How to Become a Radiologist

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A radiologist is a physician who uses X-rays and other imaging technology to diagnose disease or treat cancer. Radiologists receive special training in the use of radioactive isotopes, radiation safety and the effects of radiation on the human body. To become a radiologist, you must complete college and medical school as well as a residency. Many radiologists go on for specialty training in a fellowship. They must be licensed and are typically board-certified.

About Medical School

  • Entry to medical school is a highly competitive process, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, although a particular educational major for your bachelor's degree is not required. You must, however, complete prerequisite courses such as biology, chemistry, math and English, which can be taken as electives if you choose a non-science major. In addition, you must pass the Medical College Admissions Test, and since medical schools look for other qualities than academic prowess, you may want to work or volunteer in a health field. You will also need letters of recommendation and can expect to interview with the admissions committee.

Basic Training in Medicine

  • All medical students take the same courses. Aspiring radiologists must learn anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology, as well as non-clinical courses such as medical ethics. The first two years of medical school consist of didactic education and laboratory courses. In the third year of medical school, you will begin to see patients in clinical rotations that include internal medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics and surgery, as well as radiology. You will work under the supervision of one or more experienced licensed physicians. You should also begin to prepare for your licensing exam, which most medical students take in their fourth year of school.

Residency Training

  • You’ll begin to learn about radiology when you get to your residency. You’ll spend a year in clinical work, followed by four years of radiology training, according to the American Board of Radiology. In addition to regular X-rays, you’ll learn how to use other medical imaging technology such as computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography and ultrasound to make medical diagnoses of diseases and injuries. You may also be exposed to some of the radiology specialties, such as radiation oncology -- the treatment of cancer with radiation.

Specialized Training

  • Radiologists have the option to specialize in one of three main fields: diagnostic radiology, radiation oncology or medical physics. These fields also have subspecialties. Diagnostic radiology breaks down into neuroradiology, which focuses on the brain and nervous system; nuclear radiology or nuclear medicine -- the use of radioisotopes to highlight areas of disease or injury inside the body; pediatric radiology, and vascular and interventional radiology. Interventional radiologists perform procedures such as heart catheterizations. Radiation oncologists and diagnostic radiologists may enter subspecialties in hospice and palliative medicine. Medical physicists use specialized radiation such as gamma rays to treat disease.

Demand and Salaries

  • Radiologists, like all physicians and surgeons, are expected to be in demand for the foreseeable future, according to the BLS, which projects a growth rate of 18 percent from 2012 to 2022. The average growth rate projected for all occupations is 11 percent for the same period. However, demand varies by specialty, and radiologists were 18th on the top-20 list of medical specialties in highest demand in 2012, according to nationwide physician recruiting organization Merritt Hawkins. “Becker’s Hospital Review” reports diagnostic radiologists (non-interventional MDs) earned a median annual salary of $453,216 in 2013, while interventional diagnostic radiologists earned $504,772 a year.

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