How to Become A Radiologist: A Career in the Medical Industry

Are you wondering how to become a radiologist? Radiologists are individuals who enjoy the constant state of flux and never-ending innovation the field of radiology has to offer. Seeking information on how to become a radiologist reveals a desire to work with a team of healthcare professionals while staying focused on patients and their well-being. Choosing a career as a radiologist requires commitment, dedication and passion knowing it will all be worthwhile when you make a positive difference in someone's life.

Radiologists look forward to challenges such as interpreting imaging studies and connecting clues that help them make accurate diagnoses. Radiologists also receive training in the use of radioactive isotopes (radionuclide scans are a way of imaging bones and various body parts by using a small dose of a radioactive chemical radiation). To become a radiologist, you must complete college and medical school and complete a residency.

A Career in Radiology: What to Know

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Radiologists are medical doctors educated and trained to diagnose and treat trauma and disease with the aid of internal imaging methods. They are licensed health professionals using a combination of methods and techniques that involve magnetism, computers, sound waves, and more. The radiologist scans bones, muscles, and internal organs, accurately diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries by performing non or minimally invasive procedures such as:

  • X-ray radiography
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Ultrasound
  • Computerized tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Nuclear imaging

We invite individuals who want to know more about how to become a radiologist to investigate the educational requirements and employment opportunities in this important field.

Education and Responsibilities

The moment you realize you want to know how to become a radiologist you must get accepted into a 4-year university and earn a bachelor's degree.
The program requires a high GPA, above average MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) scores, multiple letters of recommendation, volunteering, and leadership experiences. Experience with basic and/or clinical research are required to move on to the next step.

Additional exposure to the following will also help you learn how to become a radiologist:

  • Psychology classes to help you learn about people and human nature
  • Humanities courses that help with communication skills
  • Volunteer work at health clinics or nursing homes

Medical School

Attending medical school whether it is for medicine or dentistry is required. After getting accepted to an M.D. or D.O. medical school, individuals must complete the 4-year curriculum while maintaining above average grades. While attending medical school, students learn:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pathology

Students are required to study for the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE) and get a very high score after taking them. During the last year of medical school, applicants apply to their chosen post-graduate residency programs in diverse specialties, including radiology for those interested in becoming radiologists.


Internship and Residency

Upon graduating from medical school, you will have earned an M.D. or D.O. degree. This qualifies you to be a physician and enables you to apply for a limited medical license. However, this is where your real hands-on training begins. Radiologists must spend the first year after medical school in residency (known as the intern year) where they will practice general medicine, perform surgery, or work doing both.

During the next four years, the radiology resident can also look forward to advising patients on their results, discussing results with other medical professionals, and performing numerous image-guided procedures on patients. Each resident must take and pass multiple sets of examinations as they get close to the end of their internship.

The Value of Fellowship

Most graduating residents apply for and accept a 1 or 2 year fellowship program in a radiology subspecialty such as:

  • Neuroradiology
  • Musculoskeletal radiology
  • Interventional radiology

During this time, the radiology fellows begin their final steps in how to become a radiologist, learning the most important and advanced imaging, methods and state-of-the-art procedures radiology has to offer. Fellowship is not a requirement to practice radiology though radiologists have one of the highest rates of fellowship-trained physicians. Approximately 90 percent of radiology residents also complete one or more fellowships.

Licensing and Board Certification

Once fellowship is complete, the radiologist is prepared and ready to put their skills to work. They can legally and independently practice as Dr. of Radiology. Every practicing physician, including radiologists, must be licensed in their state. Most employers also require radiology candidates to hold board certification, which means they must pass a two-part examination covering physics, medicine, imaging modalities, anatomy and physics.

