Medical Students Return to Radiology

Medical students are flocking to apply to U.S. radiology residency programs, with diagnostic radiology seeing the most growth among nearly two-dozen medical specialties. The trend underscores the strong job market for radiologists.

The number of applications to diagnostic radiology residency programs has grown more than 10% a year over the past three years, according to an analysis by Dr. Francis Deng of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Deng has been tracking applicants for 23 medical specialties, and posted a now-viral table containing his analysis on March 13. 

The annual growth rates for diagnostic radiology and the related fields of radiation oncology and interventional radiology exceeded every other medical specialty for the past three years:

  • Diagnostic radiology: 10.5%
  • Radiation oncology: 8.9%
  • Interventional radiology: 6.8%

Diagnostic radiology’s growth is all the more intriguing given the decline it saw in residency applications from 2018 to 2020. Applications fell by 9.5% from 2,033 in 2018 to 1,839 in 2020, before rebounding to 2,409 applicants in 2023. 

What’s behind radiology’s rebound? RadTwitter offered multiple reasons:

  • Generational shifts in preference among medical students.
  • Medical students favoring “money or lifestyle over human interactions.”
  • Reduced worries about the impact of AI on radiologist jobs.
  • The trickle-down effect of a good job market.

RadTwitter pundit Dr. Saurabh Jha expanded on this latter point. A rising volume of imaging studies in the 2010s led to calls to expand the number of residency lots; these calls were ignored, leading to today’s scarcity of radiologists

Indeed, other data confirm his analysis. The ACR’s job board last year had the highest number of open radiologist positions ever, while recruiters have been flooding radiologists with job proposals for at least the last two years.

The Takeaway

The medical students entering radiology who celebrated Match Day on March 17 are likely to encounter a robust job market 5-6 years from now, as imaging volume grows while radiology residency slots remain static. Fear of AI’s impact on radiologist jobs appears to be receding, as evidenced by strong growth in radiology applications since 2020.  

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