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A Day in the Life of a Radiologist

Radiologists are in high demand. In our previous article, What It Takes To Become a Radiologist, we shared that radiology is the fifth most requested medical specialty based on web search volume1. But what does a typical day in the life of a radiologist look like? 

Individuals who work with radiologists and those interested in joining the field should know what tasks radiologists actually do on a typical day.

Defining the Role of the Radiologist

According to the American Medical Association, radiologists2 are medical doctors who utilize imaging procedures, like x-rays, CT (computed tomography), MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), mammograms, and PET (positron emission tomography), to diagnose and treat patients.

Radiologists also must communicate findings to referring physicians so that treatment plans can be created. Additionally, some radiologists use radiation to perform some procedures. The role requires a broad knowledge of not only the technology but also the interpretation and potential conditions of patients.


Requirements Needed To Become a Radiologist

After graduating from medical school, individuals need to complete a four-year radiology residency. The last two years often require on-call work, which some find both physically and mentally taxing2. A one or two-year fellowship training program must be completed, usually in a specialized area of radiology.

Individuals must pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam to practice as a radiologist. In addition, many radiologists must pass state boards and receive certification through the American Osteopathic Board of Radiology or the American Board of Radiology2.

Typical Tasks For a Radiologist 

Unlike some professions, no two days are exactly the same for those working in the radiology field. Any given day can include a range of patient conditions, unique circumstances, and usage of the latest technologies.

Typically, radiologists3 handle these tasks on a regular basis:

  • Interview patients to understand their medical histories
  • Review medical records
  • Dictate medical notes
  • Refer patients to doctors or specialists
  • Perform diagnostic imaging procedures, including MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, ultrasounds, and mammograms
  • Review the imaging information and prepare comprehensive reports on the findings
  • Communicate the results to doctors and patients
  • Assist in developing treatment plans with doctors

Though most radiologists handle a regular pool of duties3, they may also handle the following activities:

  • Treat complications, such as sedation problems, pain, or blood pressure issues, during or after imaging procedures
  • Supervise and teach medical students
  • Perform interventional procedures, such as catheter placements, equipment-guided biopsies, and percutaneous transluminal angioplasties

When it comes to overall work performance, radiologists need to be exact and accurate to prevent medical mistakes. In addition, if they are interacting with patients, they should also have strong communication skills.

Other Essential Factors To Know About The Daily Lives of Radiologists

Most radiologists work more than eight hours per day in a fast-paced environment, such as a hospital, due to ever-increasing workloads and shortages in staff. Due to the 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week need for imaging interpretation, radiologists also often work beyond traditional hours4.

A survey5 of 2,804 radiologists and nuclear medicine specialists showed full-time, post-training radiologists worked a mean of 50 hours per week, according to the American College of Radiology. The survey further concluded that each year, radiologists spent two weeks on professional education and 4.4 weeks on vacation.  

Those surveyed5 reported that their professional time on an average day was spent:

  • 68% on hospital patient care
  • 18% on office patient care
  • 7% on teaching and research
  • 5% on administration duties 

Stress and Health of the Radiologist 

Working non-traditional hours may impact a radiologist’s physical and mental health, interpretive accuracy, social life, and professional productivity.

Radiologists5 should pay attention to stressors and other adverse effects that could lead to burnout. Like in many other high-pressure careers, radiologists can remedy these effects by maintaining healthy lifestyles, eating a proper diet, and getting support when needed.  

Since radiologists often work in hospitals or come into large volumes of people, they come into more contact with infectious diseases and other medical conditions. They must also wear specialized protective equipment to limit their exposure to radiation.

Radiologists Have a Fast-Paced and Impactful Career

Becoming a radiologist can be a gratifying career as they help other doctors diagnose and treat patients.

Additionally, as the healthcare industry relies more heavily on imaging and as innovations in technology advance, the radiology industry will continue to grow. It’s a great time for interested individuals to begin their careers.


  1. Merritt Hawkins. 2018 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentive. https://www.merritthawkins.com/uploadedFiles/Merritt_Hawkins_2018_incentive_review.pdf Web. April 21, 2018.
  2. Radiology – Diagnostic. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/specialty/radiology-diagnostic Web. May 1, 2018.
  3. Itri, JN., et al. Teaching Communication Skills to Radiology Residents. Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28291556 Web. May 19, 2019.
  4. Rohatgi, S., et. al. After-Hours Radiology: Challenges and Strategies for the Radiologist. American Journal of Roentgenology. November 2015. https://www.ajronline.org/doi/full/10.2214/AJR.15.14605 Web. May 20, 2019.
  5. Deitch, CH, et. al. How U.S. radiologists use their professional time: factors that affect work activity and retirement plans. Radiology. 1995. https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiology.194.1.7997578 Web May 1, 2019