How to Become a Radiologist

Medical Specialties

how to become a radiologist

What is a Radiologist? 

A radiologist’s role in the field of medicine has much to do with using technological devices to pick up on diseases. By using machines that produce medical imaging, parts of the body are scanned, and images are captured. These images are analyzed to find causes of diseases, while other procedures such as angioplasty can be used for treatment purposes.

Here are some techniques radiologists use:

  • X-rays where an electromagnetic wave is sent through a patient’s body. This creates 2D images which are effective in analyzing bones or muscles

  • Fluoroscopy which is X-ray imaging combined with a fluorescent screen. This can deliver real-time imaging

  • Ultrasound practices send sound waves towards the body, from which images can be created

  • CT (Computerized Tomography) that uses X-rays in a unique fashion to get 2D or 3D pictures of a patient’s body.

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) where magnetic fields are utilized to create images of tissue or bones. It’s a popular method of diagnosis when treating the nervous system, joints, cancer, and cardiovascular problems

  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography): Nuclear imaging with radiopharmaceuticals that target certain body tissues. For example, you can track the kidney functioning by using the right chemical that will highlight movement in this area. The gamma camera or PET scanner tracks it by picking up the radiation

A trained radiologist can pick up problems in the body by identifying anomalies on the images. Comparing it to what a normal body should look like, these anomalies signal that the patient needs treatment. A radiologist is so skilled in analyzing images that the nature of the anomaly can be identified.

Most processes are done from outside the body, but minimally invasive procedures can also be done, though it requires special training.

Duties of Radiologists

Radiologists’ work is of a consulting nature, as doctors and physicians draw them into particular cases to source more information. This information is used to enhance a patient’s care.

A radiologist can assist in various parts of a person’s treatment or diagnosis:

  • Getting histories of patients is essential

  • A radiologist counsels a patient before starting so the individual is aware of dangers and possible outcomes

  • Some procedures use radiation which can harm patients. It’s a radiologist’s duty to protect as much of the patient’s body as possible before the process starts

  • Radiologists need to determine which tests or scans will be appropriate for the given situation

  • Radiologists can direct other professionals such as the technologists in how to handle the procedures

  • As a radiologic technologist, the individual will acquire the images via various technological procedures

  • A diagnostic radiologist will take these images to interpret them and put together a report on findings

  • A reporting radiologist can also draft these reports

  • When radiology is used as treatment an interventional radiologist will use invasive techniques to treat the patient

  • A radiologist has the necessary medical background to advise on future treatments

Bonuses and Benefits of Radiologists

The lucrative salary is one motivation for completing the strenuous and long study path. A radiologist’s income is even higher than that of many other doctors. Because the field develops all the time, keeping up to date is essential. Employers—such as hospitals—need to stay on par with these developments, so they’re often willing to provide paid time off when radiologists need to train more. 

Work Environment of Radiologists

In general radiologists have less contact with patients than many other medical personnel. While they do imaging, more time is spent on:

  • Creating reports

  • Analyzing findings

  • Consulting with other medical experts

As an important part of modern medicine, they will be active in many environments.

General Environment


Radiologists won’t be stationary during an average day, since their work entails working with imaging equipment, and also creating reports. In terms of getting imaging done, radiologists work in the laboratories where the equipment is installed. Apart from that, they will handle reporting in their own and other doctors’ offices.

Work is always performed indoors, and radiologists work with dangerous equipment. Many of the scanning processes can be hazardous to a person’s health, especially when regularly exposed to it. This is a risk associated with the job and radiologists must accept it as part of the dangers of the position. To combat this, protective wear is worn most of the time during imaging, tests, and scans.

It’s important to note that few patients will make contact with a radiologist of their own accord. It’s usually a doctor who requests the images to make a diagnosis.


Work hours are fast paced as it’s essential to deliver reports as soon as possible, so diagnosis and treatment can begin. 

