Radiology 101: How To Become A Radiologist

The medical practice is made up of several different branches of expertise, with practitioners who specialize in one or more areas of medical science such as cardiology, biomedicine, dentistry, general practice, nutrition, orthopedics, pharmacy, virology, and many more.

While aspiring medical practitioners are not discouraged from learning and mastering more than one field of medical science, most successful practitioners find their niche in at least one category and specialize or build their career around it.

What is Radiology?

How to Become a Radiologist - BecomeaRadiologist.orgIf you are interested in medical science, one field that is in high demand at the moment and looking for more practitioners is radiology.

Radiology is the medical branch that refers to the study, analysis, and application of different imaging technologies such as X-ray and radiation, with the purpose of diagnosing and treating illnesses or physical conditions.

People who practice radiology are called radiologists, and with the continued explosion of various applications and treatments related to the practice of radiology, there is a shortage of radiologists that still needs to be met.

In radiology, imaging technologies such as ultrasound, computed tomography or CT, nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography or PET, and magnetic resonance imaging or MRI are utilized to find out the cause or nature of a person’s disease, and come up with the best treatment or solution for it. Meanwhile, interventional radiology is used to perform minimally invasive surgical procedures to treat diseases, using medical imaging.

What Does a Radiologist Do?

Radiologists have the two-pronged responsibility of using their knowledge and skills in imaging technology to correctly diagnose an illness, and in cases where it is applicable, use that imaging technology to treat the illness.

Clinical radiology has advanced rapidly over the years, and it is now possible to use radiology at very early stages of diagnosis to help with the treatment of diseases and conditions. Also, this rapid pace of advancement has allowed image-guided treatment procedures to become more commonplace in the medical industry, making the role of radiologists even more vital.

Just like their counterparts within the medical field, radiologists are also required to undergo rigorous training. Aspiring radiologists undergo training at accredited medical schools during Foundation Years, after which they will need to pass a licensing examination.

A residency of four years is the next step; the residency and post-graduate medical education will revolve around mastering the knowledge and skills in radiation safety precautions and protective measures, the effects of radiation on the human body, and how to properly carry out and interpret radiological and medical imaging examinations.

Usually, radiology practitioners also complete one to two additional years in a fellowship, where they undergo specialized training in specific subcategories or subspecialties within radiology, for instance, nuclear medicine, breast imaging, or cardiovascular radiology.

What are the Requirements for Radiologists?

If you are interested in radiology, you will need to prepare for the prerequisite undergraduate medical education, four years of medical school (for your medical degree), a year of internship, four years of residency training, and one to two years of specialty fellowship training.

The field is just as competitive and rigorous as other fields of medical study, which is a must in a rapidly-evolving medical science such as radiology.

Projection Radiology

You can choose between different subspecialties within radiology as you decide which path to take, the most common of which is projection radiography. This refers to the use of X-rays transmitted through the patient’s body and converted into images for analysis. The original and most widely-used imaging has an output of silver films.

Digital Radiology

Film-screen radiography is being replaced by Digital Radiography, where the images are produced on a computer screen, but projection or plain radiography, which for the first five decades was the only imaging method used, continues to be very common because it is easy and inexpensive to use.

Fluoroscopy & Angiography

Related to X-ray imaging, fluoroscopy and angiography utilize a fluorescent screen and image intensifier tube which transmit real-time images to a closed-circuit television monitor for analysis. In this method, radiocontrast agents for delineating anatomy and function of the blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract, or genitourinary system are administered to the patient, either injected or swallowed. These radiocontrast agents act to absorb or scatter the X-rays, allowing for the analysis of dynamic processes within the human body.

CT Imaging

Another subcategory of radiology that also utilizes radiocontrast agents is CT imaging. CT scanning is used when higher-quality and finer images of the human body are required. Urgent conditions that usually require the use of CT scanning include pulmonary embolism, cerebral hemorrhaging, appendicitis, kidney stones, or aortic dissection.

Ultrasound

Medical Ultrasonography

Medical ultrasonography utilizes high frequency sound waves in order to produce images of the soft tissue structures in the human body.

It is most popularly recognized by many people as the type of imaging used during obstetrical examinations, such as for determining the gender of the baby, or knowing the number of babies in multiple gestations.

Ultrasound technology is also widely-used for many other purposes, including the analysis of the heart, arteries, and blood vessels, detecting DVT in the legs before going to the lungs (pulmonary embolism), and for use in image-guided procedures such as biopsies.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, from its name, uses strong magnetic fields and radio frequency signals in collecting images. One major advantage of MRI as an imaging modality is its ability to produce high-quality images of axial, coronal, sagittal and multiple oblique planes. MRI is able to give the best contrast of soft tissue images.

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine uses radiopharmaceuticals containing substances that attach to certain body tissues and equipped with radioactive tracer. Tracers that are used for this purpose normally include Technetium-99m, Iodine-123, Iodine-131, Gallium-67 and Thallium-201. Nuclear medicine is relied on less for accurate imaging detail, and more for showing the physiological function of the heart, liver, lungs, thyroid, gall bladder, kidneys, etc.

Positron Emission Tomography

PET or positron emission tomography is very closely related to nuclear medicine in that it involves the administration of a radioactive biologically-active substance such as Fluorine-18 Fluorodeoxyglucose to emit radiation from within the body and transmit images.

How Much Do Radiologists Earn?

The average radiologist salary in the United States stands at $216,577 annually.

This is a relatively well-paying profession, and any financial investment and physical or mental efforts you put into becoming a radiologist would be worth it and come back to you after a few years.

Interventional radiologists, or those who not only analyze results but are also skilled in certain procedures or treatments that utilize radiation, command even higher salaries, averaging at $478,000 annually.

Aside from the higher median salary of a radiologist, another advantage is the projected increase in employment opportunities within this field in the coming years. With more innovations in equipment and treatments being introduced, the need for radiology practitioners is always present.

Where you end up practicing radiology is also a factor. Some states have higher average salaries for radiologists:

  • New York (median income: $203,000 yearly)
  • Mississippi (median income: $202,000 yearly)
  • Massachusetts (median income: ($198,000 yearly)

Different factors such as your years of experience and your educational background also have an effect on your earning potential as a radiologist.