How to Become a Radiologist

Female doctor preparing a patient for a CT scan
Romaset /

If you look at any list of the best-paying jobs or examine the outlook for a wide array of careers, you’ll typically find the job of a radiologist. From job satisfaction to a competitive salary and work-life balance, a radiologist usually cracks the top 10, which is why more young people are entering this field, and older workers are transitioning into a new career.

Because of growing healthcare demands, more health clinics, hospitals and other medical establishments are hiring radiologists – or at least they’re trying to. While many people are studying to become radiologists, the supply still doesn’t meet the demand, and that is an issue for an overloaded healthcare system. This also suggests that radiologists can command higher pay, and that’s always a positive!

You may be searching for a career to receive a handsome paycheque. You might be looking to leave your old job for a new opportunity. Or you may be considering adding to your qualifications. Whatever the case may be, you should always add radiology to the top of your list.

Let’s explore what this rewarding career looks like and what steps you need to take to become a radiologist.

1. Research the Profession

The population is growing, the healthcare system is understaffed and underfunded, and the demand for medical care is only surging. A lot of specialists are needed to care for patients and help other staff members. At this point, you’re likely considering any number of healthcare areas and attempting to match the right one with your career objectives and personality. Radiology may be your future.

Job Description

Through comprehensive training and education, a radiologist will perform and examine medical images, which include MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds and X-rays – they do not require any invasive procedures. These professionals work with the latest imaging technologies, though radiological technicians are usually the ones to utilise computer tomography (CT) scanners and X-ray photography. Radiologists also specialise in other areas, like interventional radiology, radiation oncology, paediatric radiology, breast imaging and nuclear medicine.

Here are some of their day-to-day duties and responsibilities:

  • interpreting test results following a specific type of testing
  • diagnosing patients’ ailments and referring patients to specialists for treatment
  • examining patients’ medical history to ensure patients will not be harmed by tests
  • communicating with colleagues about patients, technologies, office protocols and regulations
  • consulting with other doctors about their patients’ completed MRIs, X-rays and ultrasounds
  • delegating tasks to staff, from administrative duties to technical affairs
  • enforcing industry, government or office standards to ensure patient safety
  • participating in continuing education programmes and industry functions.

Essential Skills and Qualities

When you enter the radiology arena, you will need much more than just a university diploma hanging on your wall. You will quickly discover that you need to not only have the proper education but also to partake in a wide variety of training activities and university programmes to boost your qualifications.

You will also need to bring the following skills and qualities to the table:

  • strong attention to detail – as you assess dozens of test results each day, you need to ensure that you are meticulously combing through every image, report and patient record
  • excellent communication skills – in addition to speaking with your staff on a daily basis, you will also come into routine contact with other medical professionals outside of your office, mostly about patients
  • exceptional critical thinking skills – for the most difficult images, you may need to stimulate your little grey cells and think outside the box to determine what a particular dot is on an X-ray or how a patient can handle an MRI
  • good patient care skills – it is true that the healthcare system is overburdened, which means customer service takes a back seat to treatment, but specialists are a bit different; this suggests that you can have more of an intimate, one-on-one relationship with your patients
  • technical proficiencies – since you are working with state-of-the-art equipment every day, you need to be proficient in numerous technologies
  • strong time management skills – like any other job in the busy healthcare sector, you will be seeing numerous patients when you’re at the office, so you need to manage your time effectively, otherwise you will fall behind and your patients will be seen rather late
  • the ability to work under stress – perhaps it is the paucity of time or because the volume of requests is too great but being a radiologist can be a rather stressful endeavour; it is part and parcel of the job.

Working Hours and Conditions

Depending on where you are employed, you may work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm or you could have shift work at the local general hospital. For the most part, radiologists function in an office-style environment, clocking in more than 40 hours a week – a third will work more than 50 hours each week, starting at 8am.

The working conditions may vary from radiologist to radiologist. If you have your own practice, then you can set your own hours and see as many patients in a day as you like. However, if you work in a hospital, then you may have more of a chaotic schedule, sometimes seeing dozens of patients in a day and totalling more than 60 hours.

