Friday, December 19, 2008

How To Become A Radiologist

As some of you may know, I have decided to apply for a diagnostic radiology residency position. I'll save the 'why radiology' for a later post, perhaps, but for now, I wanted to discuss a common question posed to me by underclassmen: how to become a radiologist. 

Since the blog is targeted at a more general audience, I'll give a broad answer. Here are the steps required to becoming a radiologist (at least, in the United States)

1. Complete your primary education and attend a strong academic college for four years. Going to a good college will definitely increase your chances of attending a strong medical school. 

2. Complete the pre-med requirements of your college, take the MCAT, and apply to medical school. For more on this, check out:  The Official Student Doctor Network Medical School Admissions Guide available on Amazon.com. 

3. After your admission to medical school, look into opportunities to shadow radiologists or do radiology research. Make sure in your later years to take radiology electives. Study hard and do well on USMLE Step 1! Doing well on USMLE Step 1 is essential for any residency program, but it is especially true for a competitive field like radiology. A good Step score will get your foot in the door at many programs, while a mediocre score will be harder to overcome. 

4. Apply for radiology residency programs as well as internship programs. Radiology applicants must do an intern year prior to starting their radiology residency. Many residents do a prelim medicine year or a transitional year. Some also fulfill the requirement through a prelim surgery year. A helpful guide to applying for residency positions is Iserson's Getting Into a Residency: A Guide for Medical Students, 7th Edition

5. Complete a 1 year internship

6. Complete a 4 year diagnostic radiology residency. During the residency, one must pass a written board exam, a physics exam, and an oral board exam, given by the American Board of Radiology. However, starting this year, the system is changing to two computer-based exams that incorporate physics, one given after the third year (PGY 4) of the radiology residency, and the second one given 18 months later. Both exams must be passed in order to become a board-certified radiologist

7. After the residency program, one can either enter into practice as a general radiologist, or complete a fellowship in a subspecialty of radiology such as interventional radiology, neuroradiology, or mammography. The fellowship training typically takes one to two years. 

8. The two major practice settings for radiologists are either private practice or academic radiology, with private practice being much more common.  

To summarize, that is:
  • 12-13 years of primary education
  • 4 years of college
  • 4 years of medical school
  • 1 year of internship
  • 4 years of diagnostic radiology residency
  • Possibly 1-2 years of radiology subspecialty fellowship
At a minimum, that is a total of 25 years of education! Ignoring the primary education, that is still nearly 14 years! While that does seem like a long time, radiologists are compensated fairly well and have a relatively good lifestyle (especially within medicine). Heh, still, makes one wonder whether they should be an x ray technician instead! While I'm somewhere in the middle of that path, it seems most people who have completed all of their training are fairly satisfied.

If you're truly interested in diagnostic radiology, it is a great field with lots of opportunities! Good luck! 

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