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How to Become a Radiologist

March 5, 2014

Working towards a career as a radiologist is an ideal way to earn a rewarding salary and help others improve their quality of life. Radiologists are physicians who make use of imaging technology to gain a greater awareness of tissues and organs that are inside the body. When a person encounters a disease or a health problem, their attending physician may want to learn more about the interior condition of organs or tissues, so they order an image using digital technology.

A radiologist is responsible for reading the images that are captured by a technician in a hospital or outpatient clinic. For this reason, a radiologist needs to have a comprehensive medical education and understand anatomy and the progression of diseases. Usually, an image is ordered by a patient’s family physician, and a radiologist reports their findings directly to the doctor who is in charge of a particular patient’s health and well-being. Radiologists may have little to no patient contact, and in today’s world of medicine, highly specialized diagnostic centers may only read medical images and report back to physicians who deal directly with patients.

Most professional radiologists use cutting-edge technology on a daily basis, and a potential candidate needs to accurately diagnose the reasons for diseases. Anyone who is interested in becoming a radiologist will have to prepare with a thorough and well-rounded science education that may include physics, anatomy and physiology. Some professionals enter the medical field as interventional radiologists, and they may also perform surgery utilizing imaging technology to guide them during a procedure.

Focusing During High School

Because radiologists need to excel while in school, it is a good idea for potential candidates to take their studies seriously during high school. Some advanced placement programs enable a student to streamline their studies, and many people leave high school with honors and credentials that enable them to earn their bachelor’s degree in four years or less. Today, some medical schools even have innovative programs that allow high school students to directly enter the a radiology program upon graduation. These programs are often known as 7-year programs because they reduce the amount of time that a radiologist or physician needs to spend enrolled in a university and medical school.

Earning a Bachelors of Science or Pre-Med Degree–Four Years of Study

become a radiologistAfter graduating from high school, a potential radiologist will need to enroll in college and concentrate on science, chemistry and biology. Most students embark on a pre-med program that is available at the majority of four-year universities. During studies, a student may need to take science courses and learn more about biology, chemistry and physics. As a pre-med student, a potential radiologist can major in a variety of different subjects, but a student will need to meet the prerequisites that are required for admission into medical school. In addition, a student can create a strong resumé and CV by volunteering in the local community or working in a nearby hospital. To enter medical school, a college graduate will need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and have a score that is high enough to impress potential universities. During the first four years of college, students can work with their advisor and discuss the particular classes that may help a graduate prepare for the MCAT examination.

Enrolling in Medical School

After graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in science, a potential radiologist needs to enroll in an accredited medical school and complete four years of study. While taking courses during medical schools, students can expect to learn more about the human body and gain a well-rounded education that includes information about human anatomy and physiology. Most medical schools require at least four years of study, and because the field of radiology is an intensely competitive one, potential physicians should focus on getting excellent grades and creating a well-balanced resumé.

Courses in Medical School–Four Years

During the first two years of study at a medical school, students can expect to spend their time in a classroom learning the fundamentals of the life sciences. Classes are usually held in a large setting, and students can collaborate with their peers. Introductory courses discuss anatomy in detail, and a potential physician can expect to memorize the various body parts and the different organs that are essential for human life. The final two years of medical school are usually focused on rotations in a hospital or clinical setting where potential physicians can learn medicine and healthcare in a firsthand manner while working with patients on a personal basis. After a student graduates medical school, they will receive their degree and have the title of Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)

Becoming a Radiologist

Radiology is one of the most competitive fields, and potential candidates need to set themselves apart from others by receiving good grades. In the last year of medical school, a student will need to apply for a radiology residency program that is conducted in coordination with the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). The residency is usually held in a local hospital, and a student can expect to work nearly 60 hours per week during their program. Residents may be on call during the evening or weekend and find themselves working at all hours of the night. After the residency is completed, a radiology candidate needs to complete a fellowship that may last from one to three years.

Residency Programs–Four Years

Residencies are usually conducted in a hospital or medical clinic, and a radiologist can expect to spend four years working in the field after graduating from medical school. During a residency, a future radiologist may work with a group of other residents and gain first-hand experience with today’s medical images. A resident will need to read the digital images that are sent by their employer and decide an appropriate course of treatments for a particular disease or medical condition.


