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How to Become a Radiologist: Steps to Take From High School

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What’s Covered:


Interested in becoming a radiologist? As a radiologist, you’ll use medical imaging to help diagnose and treat diseases. You can expect to follow the same path as any physician, which means getting an undergraduate degree, going to medical school, and completing a residency and fellowship. 


What Does a Radiologist Do?


Radiologists are doctors who use medical imaging to diagnose and treat different injuries and diseases. Some of the medical imaging, or radiology, they’ll use to treat patients include:


  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Ultrasound


Radiologists decide which medical imaging exam you need, interpret the medical images, and provide your primary care doctor with a report of the results.


How Much Do Radiologists Make?


The many years of training to become a radiologist pay off in the end. The average radiologist salary in the U.S. is $422,190 as of March 2021, although the range can fall between $367,090 and $488,490.


How to Become a Radiologist: Steps to Take from High School


High School


Be sure to take advanced math and science courses.


Because you’ll have to go to medical school to become a radiologist, it’s important to start your math and science training while in high school. Courses such as biology, chemistry, calculus, or statistics can all demonstrate your interest in the field. Take AP courses when possible so that colleges see that you’re also challenging yourself.


Intern, volunteer, or participate in other pre-med activities.


Getting involved in activities related to pre-med or radiology help make you more prepared for college and eventually medical school. Some ideas include shadowing a radiologist at a local hospital or volunteering at a hospital or other medical facility. For more ideas, see our blog post about extracurriculars for high schoolers interested in studying medicine.




Choose the right college.


If you’re planning on becoming a radiologist, you’ll have to find a college with a strong pre-medical track. Explore some of the top-ranked colleges for pre-med and see your real chances of admission to more than 500 colleges with CollegeVine’s free Chancing Engine.


It’s not only important to find a school that’s strong in pre-med, but also one that’s a good fit for your needs. Do you want small or large classes? Will you go to college in-state or out-of-state? Are you looking for a particularly diverse school? Our Chancing Engine can also help you filter for schools based on your preferences.


Earn a bachelor’s degree.


There’s no designated radiology or pre-med major, but most schools have a pre-med track. This means that you’ll major in a different field, usually a science-related field, but you’ll take a variety of different courses to fulfill medical school prerequisites. 


As a pre-med student, you’re usually given two advisors: one major advisor and one pre-med advisor. The pre-med advisor is there to make sure you’re meeting the requirements for medical school.


Required courses for med school usually include the following:


  • Biology – 2 semesters with lab
  • Physics – 2 semesters with lab
  • General chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
  • Organic chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
  • Biochemistry – 1 semester
  • English – 2 semesters
  • Math – 2 semesters
  • Some schools also might require Psychology and Statistics


This list can vary by medical school, so be sure to look into the requirements at your top choice medical schools while you’re an undergraduate.


Keep your GPA up. 


Getting into medical school can be difficult and competitive. One of the ways to make sure you stand out from your peers is to keep a high GPA. Most med schools consider both a science GPA and general GPA (which takes into account all of your courses).


Participate in relevant extracurriculars.


Medical schools look to see that you’ve been actively participating in medicine-related activities. Some examples include leading a club or organization based on your medical interests, shadowing a doctor, performing scientific research, or being an EMT.


Take the MCAT.


To get into medical school, you need to take the 7.5 hour long Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) for admission to medical school. You’ll need to spend a lot of time preparing for the exam, as it covers a range of topics such as biology, behavior, analysis and reasoning, and more. To get an idea of what your target MCAT score should be, you can check the average scores for admitted students at the medical schools to which you’re applying to.


See our post on navigating the pre-med track for more info on applying to medical school. 

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

Medical School


Earn an M.D.


After college, you’ll head to four years of medical school—two years of classroom work and two years of clinical practice under the supervision of licensed doctors and medical professionals.


Medical school is difficult, and it’s no question that you’ll have to focus and study hard. Throughout your four years, you’ll also need to take countless exams, including the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 2




Complete an internship.


An internship is usually considered the first year of your residency program. During internship year, you’ll likely rotate across different departments and get a sense for the wide variety of specialties.


Complete a residency.


After the internship comes three years of residency. During residency you’ll work under a licensed doctor and perform real medical procedures. There are two different tracks you can follow in radiology: interventional radiology and diagnostic radiology. 


According to the American Board of Radiology, interventional radiology “combines competence in imaging, image-guided minimally invasive procedures, and periprocedural patient care to diagnose and treat benign and malignant conditions of the thorax, abdomen, pelvis, and extremities.” Diagnostic radiology is more focused on diagnosing and treating disease using x-rays, MRIs, and other imaging.


Complete a fellowship.


After completing your residency, you can choose to complete a one or two year fellowship. Although not required, the majority of aspiring radiologists do complete a fellowship. During a fellowship, you’ll study a specific area of radiology, such as MRI, breast imaging, and more. 


Just like residency, you’ll further your knowledge with training and lectures, but also get to spend a lot of time working directly with patients.


Become licensed. 


To become licensed, you must pass all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Your education and graduate training will also be reviewed and verified.


All medical practitioners must complete licensing in the state they plan on practicing in. Check with your state about the licensing requirements, as they can differ from state to state. For example, different states have different rules on the minimum number of attempts to pass the licensing exam and the minimum postgraduate training required can vary.


Become Board-Certified.


Radiologists must take two exams to gain initial certification in diagnostic radiology or interventional radiology: the Core Exam and the Certifying Exam. The Core Exam is the same among both tracks, but the Certifying Exam will differ depending on what track you choose.


The Core Exam is completed after 3 years of residency training and is made up of 18 subspecialty and modality categories. To receive a passing score, you must pass overall and in physics.


For diagnostic radiology, the certifying exam is taken 15 months after completing residency. The exam contains four modules—three of which are chosen by the examinee to fit their interests and training. The fourth module, Essentials of Diagnostic Radiology, is taken by all examinees. 


For interventional radiology, the certifying exam includes an oral component and a computer-based component. If you are already certified in diagnostic radiology, you only need to complete the oral component. If you are not certified in diagnostic radiology, you will have to take both the oral and computer-based component, which includes the Essentials of Diagnostic Radiology module and an Interventional module.


Later career


Consider specializing.


Radiologists have the option to specialize in a variety of subspecialties, such as hospice and palliative medicine, nuclear radiology, pain medicine, and more. To become certified in one of these subspecialities, you’ll have to go through additional training and exams.


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Asia is a graduate of Tulane University where she studied English and Public Health. She's held multiple writing positions and has experience writing about everything from furniture to higher education to nutrition and exercise.