What is a Radiologist?
A radiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in using medical imaging technologies to diagnose and promote healing in patients in one of the following categories:
Interventional Radiology and Diagnostic Radiology
The American Board of Interventional Radiology defines an Interventional Radiologist (IR) as one who utilizes highly specialized imaging techniques and procedures which are minimally invasive as well as peri-procedural patient care to treat both benign and malignant masses located in the abdomen, pelvis, extremities and thorax (not including the heart).
Notably, Interventional Radiologists are considered experts in the field of Vascular Disease. An IR is a physician who is Board Certified by the American Board of Radiology(ABR) and has received extensive training in vascular diseases; how to perform diagnostic techniques, affect treatments and manage various conditions involving vessels which conduct and circulate fluids. A few of the therapies and methods used by Interventional Radiologists include:
One exciting change for doctors in the field of Interventional Radiology and Diagnostic Radiology is the official recognition of their field as a unique medical specialty. In 2012, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) approved a certification process which awards a new IR/DR Certificate.
By using methodologies involved with electromagnetic radiation, x-rays, ultrasound and radionuclides; Diagnostic Radiologists facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and diseases. According to the AMBS, if a Radiologist desires to subspecialize within the field it is required that they first become a certified Diagnostic Radiologist. Each of the subcategories require additional education and training.
Some of the subspecialties which are available to certified Diagnostic Radiologists are:
Becoming a Medical Doctor (MD) is the entry-level educational requirement for becoming a Radiologist.
Step-by-Step Educational Path of a Radiologist
The Bachelor’s Degree
You must earn a bachelor’s degree before going to medical school.
Accreditation: For aspiring medical students is imperative that a bachelor’s degree is received from an accredited college or university. Although the United States Department of Education does not accredit colleges; the law requires the Secretary of Education to oversee accreditation as well as publish a list of colleges and universities which have been accredited. It's also important to verify that the college chosen for the bachelor program will be acceptable to any medical school. Utilize the student academic counseling center to review what the various medical schools look for in an undergraduate degree program.
Take the Medical Colleges Admission Test (MCAT)
The MCAT is a standardized, multiple choice test given over a 4 ½ hour period. Applicants taking the MCAT will be test in the following areas according to the AAMC:
The skills and knowledge that will be tested are: the ability to solve problems, the ability to think in a critical manner, fluency in concepts relating to the social sciences, and knowledge necessary to effectively study medicine.
Become a Medical Doctor: 3 Options
You must become a medical doctor before becoming a radiologist.
There are 3 options to choose from when deciding upon medical degree programs.
The Medical Degree (M.D.)
A Medical Degree (M.D.) focuses on traditional methods of diagnosis, treatment and medicinal therapies.
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
A medical degree that focuses on care and studies of the musculoskeletal system.
Combined Program: The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) + Medical Degree (M.D.)
A significant number of medical schools offer a combination degree: a Medical Degree plus a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). According to the AAMC, the benefits of a dual degree program are:
The 3rd and 4th years of medical school include clinical rotations throughout the medical specialties while being supervised in working with patients. Early in the 4th year the radiology specialty will be declared.
Take and Pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX).
In order to be licensed to practice medicine in the United States a candidate must take and pass the USMLE or the COMPLEX, depending on the choice of medical programs. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) is the licensing agency which represents the 70 medical and osteopathic boards within United States as well as its territories; they determine the standards and processes which must be adhered to regarding the exams.
Complete a 4-year Radiology Residency Program
There are approximately 218 Radiology Residency programs in the United States offering approximately 890 residency positions per annum.
Residency requirements and programs will depend upon the area of radiology you will be pursuing. According to the American Board of Radiology:
1. Interventional Radiology and Diagnostic Radiology: The training for IR/DR consists of at least 3 years of Diagnostic Radiology and 2 years of Interventional Radiology.
2. Diagnostic Radiology: The candidate is required to complete one year of clinical work (PGY1) followed by 5 years of radiology training.
If the candidate sub-specializes the following are additional requirements:
a. Pediatric Radiology: An additional 2 years comprised of 1 year of a fellowship plus 1 year of practice or additional approved training.
b. Neuroradiology: An additional 2 years comprised of 1 year of a fellowship plus 1 year of practice or additional approved training.
c. Vascular and Interventional Radiology: Requires 2 additional years—1 year of a fellowship and 1 year of approved training or practice.
3. Nuclear Radiology: Training required is 5 years: 1 year of clinical work, followed by four years of radiation oncology training.
4. Radiation Oncology: Five years total: A year of clinical work and an additional 4 years of radiation oncology training.
Become Board Certified
Becoming a Board Certified Radiologist is imperative to a reputable and prosperous career as a radiologist. Certification requirements can be found at the American Board of Radiology’s website. Certification exam timelines (in terms of residency programs) can be found there as well as information on becoming Board Certified in a subspecialty.
Potential Employers & Work Environments
VII. Improving Opportunities for Employment
The following credentials, achievements and qualities are optimal for securing the most favorable employment options in the United States:
Although the United States Department of Labor does not publish statistics indicative of medical specialty; using their data combined with a job search is a reliable way to achieve accurate, locale-sensitive, current results.
The DOL segregates projected job growth rate into two categories: physicians/surgeons and health diagnosing and treating practitioners. Their findings report that between the years 2012-2022, jobs for physicians/surgeons will increase by 18%; those involved with health diagnosing and who are treating practitioners are projected to enjoy a 20% growth rate. Since the average growth rate for all occupations is 11%; the statistics for these medical categories is promising.
One factor which can be encouraging to physicians intending to specialize in radiology is the aging of a segment of society commonly referred to as the Baby Boomers. Many of the accompanying aspects of geriatric health, i.e. heart attack and cancers; demand the expertise of physicians specializing in Radiology.
Learning how to become a radiologist is packed with several years of education, on-the-job training and continual educational research. The key to any successful career in the medical field is maintaining focus, being dedicated to working hard and retaining a positive outlook. With advancements in technology and expanded career opportunities opening every year, the career outlook for becoming a radiologist is positive.