Career as a Radiologist

Radiology is a specialized field in medicine which uses imaging techniques and technologies like X-rays, MRI scans, CT and PET scans to diagnose and treat diseases and health conditions. Radiology is an important part of medicine and treatment as radiologists help in the diagnosis and treatment. Radiology methods have become more sophisticated over the last 2 decades with better imaging techniques and being minimally invasive.

Who is a Radiologist?

A Radiologist is a medical doctor who assists other specialists/doctors in treating patients by interpreting images, offering a diagnosis and a possible course of treatment. Since radiologists also have a medical degree, they have the knowledge to understand, interpret and explain issues to patients after looking at the images. Radiologists have the choice of working in any specialty they want – women’s health, interventional radiology, cardiac imaging, pediatrics and even orthopedics.

What does a Radiologist do?

A radiologist can work in a hospital setting or a part of a private practice. Their role is to assist doctors/specialists diagnose and treat illnesses. This is done by reading and understanding images from different tests and answer questions about a disease and its symptoms, injuries and treatment options. Radiologists are also in a position to recommend which tests are needed to get the best results. They also consider the risks involved and advise patients accordingly.

Radiologists study images and send written reports on diagnoses and interventional imaging to other doctors/specialists as requested. There are 3 distinct ways that a radiologist can help:

  • Diagnostics: This includes reading and interpreting images generated by x-rays, CT and MRI scans, ultrasound and nuclear medicine. Diagnoses are then sent in the form of written reports.
  • Intervention: Radiologists in this field diagnose and treat diseases after requesting images. Radiologists can pick their specialties so that they treat specific areas like the brain, spine or even the circulatory system. This type of radiology is not invasive and uses available technologies to help guide doctors to carry out procedures. Instruments used are small and catheters are inserted into arteries or veins for treatment.
  • Radiation oncology: Radiation therapy is used to treat different kinds of cancers and doctors have to specialize in this field.

How to become a Radiologist

The first step in the process is to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Pre-med students have to meet pre-requisites with majors in biology, mathematics, chemistry and physics. Applications with strong volunteering backgrounds and research in science along with high MCAT scores are vital. Most colleges and universities have counsellors who can help an interested student to plan their career path. Radiology is a much sought after specialty and prospective candidates should have excellent scores academically to get in. Passing and getting top scores of the US Medical Licensing Exam will help in starting a career as a radiologist.

Training: After finishing general residency in medical school, students have to apply for a diagnostic radiology residency through the Resident Matching Program. Matching is done at the national level and will last 4 years. Residents work 60+ hours a week and have to do night calls as well. After they complete this program, they can choose to do a fellowship between 1 to 3 years in a subspecialty of their choice like interventional or neuro-radiology.

Licensing: To be able to practice, all doctors and radiologists have to get licensed to work in the state of their choice. Every employer requires board certification as a condition of employment. As of 2013, the certification process requires doctors to pass a two part exam which covers anatomy, medicine, physics and imaging modalities.

Requirements: Since the competition is stiff, students wanting to become radiologists have to do well academically. They need high math and physics skills.

Work environment

Radiologists have a choice of working in a private practice or full time in a hospital setting. Their work schedule is pretty good – 5 days and 40 to 50 hour work weeks. It also depends on their experience – initially they will have to put in long hours at work and also do night and weekend shifts to meet patient needs. Radiologists like other specialists have to be on call to cover for their colleagues and also for emergencies. Even though radiology is not as demanding as surgery, it can be emotionally stressful at times.

Some of the potential hazards involve working with machinery. Exposure to radiation due to x-rays and other equipment can be addressed if proper care is taken. Radiologists should have good interpersonal skills as they deal with patients, doctors, nurses and technicians. They have to be compassionate and patient. Other essential skills include an analytical mind and decision making.

Radiologist Job Outlook and Salary

Job prospects for Radiologists are pretty good and expected to grow 18% for the decade 2012-2022. Radiologists can find a job in big cities or even rural areas where the need is higher. Employment opportunities are expected to be much higher especially since the population is ageing – experience in geriatric medicine and care is a plus. As of 2013, the average salary of a Radiologist is about $350,000. Salaries can vary from state to state and also based on specialty. Profit sharing and bonuses contribute to the take home pay as well.

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