By Andrew T. Colucci, MD
Radiologists are specialist physicians who utilized a wide array of advanced techniques in medical imaging to accurately diagnose and, in certain cases, treat patients with all types of illness. These imaging modalities include X-rays, ultrasound, CT, and MRI examinations. Like all physicians, radiologists have completed medical school and have obtained their MD degrees. Radiologists correlate patient medical histories, physical exam findings, and laboratory values with their own interpretations of imaging exams to help patients and their primary care doctors arrive at the correct diagnosis in a timely fashion. While the training to become a radiologist is long, competitive, and intense, the payoff of helping hundreds of patients every week makes the journey well worth it.
The Training Pathway to Become a Radiologist:
- Undergraduate Education. The first step to becoming a radiologist is to get accepted into a 4-year university and obtain a bachelors degree. A high GPA, above average MCAT scores, multiple letters of recommendation, volunteering and leadership experiences, and exposure to basic and/or clinical research is essentially required to move on to the next step.
- Medical School. After obtaining an acceptance to a M.D. or D.O. medical school, one must complete the rigorous 4-year curriculum while still remaining towards the top of one’s class. While in medical school, one will learn all of the anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and pathology that is expected of all graduating physicians. One must also study for, take, and perform highly on the United States Medical Licensing Examinations, Steps 1 and 2. In the final year of medical school, applicants will apply to their post-graduate training programs in various specialties, including radiology for those who aspire to become future radiologists.
- Clinical Internship. Following graduation from medical school, one is awarded a M.D. (or D.O.) degree, can apply for a limited medical license, and is considered a physician. However, the true hands-on training must now begin. Radiologists are required to spend their first year as a resident, also known as “intern year”, practicing general medicine, surgery, or a combination of both. This includes taking care of patients in the emergency department, as well as inpatient and outpatient settings.
- Radiology Residency.At this point, the trainee is introduced to their specialty of radiology, so beginning a 4-year training program in the field. During these four years the radiology resident will spend many hours, both day and night, in the hospital interpreting tens of thousands of imaging studies, counseling patients on their results, communicating results with other clinicians, and performing many image-guided procedures and interventions. Towards the end of training, the residents must take and pass multiple sets of board-certifying examinations.
- Radiology Fellowship.The vast majority of graduating residents will then apply to and accept a 1- or 2-year fellowship program in a subspecialty of radiology. These include neuroradiology, musculoskeletal radiology, and interventional radiology, amongst many others. During this period, the radiology fellow undergoes the finals steps of their training, learning the most advanced imaging and procedural techniques within their subspecialty.
- Transition to an Attending Radiologist. Following the completion of fellowship, a radiologist is finally ready to apply their skills and independently practice their specialty.
Andrew T. Colucci, MD isa senior radiology resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA, and a Clinical Instructor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, and a graduate from Boston University School of Medicine and Boston College. His professional interests are quite varied, and include clinical research, medical education, healthcare economics, and health policy.