Long Article

What It Takes to Become a Radiologist

Radiology is the fifth most requested medical specialty searched during the 2017-2018 fiscal year. This is a five-place increase from 10th in the previous year report, according to the 2018 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Initiatives1.

One thing is clear from the study: organizations are on the hunt for their next radiologist.

Radiology is central to diagnostic and procedural work in the healthcare system1. As technology continues to advance, the demand for radiology is expected to continue to rise.

Though there is a demand, is a career as a radiologist suitable for everyone?

People who are interested in the medical field, love to learn and use the latest technology, and are interested in working closely with patients should consider becoming a radiologist.

Radiologists often work in fast-paced environments, operate state-of-the-art imaging equipment, and assist with other doctors in often finding life-saving solutions for patients.

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What is a radiologist?

The American Medical Association (AMA)2 defines radiologists as medical doctors who use imaging methodologies, like x-rays, CT (computed tomography), MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), mammograms, and PET (positron emission tomography) to diagnose and manage patients.

Radiologists also must communicate findings to referring physicians so that treatment plans may be created. Additionally, some radiologists use radiation to perform some procedures.

Required education needed to become a radiologist

An aspiring radiologist must complete a bachelor’s degree, and then earn a doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathic medicine2.

After completing a medical degree, individuals must complete a clinical internship and a four-year residency program. Post-medical school training includes:

  • Radiation safety
  • Optimal performance of radiological procedures
  • Interpretation of medical images

Other requirements needed to become a radiologist

After completing all education requirements, individuals must obtain medical licenses in the state where they practice. Additionally, radiologists often must obtain certification through the American Board of Radiology or American Osteopathic Board of Radiology, according to the AMA2.

Specialties radiologists can choose

Doctors interested in radiology can specialize in diagnostic or interventional radiology.

Diagnostic radiology helps medical professionals see structures inside your body through the use of images2.

Diagnostic radiologists can:

  • Diagnose causes of patients’ symptoms
  • Assess how well a person’s body is responding to a treatment
  • Screens for diseases, like breast and colon cancer and heart disease

Interventional radiologists guide procedures through the use of imaging such as CT, ultrasound, MRI, and fluoroscopy. This minimally invasive approach uses catheters, wires, and other small instruments and tools to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of the following:

  • Cancers or tumors
  • Blockages in the arteries and veins
  • Fibroids in the uterus
  • Back pain
  • Liver or kidney problems

Interventional radiology procedures may include feeding tube placements, needle biopsies of lungs, and stent replacements.

Radiologists often need one to two additional years of specialized training in a particular subspecialty of radiology.

Due to advances in CT, MRI, and ultrasound technology, radiology has become a vital part of all medical specialties, according to a paper in The Ulster Medical Journal3. The expansion of interventional radiology and technical innovations has made radiology a clinical specialty with increased patient interaction.

Soft skills radiologists need

As the United States healthcare system transitions from a volume to value system, radiologists need excellent communication and conflict resolution skills, according to an article in Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology4.

The Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education has recognized the vital role of communication in medicine and has designated interpersonal and communication skills a core competency for all radiology residents regardless of their specialty fields4.

Some in the healthcare field believe radiology trainees should have opportunities to experience simulated conflict management and communication skills workshops to better prepare them for working with patients.

A radiology career can be fulfilling

Radiology is an in-demand field, and it is the perfect career for someone who has an interest in medicine, excellent communication skills and wants to become part of the ever-evolving patient-focused healthcare system.

At the forefront of imaging technology, radiologists are pioneering the use of CT, MRI, PET and helping patients get appropriate treatment and achieve overall better health.


  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. April 21, 2018.
  3. Collins, A. So you want to be a radiologist? Ulster Medical Journal. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488924/ Web. April 20, 2018.
  4. 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. April 21, 2019.