How To Become a Radiologist in 6 Steps (With Salary and FAQ)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 23, 2022 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated June 23, 2022

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Radiology can be an exciting and potentially lucrative career within the medical field. Becoming a radiologist requires years of education and training. Learning how to pursue a radiologist position can help you determine if this career path is right for you.

In this article, we discuss what a radiologist is, what their job duties are, how to become a radiologist and their skills and salary, as well as frequently asked questions about this position.

What is a radiologist?

A radiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating patients using medical imaging, known as radiology. Radiologists use special equipment like X-rays, CT scans and MRIs to look for signs of injuries or diseases. Within the radiology field, there are a few different types of radiologists, including:

  • Diagnostic radiologists: These radiologists use different imaging procedures to examine the body. They also interpret the results and recommend a treatment plan.

  • Interventional radiologists: Professionals in this role aid patients by using image-guided procedures through tiny incisions in the body. Interventional radiologists typically treat patients with heart disease, cancer or strokes.

  • Radiation oncologists: These highly trained radiologists oversee a cancer patient's treatment plan. Using radiology, they monitor and treat the patient's cancer, making adjustments as necessary along the way.

Related: Learn About Being a Radiologist

What does a radiologist do?

Here are some of the duties of a radiologist:

  • Diagnosing patients with diseases such as cancer

  • Researching new treatments methods or creating innovative products

  • Maintaining radiography equipment

  • Adhering to safety regulations when using medical imaging technology

  • Collaborating with other health care professionals to treat patients

  • Prescribing medications and performing some procedures

How to become a radiologist

Becoming a radiologist requires about 13 years of education and training. Here are the steps  you can follow to pursue this career:

1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree

First, you need to get your bachelor's degree. You can receive a bachelor's degree in any subject, but a pre-med or science major can best prepare you for med school. If you decide to get a liberal arts degree instead, consider taking courses in biology, anatomy or other sciences to aid you in medical study.

During your time as an undergraduate, you must complete and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). You typically take this in your third year of undergraduate studies, and you need to pass it to get into medical school. Besides doing well on your MCATs, aim for high grades, supplemented with relevant work and volunteer experience.

Related: Guide: How To Get a Job After College

2. Apply to medical school

The next step is to get into medical school. The application process for most medical schools starts in June for the following year's medical class. You can fill out a primary application on the Association for American Medical College's website and submit it to various medical schools. The application opens the first week of May, so you typically have about a month to work on your application before submitting it.

There’s also a secondary application to fill out for each individual school. With this application, you elaborate on why you're interested in that school and what you have to offer. Both the primary and secondary applications have fees associated with them. After the applications, most medical schools want to have an interview with you. The type of interview varies between schools. Your interview could be on or off-campus, with a single person or with multiple members of a committee. The purpose of the interview is to evaluate you further and see if you’re the right fit for the school.

3. Attend medical school

At medical school, you go through a four-year curriculum, the first two of which focus on biomedical sciences. During medical school, you learn everything that graduating physicians should know.

After your second year of medical school, you must take and pass the first two parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This is a required three-step test for obtaining your medical license, and it tests your knowledge of the basics, such as anatomy, genetics and immunology. You take the second part of this exam after your fourth year. This part is multiple choice and comprises a practical exam in which actors present with different ailments for you to diagnose.

4. Complete a residency

A residency is essentially an internship in which you receive hands-on training, typically at a hospital. Radiologists spend the first year of their residency practicing general medicine and surgery and their remaining years focusing on radiology.

A residency usually lasts between four and five years. After the first year, you take the third and final portion of the USMLE, which includes both multiple-choice questions and computer simulations. The residency program gives new radiologists plenty of experience before they obtain full employment. You receive experience counseling patients, interpreting the results of imaging studies, learning to work with other clinicians and performing various image-guided procedures.

5. Enter a fellowship program

Most graduating residents enter into a fellowship program. These programs last about one or two years, during which you learn more about a subspecialty in radiology. Subspecialties can include musculoskeletal radiology, neuroradiology and interventional radiology. The fellowship gives you final training and teaches you advanced techniques and procedures related to radiology.

6. Become licensed and board-certified

After completing your education and training, you can apply everything you've learned and become an independent radiologist. To do this, you’re first required to become licensed by your state. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so it’s important to see what your state's requirements are.

Most employers also want someone who’s board-certified. This requires taking another exam that covers topics like medicine and imaging modalities. Upon completing these requirements, you’re typically ready to apply for jobs as a radiologist.

Radiologist salary and job outlook

The average salary for a radiologist is $62,555 per year. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have job outlook data for radiologists specifically, it does have information about the related career of radiologic and MRI technologists. The BLS expects employment for this career to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Related: 12 Health Care Jobs That Pay Well

Radiologist skills

Here are some skills that can be useful for a radiologist:

  • Communication skills

  • Analytical skills

  • Time management

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Medical imaging

  • Organization

  • Mechanical skills

  • Physical stamina

  • Problem-solving skills

FAQs about radiologists

Below are some common questions from people looking to become radiologists:

What’s the work environment like for radiologists?

Most radiologists work within a hospital or medical center. They can also work in emergency clinics, breast imaging centers or outpatient centers. Radiologists usually have to stand for long periods of time throughout their day, and they may need to lift and move patients, medical equipment or office equipment.

How long does it take to become a radiologist?

From the time you start college to the time you receive your license, you can expect to spend about 11 to 13 years becoming a radiologist. It usually takes four years to complete your bachelor’s degree and four years to finish medical school. Doing a residency can also take four years for a radiologist.

Read more: How Long Does It Take To Become a Radiologist?

What’s the difference between a radiologist and a radiologic technologist?

A radiologist is a full doctor, whose responsibilities largely include interpreting the results of radiologic tests. A radiologic technician operates the machines to perform the tests, then passes the results on to the radiologist for interpretation. Radiologists need to know how to operate all the machines, even if they rarely do so. Becoming a radiologic technician requires less education than a radiologist, but it also comes with lower earning potential.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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