Subspecialties in Radiology

January 22, 2015

Radiologists are physicians who use imaging methods to diagnosis and sometimes treat various patient conditions. Radiologists work closely with other doctors to care for patients. Radiology is a lot more complicated than reading an x-ray and determining a problem. The field is complex and includes several subspecialties to choose from.

Spend some time shadowing professionals in RadiologyThe Basics 

Before you can choose a subspecialty in radiology, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree and complete four years of medical school. After graduating, a radiology residency must be completed.  Radiology residences are usually four years long.

It is important to understand, radiology is a competitive specialty. Residency spots are tough to get. Medical students interested in radiology should do their best to excel in medical school, especially during clinical rotations. 

After meeting the eligibility requirements, doctors may take the exam to become board certified in radiology. For those interested in a subspecialty, additional training is needed.

Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology

Radiology generally falls into two categories including diagnostic and interventional. Diagnostic radiologists use imaging technologies, such as CT scans, MRI’s, ultrasounds, and PET scans to help diagnosis a patient’s condition.

Interventional radiology uses image-guided procedures to diagnosis and treat various conditions. Procedures may include angioplasty, ablation and stent placements. Doctors who are interested in interventional radiology usually complete a five-year residency, which incorporates three years of diagnostic radiology with two years of interventional radiology.

Diagnostic radiologists may specialize in imaging, which is related to a specific organ systems. For example, some radiologists are involved in breast imaging, chest and cardiovascular radiology. Other specialties may include head and neck radiology and musculoskeletal radiology. 

Both interventional and diagnostic radiology have further subspecialties. Most subspecialties require the completion of a one to two-year fellowship. Subspecialty options include the following:

Nuclear Radiology: This subspecialty involves the use of small amounts of radioactive elements in order to provide images, which assist in diagnosis. 

Neuroradiology: Doctors who specialize in neuroradiology are involved in imaging, which is used to diagnose disorders of the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system. Neuroradiologists often play a role in diagnosing conditions, such as brain tumors, seizure disorders and head injuries. 

Pediatric Radiologists: This subspecialty involves using interventional radiology techniques to manage diseases that affect children. Many of the conditions treated involve congenital disorders.

Radiation Oncology: Radiation oncologists use radiological treatments to manage certain types of cancer.  For those interested in becoming a radiation oncologist, it requires completion of a five-year residency in radiation oncology.         

Hospice and Palliative Care Medicine:  Hospice and palliative care may not seem like a subspecialty of radiology, but it is. Hospice and palliative care doctors use their knowledge to prevent pain and suffering and improve the quality of life for people with a terminal illness. Radiation therapy is sometimes prescribed to ease pain. 

Regardless of which subspecialty in radiology a doctor chooses, most radiologists work in hospitals or outpatient imaging centers. Doctor interested in this field should also understand, they usually have less contact with patients than other types of doctors.