Office Environment


A radiologist will work where equipment is installed, but also needs private space to analyze the images and create reports. For this, most of them will have personal offices. These can be part of a hospital’s office suite. But modern technology enables you to send information via data communication, so these days, a radiologist’s office can be located anywhere.



More than half of radiologists, as well as technicians associated with this position, work in hospitals. These radiology labs are state of the art, excellent lighting is installed, and they’re kept clean to maintain hygiene.

Radiologists can therefore work at a hospital in close contact with the other medical practitioners needed to consult regarding a case.

Hospitals are also central to a radiologist’s training because this area of expertise requires extensive training and experience that includes a 4-year residency, years of post-medical school training and a fellowship encompassing specialized training.

Social Environment


Being a radiologist is one of the less social medical professions in terms of patient involvement. Minimal contact with patients is required, since the radiologists only use the images to create reports and consult. 

However, the consulting nature of the job requires the radiologist to engage with other doctors to discuss the results.

Academia and Other


Medical professionals can opt to teach others interested in their specific field of medicine. A different area to use the knowledge will be research or taking the resources to the less fortunate by organizing community outreach. 

Offices of Physicians


Radiologists can share offices with other physicians or they may opt to start a radiology practice by themselves or with other radiology experts and medical professionals.

Outpatient Care Centers


Radiology is a method of tracking the progression of treatment. It’s therefore a practical tool in outpatient care. About 6% of work for radiologists is generated in these facilities.

Working Hours of Radiologists

The average week will entail 40 hours of work or more. These hours will fall within set schedules, but this schedule can incorporate weekends and evenings too.

Work Schedules of Radiologists

While radiologists’ work is of a consulting nature, it doesn’t mean they can choose their working hours. Some information may be needed urgently, meaning hospitals always need radiologists on duty. They will be on call to assist over weekends and holidays.

One area where more definite schedules are possible is if they’re part of outpatient care. Here they won’t be responsible to help with emergencies so normal working hours are possible.

Thanks to advances in technology however, this field sees some changes in operations. Images can now be sent between experts, instead of them having to view them together. 

Important Qualities of Radiologists

It’s not only about having the knowledge to identify medical problems via images. Radiologists, like all medical personnel, can have more satisfying careers if they acquire these skills. Many of them also help create positive experiences for patients.


Attention to detail

A cursive look at images won’t be enough to identify anomalies. What a radiologist needs is to pick up on the tiniest difference between normal and abnormal. Since the body can change within days—e.g. growing a tumor—a radiologist has the responsibility to notice it even if it looks normal to others. This is where radiologists differ from other medical practitioners whose training on identifying problems through imagery only stretches across ten months at the most. With years of study focusing on what an image can tell you about a patient, a radiologist’s trained eye will notice what other doctors don’t see.


Looking for these details can take hours. A radiologist must therefore have patience to sit with a scan for a long period of time, looking for anything significant. This could mean taking small sections of a scan—one at a time—and analyzing them to the finest detail.

Affinity to change

The work of radiologists is influenced continually by technological advances. A radiologist must research new procedures and be willing to train in using these techniques. These experts must be prepared to learn throughout their medical careers.

Interpersonal skills

Despite radiologists not working with patients all the time, they meet them in quite unique circumstances. Radiology procedures such as a mammogram can make patients feel quite self-conscious and uncomfortable. Most procedures also require patients to stay absolutely still while images are taken. A radiologist will achieve more if they can put patients at ease. When patients relax they’re less likely to jerk during a test.

Handling stress

A radiologist is often the one who identifies a patient’s problem. When other diagnostic procedures don’t give clear answers, it’s up to a radiologist to find a tumor or notice anomalies. This responsibility is an honor. but may cause these experts heartache and stress too. Often, they’re only part of the diagnosis and not the treatment. They see the problem but aren’t part of the solution. Constantly facing more problems than solutions can have a draining effect on you and requires techniques to handle it.

Being organized

Since reporting is a huge part of a radiologist’s tasks, a talent for administration and organization is essential. While nurses, staff and receptionists may help with menial duties, it’s a radiologist’s responsibility to ensure each patient’s correct records are discussed with physicians or doctors.

Healthy lifestyle

This is a career where the experts are mostly on their feet next to patients, machines, or consulting with other doctors. Stamina is essential and following a healthy lifestyle is therefore vital. To notice tiny details on scans and images, you must also have enough mind power throughout the day, so you don’t miss anything important. To withstand the onslaught of diseases—common when working with sick individuals—radiologists must maintain their health, so their immune systems can fight off infections.


Becoming a radiologist is one of the longest medical paths you can take. A total of 15 years will be spent training, first to become a medical doctor and then four to six years focusing on radiation safety, procedures, and interpretation. A radiology student must be prepared for studying and training while some of their peers are already practicing.

Be flexible

As with most medical positions—especially related to emergency procedures and hospitals—a radiologist must be flexible to the time they are willing to spend doing work. It will fluctuate and will require weekends and evenings of their time too. Situations also differ, as you sometime work alone and at other times collaborate. All these environments should be stimulating to you, otherwise job satisfaction won’t be optimal.

Team Player

Radiologists are often part of teams of physicians who work on one patient’s case. The radiologist must be comfortable with listening to other experts, taking direction, giving opinions, and keeping the goal in mind, instead of personal success. Each role player’s input is vital to have a positive outcome since radiology may show where the source of the problem is, but another expert may have the key to treating it.


A radiologist will often have a team of nurses and technicians who help work machinery and fulfil necessary tasks. Because the ultimate responsibility for the outcome of the examinations rests on the radiologist, they must know how to direct the team of helpers. Leadership will ensure tests are done correctly. As in most leadership roles, they may inspire these subordinates to develop their own careers.

Similar Occupations

Individuals interested in radiology can opt for one of these roles. Some of them provide supporting roles to radiologists. Alternatively, you can work towards a further degree or specializing after becoming a radiologist.

Projected Future of a Radiologist

The role and work of radiologists are definitely not stagnant. With constant advances in technology, more ways of using this field to benefit patients break open all the time. Here’s what the future looks like. 

Career Prospects

When a specific career jumps from being the 19th most recruited specialty to number 10, you know it’s a job that will provide many prospects. This is according to a physician search firm, Merrit Hawkins, in 2017. One reason for this is that more towns and cities require resident radiologists, to prevent patients having to go to large cities to obtain this specialized treatment.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—as with the rest of the medical field—radiology will most probably grow between 2010 and 2020. The number of professionals could increase by as much as 24%. One reason is that society requires more medical experts to enhance their lifestyles and help manage health challenges.

Career Options

Radiologists who decide to specialize in certain fields will have many opportunities in future:

  • Radiation technologists’ options will increase up to 20%

  • Sonographers’ job opportunities can rise with 44%

  • Radiologists also have the option of working part time, which—in 2015—over 20% of them opted to do.

Potential Increase

As part of this growth employment of radiology related positions will increase exponentially. There may also be an increase in how hectic schedules become, as some hospitals propose that imaging must be done 24/7.

How to Become a Radiologist

As mentioned, your journey to becoming a radiologist will be long. You’ll pass these milestones along the way:

  • A bachelor’s degree will give you access to medical school

  • A 4-year medical course will afford you an MD degree

  • A residency program at a medical facility is mandatory

  • During this time a 4-year radiology program will start

  • A 2-year fellowship program will teach the final details of the field

  • Licensing and board certification are required for a radiologist to practice

This is a total of up to 15 years of study and future options include further specialization. 

Can you picture yourself in this career? It has high demands and long hours, but you’ll never be bored and of course, the high salary will be an added bonus. These skills are becoming more important to identify causes of health problems. Being a part of solving these medical mysteries will be the best part of your day.

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