed curriculum satisfactorily and in its entirety, you’ll be awarded your MD.
Step 3: Complete a Radiology Residency
Four years of undergraduate study and four years of medical school will prepare you to begin your radiology residency at a hospital or clinic. Residency programs combine intensive training with extensive experience in actual medical practice, and are designed to prepare you to assume all the responsibilities associated with your chosen medical specialty.
A radiology residency will last for four or five years, starting with a preliminary year where you´ll receive training and experience in non-radiology-related medical work. During your next three or four years you’ll concentrate exclusively on radiological practice, focusing on the specialty of your choice (diagnostic radiology, interventional radiology, or radiation oncology). The idea of the medical residency is to fully prepare you to become a practicing medical doctor, and once your residency is complete you’ll be eligible to take your licensing exam.
Step 4: Become Licensed and Board-Certified in Radiology
To practice medicine in the United States, you must take and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, which can be completed at the nearest Prometric testing center. Once you’ve obtained this core license, you must then apply for a license in any state where you plan to perform radiological services for patients or medical facilities. Different states might have slightly different requirements, but all will ask you to supply documentation that establishes your credentials and past training. If your employer allows you to analyze radiological imagery and make diagnoses via telemedicine, you would have to apply for licensure in any and all states where your services would be used.
Beyond licensure, you can also apply to become a board-certified radiologist in your chosen specialty, through the American Board of Radiology. To achieve this coveted certification, you’ll be required to take two separate exams: a core exam, which will be administered after you’ve finished three years of your residency, and a certifying exam, which will be taken 12-15 months after your residency is complete.
Board-certification is not required for licensed radiologists. However, ABR certification is a highly prestigious designation, and most radiologists choose to pursue it as a way to enhance their reputation and career chances. Maintaining ABR certification will require you to take continuing education courses, since board-certified radiologists are expected to stay current on developments in their ever-evolving field.
Step 5: Complete a Fellowship to Deepen Your Knowledge and Preparation
It may be possible to obtain full-time employment as a diagnostic radiologist or radiation oncologist following your four- or five-year residency. However, it is normal for newly minted radiologists to complete one- or two-year post-residency fellowships within these more inclusive categories.
For example, if you had a background in diagnostic radiology, you could pursue a fellowship in a subspecialty such as:
- Breast Imaging
- MRI Body Imaging
- Nuclear Medicine and Clinical PET/CT
- Pediatric Imaging
- Musculoskeletal Imaging
On the other hand, if your training and experience were in radiation oncology, you could seek a fellowship in subspecialties like:
- Hematologic Radiation Oncology
- Proton Radiation Therapy
- Advanced Stereotactic Radiation Therapy and Immunotherapy
When your ambition is to become an interventional radiologist, a fellowship is more of a requirement than an option. You’ll need six years of experience in your residency and fellowship combined to qualify to take certification exams and apply for full-time employment. Your fellowship would last for either one or two years, depending on whether your residency was four or five years in duration.
Overall, you’ll need to complete approximately eight years of schooling and another four-to-six years of specialized training to achieve your dream of becoming a licensed radiologist. Exactly how long to become a radiologist depends upon your post-schooling training.
Pros and Cons of a Career as a Radiologist
Pros of Becoming a Radiologist
Radiologists are highly compensated and always in demand. They work on the cutting edge of medicine, where technological innovation and the need for trained personnel who can understand and apply it are constant. Advances in telemedicine and virtual medicine are already having an impact in radiology, and in the years ahead radiologists will be able to perform more and more of their diagnostic services from home offices, analyzing imagery obtained online instead of in person. Radiologists enjoy the chance to consult with many types of doctors and build satisfying and constructive working relationships, since their analytical skills are required in all types of medicine.
Cons of Becoming a Radiologist
The work of radiologists can be repetitive, requiring them to analyze the same types of imagery over and over again. They are trained as medical doctors and could do more, but don’t get the chance to apply all their knowledge and skills because of limitations inherent to their specialty. Unless they’re working in radiation oncology, radiologists may have minimal contact with patients, adding a remote aspect to their work that can be somewhat unsatisfying for those who enjoy direct contact with patients. While technological change is making the jobs of radiologists easier in some ways, advancements in artificial intelligence could render their services less necessary in the years ahead, if machines with sophisticated diagnostic capabilities are eventually developed.
Important Characteristics of a Successful Radiologist
Radiologists are like medical detectives. They must be able to spot the smallest signs of dysfunction or injury, and determine what these discoveries mean and what treatments might be required. Consequently, they must be highly observant and able to notice even miniscule details. Just as importantly, they must truly enjoy the challenges associated with their work, and take great satisfaction from their ability to solve medical mysteries. A great radiologist is a natural problem-solver, which makes them highly suited for their career choice.
Someone who decides to pursue a career in radiology should view it as a calling rather than an occupation. Their idealism, passion, and commitment must be unwavering, since it requires a significant investment of time and energy for aspiring radiologists to successfully complete their studies and training. Once they’re licensed and practicing, radiologists must maintain their motivation and love for their career choice, since the nature of their work is exacting and constantly evolving because of technological innovation.
Despite the somewhat behind-the-scenes nature of their duties, radiologists must be affable and cooperative. While they generally have less contact with patients than other specialists, radiologists are constantly consulting with or advising other medical professionals, who seek their input in order to design effective and properly targeted treatment regimens. The most successful radiologists are able to earn the respect and admiration of their peers, by being approachable and helpful and by repeatedly demonstrating their willingness to be team players.
Hopefully by now you have a clear picture of how to become a radiologist, including how much school to be a radiologist and the type of person who may best excel in this profession. Radiology is a challenging yet rewarding profession that has brought fulfillment to thousands or people. In the future, we plan to add guides related to becoming a radiologist, such as ‘how to become a radiologic technologist’ and ‘how to become a radiologist assistant’. Best of luck on your journey, and no matter what path you take, we support your dreams and goals!