Upon completion of a residency program, some radiologists further their education and start a fellowship in a field that is related to radiology. Such subsets include interventional radiology where a professional may learn how to conduct surgery using state-of-the-art imaging technology. Neuroradiology is another field that could be pursued after finishing a residency, and this subject concentrates on the effects of radiology on the nervous system and brain.

Because today’s radiologists usually work with other physicians and provide a detailed analysis about particular medical images, they may not work directly with their patients. In the past, radiologists were limited to the images that were captured on X-rays, but today’s professionals have more options to help them diagnose medical issues. A modern radiologist is expected to be able to read, analyze and interpret:

  • Ultrasound images
  • Magnetic resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
  • Nuclear imaging
  • X-ray radiography

Finding a Rewarding Job

Networking is one of the best ways to land a great job in the medical field, and radiologists may have opportunities presented to them during their residency. Working at a local hospital is one option for those who graduate from medical school, and a person who has earned their degree and obtained the education that is essential for success in the field may gain employment in the facility where they complete their residency. Other rewarding careers are available to radiologists who want to work in a large tele-radiology facility that reads images that are submitted by clients in a remote location. These careers may be accessed by working with a recruiting agency or searching through medical employment boards on the Internet. Alumni associations are another rewarding place for potential radiologists to network and learn more about employment openings that are available in a particular geographic area.

Working as a Radiologist

Radiologists are usually found behind the scenes, and a professional may not interact with their patients. Because a radiologist is responsible for reading the images that are taken by a technician, they may not meet the patient for whom they are working. A radiologist will look at the images and report their findings back to the attending physician. In certain instances, a radiologist may help prepare a patient for surgery or discuss the issues that are presented in a particular case.

Interventional Radiology

For those who prefer a hands-on working environment, interventional radiology is one option. These professionals take their knowledge and expertise directly to their patients and use their skills to treat a wide variety of medical conditions and diseases. An interventional radiologist may utilize electronic imaging to guide their instruments as they perform delicate procedures in a surgical setting. A professional may need to remove malignant tumors or insert catheters. With a growing increase in medical technology, interventional radiologists are on the cutting edge, and they may offer their patients treatments that are minimally invasive to speed the recovery process.

Those who enjoy the intellectual challenge of medicine may find that radiology is a rewarding career. The field is constantly advancing, and new technology is continually entering the field. Radiologists need to accurately interpret studies and utilize their critical thinking skills to diagnose the particular problems that a patient may encounter.

Career Opportunities

radiologist careerWhile many of today’s radiologists find employment in local hospitals or outpatient centers, many are enjoying the benefits of the digital technology that facilitates remote medicine. Today, a radiologist can practice in any location that has the proper imaging equipment and connectivity. In addition, telemedicine enables radiologists to consult with others and facilitates consultations around the world.

Certification and Licensing

Obtaining a state license is an essential component of landing a career as a radiologist, and most employers mandate that candidates are board certified. To gain board certification, a radiologist will need to pass an examination that covers the education that has been learned during medical school. The test includes two parts, and students need to show their proficiency in anatomy and imaging modalities. Radiology is one of the most competitive fields, and potential candidates need to perform in the top of their class. In addition to understanding modern medical diagnoses and treatments, a radiologist needs to have a well-rounded education that includes an in-depth understanding of math and modern physics.

Advancing in the Field

Radiologists are known for the impressive salaries that they earn, and many choose to advance through the ranks by taking hours and lifestyles that are suited to their lifestyle. During the beginning part of a career, a radiologist may find that they need to work weekends and evening hours. As a professional gains tenure in their field, they may be able to reduce the demand to work odd hours and find a position that is during the normal working week.


Radiologists are among the best-paid physicians. During a residency, a student can expect to earn between $42,000 and $58,000 per year. This amount varies according to different geographical areas and the size of an employer. After a radiologist has completed their residency requirements, an entry-level physician can expect to earn about $275,000 annually. The salary varies with a particular employer, and those who work in academic centers and teaching hospitals may earn a little less than peers who are employed in a private practice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for radiologists is $380,000 per year. For those who work as an interventional radiologist, the earnings are even higher, and a professional can expect to bring in nearly $500,000 per year.

The demand for new radiologists is beginning to slow just a bit, but plenty of opportunities are currently available. There has recently been a tremendous shortage of trained professionals, and many radiologists are expanding their education to benefit from the lucrative salaries that may be earned while working as an interventional radiologist. In addition, rural areas may have a dramatic shortage of trained professionals, but this situation is starting to change as the medical field benefits from changes in digital technology and telemedicine.