Skills and Qualities Every Radiologist Must Have

Your journey on how to become a radiologist begins with academic excellence. Competition for radiology residencies is fierce, requiring students pursuing this field to be superior academic performers owning the highest grades in medical school, admirable USMLE scores, unquestionable letters of recommendation, and familiarity in the field. The radiologist must also have precise attention to detail to make accurate diagnoses and communicate effectively with patients and colleagues.

How to Become a Radiologist

There are essentially three basic steps to becoming a radiologist:
1) You must earn an undergraduate degree
2) Earn a medical degree
3) Complete a radiology residency

The Bachelor's Degree - 4 Years

A Bachelor's Degree is required to gain admittance into medical school. You can have your choice of majors as you complete the required prerequisites to med school. These can vary depending on the school, but typically include classes in:

  • English
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry

Most universities offer a pre-med focus of study including:

  1. General Chemistry 1 & 2: the study the building blocks of matter and the interactions between atoms and molecules
  2. Organic Chemistry 1 & 2: a specific branch of chemistry dedicated to the study of carbon-containing compounds
  3. Biology 1 & 2: studies the properties of living things, from the structure of plants to genetics and cell biology
  4. Physics 1 & 2: studies the behavior of matter at the molecular and atomic level focusing on mechanics, energy, radiation, and atomic structure

Medical School - 4 Years

Medical schools in the United States are allopathic or osteopathic. They teach the same subjects, but the philosophies differ slightly.

  • Allopathic medical schools award MD degrees and the curriculum focuses on diagnosing and treating conditions with medications and surgery
  • Osteopathic schools award DO degrees taking a whole-person approach with emphasis on prevention and overall well being

Both programs can teach you how to become a radiologist and a radiologic subspecialist. There are two parts comprising medical schools:
The first and second years are about classes, practical exercises, and simulations including:

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Embryology
  • Human behavior

You'll spend the third and fourth year in hospitals and doctors’ offices where seasoned physicians do the teaching. They structure the curriculum to take students through all the major specialties along with radiology.

Intern and Residency - 5 Years

It is common for interns to practice general medicine for one year under supervision. They then work for four years in specialty training i.e. diagnostic radiology, diagnostic-interventional radiology, or radiation oncology. They might also rotate through the following subspecialty areas:

  • Neuroradiology, the imaging, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders of the nervous system (brain, spinal cord)
  • Interventional radiology, the use of imaging to guide minimally invasive procedures such as stent placement in a blood vessel
  • Pediatric radiology, imaging and treatment of conditions affecting newborns, infants, and children
  • Radiation oncology, cancer treatment and related diseases using ionizing radiation


Government economists predict jobs for doctors, including radiologists, to grow quickly through 2020. The health care industry is expanding due to the increasing elderly population. The need for healthcare professionals grows worldwide with a special demand for radiologists as the risk of cancer increases with age. Changes in health insurance and technological advancements however could impact demand. Employment opportunities for individuals seeking how to become a radiologist may be best in low-income and rural areas. Salaries for a radiologist working in the Eastern United States were between $177,000 - $219,000.

Radiologists are usually found working behind the scenes diagnosing images and analyzing studies. However, they do get involved in certain procedures to help prepare the patient or communicate instructions to the technician. Interventional radiologists actively treat certain diseases and conditions with technology creating electronic maps that guide their instruments as they insert catheters, remove malignant tissue, and perform other surgical procedures. Their participation allows patients to recover faster resulting in fewer complications.

Radiology is an intellectually stimulating field as it is constantly changing and influenced by continual innovative methods and techniques. Radiologic specialists are among the first to implement new imaging technologies and procedures developed in clinical research laboratories. Radiologists also enjoy interpreting complex studies and gathering medical clues that aid them in making the correct diagnosis which ultimately benefits the patient. If you are seeking how to become a radiologist and have a desire to work in healthcare, you must prepare yourself to work very hard in medical school.

Radiology residencies are competitive, requiring students to study hard for their medical licensing exams and impress during their clinical rotations. An intelligent communicator with an interest in technology makes a successful radiologist.