How to Start a Career as a Veterinary Radiologist

Veterinarian Examines X-Ray of Cat
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Veterinary radiologists are specialists in the field of diagnostic imaging. Here are the details for those considering a career as a veterinary radiologist.

Duties

Veterinary radiologists are veterinarians with advanced training in the interpretation of diagnostic images. The primary duty of a radiologist in private practice is to evaluate medical diagnostic images, such as MRI scans, CT scans, ultrasound scans, nuclear medicine scans and radiographs to detect sites of injury or disease. Those acting as radiation oncologists utilize these scans to develop a course of treatment specifically for cancer patients.

Additional duties for radiologists include writing up detailed case reports, overseeing the activities of veterinary technicians or veterinarians that take the scans, using various software applications to interpret image results and providing specialty consultations on cases that are referrals from general practitioners. Teleradiology (transmitting images via email or other networks) allows radiologists to consult on cases across the globe and has a much quicker turnaround time than was previously possible, as scans previously had to be sent via courier.

Career Options

Radiology is one of the many specialties in which veterinarians can pursue board certification. Veterinary radiologists may seek board certification in either of two areas: radiology (diagnostic imaging) or radiation oncology (radiation therapy). The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that in 2017 there were 541 board-certified specialists in radiology and 108 board-certified specialists in radiation oncology.

Radiologists may also specialize by focusing on a particular species or a category of interest such as small animal, large animal, small animal, equine, or exotics. While most veterinary radiologists work in private practice, some may find positions in academia or private industry.

Education & Training

Veterinary radiologists must first be accepted into veterinary school so that they can complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. After successfully becoming a licensed practitioner, a vet can begin to fulfill the requirements that lead to board certification in the specialty field of radiology.

To be qualified to take the board certification exam a candidate must complete a one to two-year internship and a multi-year residency in the field under the supervision of a board-certified radiology diplomate. Residencies generally cover several clinical service areas including small animal radiology, large animal radiology, MRI, Nuclear Medicine/Computerized Tomography (CT), small animal ultrasound and large animal ultrasound.

The board certification exam for radiology is administered by the American College of Veterinary Radiologists (ACVR). Once a vet has passed this exam they will be granted diplomate status in the veterinary specialty of radiology or radiation oncology.

Veterinary specialists must also complete continuing education credits each year to maintain their board-certified status and to keep current with new techniques in the field. These credits are usually earned by attending lectures and participating in wet labs.

Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual wage of $90,420 for all veterinarians during their most recent salary survey (conducted in May of 2017). The lowest ten percent of all veterinarians earned a salary of less than $58,980 each year while the highest ten percent of all veterinarians earned a salary of over $159,320 each year.

The BLS, unfortunately, does not separate out salary data for each of the individual veterinary specialties, but board-certified specialists earn top dollar due to their extensive training. As of November 2018, ZipRecruiter estimated the salary for veterinary radiologists at $119,374.

Residents in radiology do earn a small salary while completing their residencies, but this level of compensation is much lower than what a veterinarian could usually earn in clinical private practice. Residency salaries for most programs usually range from $22,500 to $38,000 per year.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey results indicate that the entire veterinary profession will grow at a strong rate of approximately 19 percent over the decade from 2016 to 2026, a much faster rate than the rate for all professions. Veterinarians who achieve board certification should continue to enjoy very strong job prospects in the field.

The long educational commitment required for specialty training programs and the difficulty of board certification exams ensure that a relatively small number of professionals can achieve Diplomate status each year. The very limited number of board-certified professionals entering the specialty of radiology each year will ensure that demand for diplomates remains strong.