Salary Prospects

The Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) reports that the annual median pay for physicians and surgeons (which include radiology specialists) in the US is $208,000 (£158,360) per year or about $100 (£76) per hour. Your salary expectations can spike to as much as $500,000 (£380,680) after serving 10 years in the industry.

As an entry-level hospital doctor in the UK, meanwhile, you will earn between £26,350 ($34,610) and £45,750 ($60,090) a year. However, the more experience you garner, the more you will make – after several years in the industry, you can see your salary swell by as much as £102,500 ($134,630).

Job Outlook

The jobs are out there for radiologists, and they will continue to be for another several years.

In the US, the projected growth rate for radiologists is an estimated 13% between 2016 and 2026. The numbers are comparable in the UK, ranging between 9% and 12%.

In a tight labour market, you can be confident that you will not be standing in the unemployment line, thanks to the ‘baby boom effect’ since many of the older generations are retiring.

2. Get the Qualifications

Similar to any other doctor, a radiologist’s education will commence with an undergraduate degree programme. Their education must consist of mathematics, sciences and written communications, which are all requirements necessary to enrol in a pre-medical programme.

This is followed by medical school. Your schooling will be heavily slanted towards organic chemistry, medical ethics, human anatomy, pharmacology and physiology. Once you receive your degree, it is imperative to sign up for a professional association, like the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) if you’re in the US, Canada or Mexico.

Before you can enter the workforce, you will be required to complete a one-year residency programme, otherwise known as a transitional or internship year. To heighten your qualifications, your residency will need to be an accredited radiology endeavour that will vary from working with diagnostic equipment to homing your subspecialties, including paediatric radiology or vascular radiology.

Finally, as soon as you complete your residency, you will need to write a board exam to become a certified radiologist. You can write the exam within six years from the time you finished your residency – but the earlier, the better! There are two examinations: your radiology exam and your subspecialty test.

Be warned: should you fail your exams, then you must perform another one-year residency stint.

3. Land Your First Job

The benefit of working in the healthcare field is that by the time you’re looking for a job, you already have an abundance of experience under your belt. When you factor in your internships, residency and board exams – believe us: studying for a board exam is a part-time job – your CV and LinkedIn profile will be quite extensive.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should avoid making an effort to land your first employment opportunity. You will still need to compose a professional CV, in which you highlight your qualifications, sell yourself to a future employer and inform hospitals or clinics that you’re still willing to take courses to enhance your expertise.

While the supply of radiology graduates remains insufficient to meet the demand, the environment is beginning to get a bit crowded – both in Europe and North America. So, you will likely be given the position, but you should not take it for granted.

4. Develop Your Career

Let’s be honest: you did not grow up aiming to be a radiologist – you were never interested in snapping an X-ray at four years of age (maybe having X-ray vision, but that’s another tale). That said, radiology is a great career choice for millennials and Generation Zers who feel stuck without any serious career options.

To become a radiologist, it will require you to study a lot, put in a lot of physical work and continue to upgrade your qualifications. At the end of the day, though, it is all worth it, because you’re receiving a generous salary, working in a fast-paced setting and improving the health of patients.

And you do not need to settle with being a radiologist, either. You can climb the ladder, like in any other career. This means you can venture from radiology to head of a hospital department to executive of a non-profit organisation that advances the causes of radiologists everywhere.

When you’re a radiologist, your career is never stagnant. You are constantly upgrading your knowledge, studying the latest technological trends, learning about the newest treatments and meeting new people. It is rare for you to feel stuck, something that is quite common for so many professionals in a myriad of industries, including the healthcare sector.

Radiology may not be your passion – you likely didn’t see yourself a decade ago performing MRIs. However, the more ingrained you become in this profession, the more passionate you will feel. Soon enough, when you discover a hidden ailment in a patient’s body, and you relay the information to a doctor to treat them, you will feel immense satisfaction. And isn’t that what we want in a job?

Are you on your way to becoming a radiologist? Perhaps you’ve already established yourself as a successful professional in the field? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us.


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