Radiology is one of the highest-paying medical specialties, but that’s not the only thing that makes the career path so appealing to aspiring physicians. A consistent need for radiology services going forward, the opportunity to integrate exciting new research innovations into clinical practice and a breadth of career options in both diagnostic interpretation and interventional procedures are other reasons to consider radiology as your medical specialty of choice. Aspiring radiologists should choose electives in diagnostic radiology, surgery, emergency medicine, anesthesiology and other medical specialties. As students approach the end of their tenure in medical school, they should be prepared for substantial postgraduate training that includes an internship, a residency and a specialized fellowship.
Electives in Medical School
In medical school, your courses are largely chosen for you. You don’t get to choose a lot of elective studies like you did as an undergraduate, especially during your first two years, which consist primarily of classroom and laboratory work. Most “electives” in medical school are elective clinical rotations that you complete during your fourth and last year in school, according to the American College of Surgeons. Some medical schools may allow students to begin choosing some core electives as early as their third year of medical school. Unlike a course you would take in the classroom, these rotations are performed in a clinical setting and involve learning from watching and assisting experienced physicians.
Many different elective clinical rotations can prove valuable for an aspiring radiologist, according to the Society of Interventional Radiology. Diagnostic radiology may seem like an obvious choice and can certainly help medical students get a glimpse into what it may be like to work in this field. Some students choose to do more than one rotation block in radiology. If you decide to spend two of your blocks on radiology, you may have the option to complete both rotations in diagnostic radiology or to venture out into interventional radiology.
Other choices are not as obvious. Many aspiring radiologists spend their internship year – the year between finishing medical school and entering the residency period – on surgery, so developing some familiarity with surgery is a great choice. Vascular surgery, trauma surgery, transplant surgery and the surgical intensive care unit are all options to consider.
Emergency medicine often relies on the expertise of a radiologist and can teach new up-and-coming doctors a lot about triaging patients and the circumstances that warrant ordering imaging tests. This rotation is an especially wise option if you think you may want to work in the subspecialty of emergency radiology. Anesthesiology is another elective rotation to consider, particularly if you plan to work in interventional radiology, in which you will be responsible for administering local anesthesia or will work with an anesthesiologist for procedures that require deeper sedation of a patient.
Radiology overlaps with almost every area of medicine, so few elective rotations you could choose would be a poor decision. Doing a rotation in oncology, for example, can help you prepare to work in radiation oncology. Cardiology experience is a fitting choice if you may want to specialize in cardiac imaging.
Many of the minimally invasive procedures you might perform in a career in interventional radiology align with nephrology, gastroenterology and urology, so taking a block to gain clinical experience in these areas can also be beneficial.
Beyond Medical School
The four years you spend earning your Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) are only the beginning of your medical training. A great deal of your expertise in medicine will be developed on the job as you complete formal postgraduate medical training.
After you graduate medical school and complete your licensing exam, you serve a year-long internship, just as new doctors in other specialties do. Next, you should plan to complete a lengthy residency – a minimum of four years – in the specialty of diagnostic radiology, the American Medical Association reported. Post-residency fellowships are common in radiology, especially if you want to specialize in a subfield of this branch of medicine. These fellowships can be as short as one year or as long as three years. Some of the popular subspecialties in the field of radiology include interventional radiology, cardiovascular radiology and breast imaging, according to the American Medical Association.
Radiology isn’t a quick field to enter. All in all, it takes a minimum of 13 years of study and training to become a radiologist, according to the American College of Radiology.