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How to become a radiologist

radiology,radiologist
Photo: Discover a career in radiology
To become a radiologist, you must complete the RANZCR five-year training program, commencing with general radiology with more system focused rotations in the fourth and fifth years. To be accepted into the program, candidates must have appropriate basic medical qualifications, be fully registered as a medical practitioner by the registering authority in their relevant state or territory, and have completed at least two years in an approved hospital as an intern/resident. 

Interested in pursuing a career in a unique area of medicine? As a radiologist, you’ll work to diagnose and provide treatment to patients through medical imaging.

Clinical radiologists play an integral role in the diagnosis and treatment of disease in children and adults as part of a multidisciplinary health care team.
Equipped with medical knowledge, radiologists are able to understand and explain medical conditions through the medical imaging of the internal parts of a patient’s body.

There are more than 2000 radiologists, including trainees, working in hospitals and private practices across Australia.

Most radiologists in Australia work in general radiology with diagnostic imaging, comprising X-ray, computerised tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and nuclear medicine imaging techniques, to obtain images that are interpreted to assist in diagnosis.

Interventional radiologists treat and diagnose using imaging equipment, and can sub-specialise according to body systems, such as becoming a neuroradiologist, an abdominal radiologist or a musculoskeletal radiologist.

What does a radiologist do?

Dr Mitchell Raeside, chair of the trainee committee for radiology at The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR), says clinical radiologists are involved in patient management and in clinical decision-making.

“Radiologists in many conditions plays a central role in the diagnosis of a patient’s condition, also in the ongoing surveillance or follow up of patients’ progress,” he says.

“Then in the sub-specialty of interventional radiology, you are involved in treating those conditions as well, and we’re part of the multidisciplinary team with the patient’s primary care physicians and the other specialists caring for the patient.

“You are working with them to manage the patient’s condition overall.”

A radiology registrar, who is completing the final year of the five-year RANZCR training program at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Dr Raeside says a radiologist’s day varies depending on their practice location.

“A radiologist would generally be responsible for reporting all of the diagnostic imaging studies that are done in a department,” he says.

“You might report several X-rays, CT scans, MRI, ultrasounds and amongst that they perform several procedures as well, using other CT or ultrasound items.

“If you’re in a larger tertiary institution, in a big public teaching hospital, the radiologists would also be involved with supervising and teaching registrars, and in conducting multidisciplinary meetings where interesting cases are reviewed and where patient progress is reviewed, with radiology playing a central role at those meetings.

“If you are out in a smaller suburban location at a private practice you might be more focused on reporting those patients that are referred in for their various imaging studies.

“The day can be quite varied depending on what work happens to come through on that particular day.”


How do you become a radiologist?

To become a radiologist, you must complete the RANZCR five-year training program, commencing with general radiology with more system focused rotations in the fourth and fifth years.

Entry into the training program, as for many specialties, is highly competitive.

To be accepted into the program, candidates must have appropriate basic medical qualifications, be fully registered as a medical practitioner by the registering authority in their relevant state or territory, and have completed at least two years in an approved hospital as an intern/resident.

The radiology training program provides broadly-based experience in all current imaging modalities.

The standards are set to ensure that, at the end of the training program, the trainee is capable of performing as a consultant in radiology and can be recommended to the various medical boards and specialist recognition committees in Australia and New Zealand for registration as a specialist in diagnostic radiology.

As a general rule, the college encourages experience in a broad spectrum of clinical disciplines in the lead up to undertaking training in clinical radiology. 

Potential candidates need to meet the college’s prerequisite requirements and must have also secured a training position within an accredited training department.

Appointments for accredited training positions are advertised directly through accredited training hospitals, where each training hospital recruits at different times of the year.

In addition, candidates applying to train in radiology must meet the following criteria:
  • high standard of academic performance
  • dedication and interest in pursuing a career in diagnostic radiology
  • good interpersonal and professional communication skills
  • personal commitment to continuing professional education and development
  • satisfactory professional referee reports
  • satisfactory reports from previous and current employers, and
  • interest and commitment to research.
Dr Raeside completed medical school and worked as an intern and then a resident medical officer for two years before moving into the training program.

“My first real experience with radiology came through my final year of medical school when I did an elective for four weeks in the radiology department,” he says.

“That’s where I really got to observe how the radiologists work, what their day to day routine is like, the various interactions that they have with patients and other health care professionals.

“It was at that point that it really started to interest me and over the next few years as I worked, it really confirmed my interest and led to me applying for the training program.”


What do radiologists earn?

The salary range for radiologists can vary greatly depending on their level of experience, practice setting and location. A junior radiologist could expect to earn from about $150,000 per year.


Rewards and challenges

Dr Raeside says the intellectual stimulation of radiology is incredibly rewarding.

“Radiology requires a broad range of knowledge across many clinical areas,” he says.

“It’s very rewarding to work with other clinicians in making a difference for the patient and knowing the job that we have in diagnosing and reporting, and also treating their conditions where appropriate, does make a difference to their overall management - we can use our knowledge and expertise to improve overall patient care.”

Dr Raeside says most radiologists report a very large volume of work and encounter a lot of interesting and unusual cases.

“It’s challenging to keep up to date with all of that and to incorporate the new technologies which are being developed, to be able to use that to advance patient care,” he says.

“As far as the challenges go, radiology by its nature is a little bit removed from close patient contact.

“That can sometimes be challenging not to have direct influence over the management of the patient but that’s where our role as part of a multidisciplinary team fits in,” he says.

“We can work with the other clinicians, as a team, to advance the treatment of those that we are responsible for.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords