CK Logo

How to Become a Radiologist

Years and years of education comprise the journey to becoming a licensed radiologist. The road is long and competitive but manageable for those with a desire to treat patients day in and day out in the exciting field of radiology.

Radiologists are specialized physicians who practice in interpreting medical imaging like MRI's, ultrasounds, and X-rays. They work with cutting edge imaging technology in hospitals and clinics. To become a radiologist, critical thinking skills are a must, along with attention to detail and, of course, academic excellence. What else does it take? Learn everything you need to know about becoming a licensed radiologist below.

What do radiologists do?

Radiologists are specialized physicians who interpret the results of medical imaging. They work behind the scenes and use these images for diagnosing and treating disease and patients. Afterward, they will inform patients, doctors, and family members of their diagnosis and treatment findings.

Radiologists have a medical education and are typically in charge of radiological technicians who often perform the actual tests. Radiologists will also write their own reports covering test results and treatment plans.

Radiologists have many diagnostic radiology imaging techniques, including x-ray radiography, fluoroscopy, ultrasound, computerized tomography or ct scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and nuclear imaging.

⁠Additionally, radiologists typically work in a hospital or clinical setting. Those who work in a hospital can often work odd hours. However, those who work in a clinic can often have regular business hours.

Steps Toward Becoming a Radiologist

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step toward the career path of becoming a radiologist is to earn a bachelor's degree. This is also a prerequisite for attending medical school. This undergraduate degree can be completed in just about any subject as long as you meet the requirements for medical school, which can include English, biology, physics, and chemistry. General chemistry one and two, Organic Chemistry one and two, Biology one and two, and Physics one and two are a few of the courses that will be required.

During or following this degree, you will be required to take the MCAT or Medical College Admissions Test. If you score high on the test, this will be a terrific asset when applying to medical school. You should start applying to medical school in your junior year of college, as it will be a year-long process. The year will include many applications, recommendations, and interviews.

You will also have to decide which medical school you would like to attend. In the United States, there are two different types of medical schools that include allopathic or osteopathic. An allopathic medical school will use medications and surgery to treat patients, while an osteopathic medical school teaches a more holistic approach to preventing disease. Simply, an allopathic curriculum will focus on diagnosing and treating where an osteopathic path focuses on prevention and overall well being. You can become a radiologist through either medical school.

2. Attend medical school

Following the earning of a bachelor's degree, you will need to attend medical school. Medical school is divided into two parts. The first two years will be spent in the classroom learning anatomy, biochemistry, embryology, and human behavior. The second half of medical school will be in a hospital doing clinical rotations. You will be working under many different doctors and medical professionals in various medical sub-fields, including internal medicine, osteopathy, pediatrics, and surgery.

Finally, to earn a medical degree, you will need to complete and score high on the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). The field of radiology is exceptionally competitive, so you must be at the top of your class while attending medical school and then score above average on the USMLE. Additionally, acquiring letters of recommendation from your clinical rotation advisors is extremely recommended.

3. Complete a residency program

Congratulations! You graduated and matched with a residency program. The next four years will be filled with completing an internship followed by a residency program. The first year will be an internship where you will learn general training in surgery or general medicine. You might spend time in emergency rooms and hospitals.

Following an intern year, the specialized training in radiology will begin. Throughout the day during a residency, you will move from clinicals to the classroom. In addition to interpreting medical imaging tests and creating treatment plans, depending on your focus, you might rotate through a subspecialty of radiology areas, including neuroradiology, interventional radiology, pediatric radiology, radiation oncology and breast imaging, to name a few.

Neuroradiology is the imaging and diagnosing of the nervous system or brain and spinal cord.

Interventional radiology is using imaging for minimally invasive procedures. Pediatric radiology entails imaging and treating infants and children. Radiation oncology is the treatment of cancer or a related disease using ionizing radiation or radiation therapy. Breast imaging is a type of focused radiology that focuses on mammography and diagnostic breast procedures.

The schedule during a residency can be inconsistent. You might be needed during the nights and weekends of your residency. Additionally, the good news is that this part of the education will be paid.

4. Enter a fellowship

While a fellowship is not required, 90 percent of radiologists do one or more fellowships following their residency. A fellowship will typically last one to two years. Many use their fellowship to receive training in a sub-field. Much like a residency, a fellowship will include training, lectures, hands-on work, and conferences. There may also be a research aspect during a fellowship.

5. Get licensed

You made it! Now you can officially work as a licensed radiologist. In addition to obtaining licensure, many radiologists will also take the radiology board-certified exams. Employers will typically expect their radiologists to be board certified.

To take these exams, you will need to have your MD, state licensure, and completed a residency. After taking the initial exam and completing at least one fellowship, you can take additional exams to cover subspecialties. In the United States, you can be certified by the American Board of Radiology or the American Osteopathic Board of Radiology.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Radiologist?

Due to the extensive amount of education that it takes to become a radiologist, it's no surprise that it can take up to thirteen years immediately following high school to become a licensed radiologist. An undergraduate degree lasts four years, followed by another four years of medical school, then adding in an additional four years at an internship and fellowship. It might take a long time, but the investment is worth it, especially when it comes to salary.

Salary and Job Outlook for Radiologists

One of the many benefits of being a licensed radiologist is compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for a radiologist in the United States is $203,450.

Of course, the annual salary depends on where you will work, how many years of experience you have under your belt, and the company where you work. Radiologists can make up to $492,186 or as little as $78,108. According to Indeed, the top cities for Radiologists to call home are Tampa, Brooklyn, Chicago, Phoenix, New York, Tucson, Dallas, and Atlanta.


What undergraduate degree should I major in to become a radiologist?
You do not have to major in the sciences to become a radiologist. However, typically students will major in biology, physics, chemistry, or math. Organic chemistry and biology courses will need to be taken regardless of the major that is chosen.
Do radiologists use math?
Typical to others in the medical industry, as a radiologist, you will have to do mathematical processes in your work, including probability calculations after doing radiology tests.
Can radiologists perform surgery?
Radiologists work alongside other medical professionals to recommend treatment. They can treat diseases with radiation or minimally invasive imagery guided surgeries.
Is being a radiologist stressful?
Being a radiologist can be stressful. The main stressor for practicing radiologists is work overload.
What are the benefits of being a radiologist?
Some of the benefits that come with the career of a radiologist are that no day is ever the same, you can work in any geographic location, and employment opportunities are increasing.
Get matched to top bootcamps