Veterinarians working with large and small animals sometimes need help with diagnostics. In cases that include injury, mysterious symptoms, or certain complexities, radiological imaging may be the best tool for the veterinarian. In these cases, they can call upon the services of a veterinary radiologist who is trained to take x-rays and read images in order to help provide information and advice.
What is a Veterinary Radiologist?
Veterinary radiologists work with diagnostic imaging to help animals with MRI scans, CT scans, ultrasounds, nuclear medicine scans, and/or radiographs. Each of these services help veterinarians understand and diagnose disease, injury, or provide information when dealing with mysterious symptoms. Veterinary radiologists may also be involved in diagnosing and monitoring treatment in oncology cases.
Just like humans, sometimes seeing what is going on inside of the animals body is what helps their caregiver and medical staff get them the treatment they need. Since animals cannot communicate with words, images and x-rays produced by a veterinary radiologist can give a glimpse into what is happening inside of the animal that may be contributing to their condition.
In some cases, these are good conditions. Checking on unborn puppies, for example, to ensure that the mother and her pups are safe and healthy. In other cases, the conditions are surprising. Radiologists can see if an animal has consumed something they shouldn’t have, which could be disrupting their digestion. There are stories of dog x-rays that reveal or children’s toys or multiple golf balls inside the animal.
Regardless of the reason the animal is presented for x-rays, the radiologist is a key part of the care the animal gets, and an important part of the team that helps animals.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Veterinary Radiologist
The minimum educational requirement for becoming a veterinary radiologist is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree with specialized post-doctoral training in radiological imaging.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Veterinary Radiologist
All professional degrees start at the undergraduate level. Undergraduate studies can set up a student for success throughout their education and career by giving them a strong foundation of science, and the experience needed to do well throughout their education.
For aspiring veterinarians, the undergraduate level is all about gaining a strong understanding of natural and biological sciences, getting experience working with animals, and taking advantage of any opportunities to get to know the profession by talking to practicing veterinarians.
There is no degree program requirement for entering veterinarian school, but majoring in a biological science can ensure that all of the pre-requisite courses are taken, without adding to the time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree. Focusing on the coursework and laboratory requirements, and planning them into undergraduate studies, will ensure the student is ready to apply for veterinary school, as well as take the required standardized test.
During the four years of undergraduate school, it is important to take the time and opportunity to gain as much experience as possible working with animals. This can happen by volunteering at a veterinary clinic or humane society. This experience will come in handy in multiple ways:
When applying for veterinary school, the student should be aware of what the minimum GPA requirement is for the school they plan to attend, and be able to show that they have met these scores — which the school usually publishes under applicant requirements. The more competitive veterinary schools will have higher minimums and higher averages for incoming students. The more competitive a student can make themselves, the better chance for admission.
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Veterinary schools require either the MCAT or the GRE standardized test scores be submitted along with all other application materials. The student should look at what the requirement is for the veterinary school of choice in order to ensure that they take the proper test.
In addition to listing the requirements, veterinary schools will also list their minimum scores. A little bit of research will reveal the average incoming freshman test score. This will be vital information for the student as they study and prepare for the test, as well as take pre-tests or practice tests. With the large amount of testing resources available, students should be able to find what they need to do to get the score they want, provided they are able to put in the time and effort alongside the rest of their studies and activities.
There are only about 30 veterinary schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. In order to be considered for acceptance into veterinary school, the student must provide the school with all required documents and information. For most veterinary schools this will include:
Veterinary school consists of four years of study, which includes both a focus on scientific coursework and laboratory training, clinical experience, hands-on procedures, and regular examinations.
During veterinary school, students will study animal anatomy, microbiology and immunology, cell biology, parasitology, health and disease, small and large animal tissue, dermatology, pathology, and veterinary practice, among other courses that prepare them to work in the veterinary setting.
Post- Doctoral Training
Aspiring veterinary radiologists complete a post-doctoral residency program under the supervision of a teaching veterinary radiologist. These programs provide the resident with the knowledge and training they need in small animal radiology, large animal radiology, MRI, Nuclear Medicine and Computerized Tomography, small animal ultrasound and large animal ultrasound. This training time will prepare the vet to take the board certification exam offered by the American College of Veterinary Radiologists.
Understanding the Career Path
Veterinary radiologists usually work in an area where they can be part of a team of veterinarians offering care to animals. They may work at a privately owned clinic, as a partner or manager in the clinic, or at a radiological office that partners with various clinics in an area.
Veterinary radiologists will work with a lot of specialized equipment — from the machines that are used to produce the images, to light-boxes used to see the images, and computer programs used for record keeping. Because of these environments, they will also work with additional tools like lead-weighted aprons. These are used to protect the parts of the body that are not being reviewed, and any support materials that keep the animals secure and still during procedures.
Veterinary radiologists are part of a team, in all situations. They work with other veterinarians, technicians, nurses, pet owners, kennel staff, and any other people/staff who may be involved in the care of an animal.
The average salary reported by DVM 360 Magazine for a veterinary radiologist is $152,995. It is one of the top 10 highest paid specialties in veterinary medicine.
The range of earnings for a veterinary radiologist is from $103,000 to $345,468, with the lower earnings at the bottom 10% of earners and the top earnings at the top 5% of earners.
Overall, the field of veterinary medicine is expected to grow over the next several years, giving board certified veterinarians a strong job placement future. Because of the extended education and testing for veterinary radiologists, it is expected that higher salaries and strong demand will remain for the specialty.