What Should an Aspiring Radiologist Major In?

Jan 02, 2019

A radiologist is a physician who reads and interprets medical images to diagnose diseases. Students interested in pursuing careers as radiologists generally begin by obtaining a bachelor's degree in one of the foundational sciences.

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  • 0:00 Overview of Majors
  • 1:21 Medical School
  • 1:53 Residency
  • 2:14 Licensure and Certification
  • 3:04 Alternative Education…

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Overview of Majors

Here you can learn about the undergraduate majors and coursework that may best prepare you for a career as a radiologist. Learn about how to become a radiologist, including medical school information, residency, and licensure, as well as alternative careers.

Aspiring radiologists need to attend medical school and complete a residency prior to licensure to practice, and the path to medical school begins with an undergraduate degree. Bachelor's degrees in radiology are generally not available, but many students major in biology, chemistry, or any of the sciences to prepare themselves to attend medical school. Respective radiologists do not necessarily need to major in one of the sciences, but students will need to take the prerequisite courses in mathematics, English, science, and other subjects for acceptance into medical school. These prerequisites can vary by school, but according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the most common prerequisites are as follows:

  • Two years of chemistry, including organic chemistry
  • One year of physics
  • One year of biology
  • One year of English

It may also benefit students applying to medical school to participate in extracurricular activities and/or work experiences to broaden their knowledge in and out of the medical field.

Medical School

The first two years of medical school are spent studying areas such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and microbiology. In classroom and laboratory settings, students learn how to diagnose illnesses and examine patients. The last two years of medical school are typically spent completing clinical rotations in different areas of radiology. Students can then choose an area of specialization, including interventional radiology, mammography, musculoskeletal radiology, emergency radiology, and nuclear medicine.


Most medical doctors enter a residency program following medical school. Aspiring radiologists usually complete a four-year residency in diagnostic radiology. The program consists of rotations and possibly faculty-supervised research opportunities. Some radiology residency programs require completion of an internship prior to admission.

Licensure and Certification

Upon completion of undergraduate and graduate training, radiologists must obtain licensure by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The exam tests graduates' knowledge of basic scientific concepts, clinical knowledge and skills, and their ability to practice medicine unsupervised.

Radiologists can also seek board certification. Certification is available in diagnostic radiology, interventional radiology, radiation oncology, and medical physics. Requirements are dependent on the type of certification and may require completing up to seven years of residency training. Applicants must take a final exam after residency training or after one to three years of practice in order to become board certified. Certification is available through the American Board of Radiology.

Alternative Education and Careers

As an alternative to medical school, a degree in radiologic technology is available. This degree won't prepare students to work as radiologists, but rather as radiologic technologists, who work under the supervision of radiologists. Radiation assistants and radiology nurses also don't need to attend medical school, but they do support radiologists.

Aspiring radiologists can, but do not have to, major in the sciences to prepare for medical school. Coursework in topics like organic chemistry and biology is essential regardless of major, however. Radiologists must complete medical school, a residency, and obtain licensure before they can practice.

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