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Radiology vs. Rheumatology: Which Specialty is Right for You?

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Diagnostic radiology vs. rheumatology is one of the biggest debates among medical students interested in physiology. Both specialties allow you to explore the complex workings of the human body and use your skills to improve patient outcomes. However, they also have significant differences, such as the scope of practice, the work environment, and the training requirements.

How do you decide which one is right for you? In this article, we will provide helpful information and tips to help you make an intelligent decision on diagnostic radiology vs. rheumatology and find a fulfilling career that matches your interests and abilities. We will also help you evaluate practical factors such as job availability, salary, and training duration.

Diagnostic Radiology vs. Rheumatology: Salary and Job Security

Diagnostic radiology might be your specialty if you want to earn a lot of money and have a steady demand for your services. However, there are many job openings in the fields of diagnostic radiology and rheumatology. Hospitals are often in high demand for radiologists and rheumatologists, and the future outlook for careers in these specialties is positive. According to recent data, radiologists earn an average annual salary of $485,000, while rheumatologists have a lower average salary of $281,000.

Radiology vs. Rheumatology Estimated Physician Average Yearly Salary by Medical Specialty in the US

Radiologists earn $483,000 per year on average, while rheumatologists earn less with $281,000 annually

Diagnostic Radiology vs. Rheumatology: Competitiveness

Here we can assess the competitiveness of a specialty by looking at the unmatched rate – the % of people who apply and do not match their preferred specialty. The unmatched percentage among US Seniors for diagnostic radiology was 16.8%, making it moderately competitive among US residencies.

Radiology vs. Hematology and Oncology Competitiveness

Diagnostic radiology had a 16.8% unmatched rate, while internal medicine had a 2% unmatched rate among US seniors

To pursue a career in rheumatology, you must first match into an internal medicine residency. Among US Seniors, the unmatched percentage for internal medicine residency was only 2%, making it less competitive than other residencies. However, this does not mean that rheumatology is less competitive. After completing your internal medicine residency, you will still need to match into a fellowship, which is generally more competitive than matching into a residency. 

Below is the unmatched percentage among non-pediatric fellowships with >100 applicants. The unmatched percentage of US Seniors applying to the rheumatology fellowship was 8.2%, making it moderately competitive compared to most fellowships with >100 applicants.

Training Path: Residency

The training pathways for diagnostic radiology vs. rheumatology are not the same. To become a rheumatologist, you must complete a two-year fellowship in rheumatology after completing an internal medicine residency. Diagnostic radiology involves a five-year radiology residency.

Both diagnostic radiology residencies and rheumatology fellowships are moderately competitive. Your USMLE scores, med school, and research are the main things for residency applications. Research is also a big thing for fellowship applications, and your residency program counts more, but your USMLE scores matter much less.

Diagnostic Radiology vs. Rheumatology: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Both diagnostic radiology and rheumatology offer a better work-life balance than surgical specialties. Radiologists may have the flexibility to work remotely, allowing for a slightly better work-life balance. Similarly, rheumatologists have predetermined working hours that lead to predictable schedules. They often work in outpatient clinics or hospitals with regular shifts, leading to a regular schedule and work-life balance.

On average, radiologists work 49.6 hours per week, ranking below the middle of all medical specialties. In comparison, rheumatologists average 47.2 weekly working hours, ranking in near the lower end.

Estimated Physician Weekly Working Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Radiologists work an average of 49.6 hours per week, while rheumatologists work slightly more hours, at 47.2 per week

Radiologists require documentation, such as referral letters, resulting in an estimated 11 hours of admin/paperwork per week. The estimated physician admin/paperwork hours were not provided for rheumatology, but you can see estimated paperwork hours for other specialties below.

Radiology vs. Rheumatology Estimated Physician Admin/Paperwork Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Radiologists work on admin/paperwork an average of 11 hours per week

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between diagnostic radiology vs. rheumatology. Rheumatology has a four-year training period, while diagnostic radiology has a minimum of five years of diagnostic radiology residency.

After completing a diagnostic radiology residency program, some radiologists may choose to pursue additional fellowships to further specialize in a particular aspect of diagnostic radiology, such as interventional radiology or musculoskeletal imaging. This can increase the length of their diagnostic radiology training.

Diagnostic Radiology vs. Rheumatology: Job Satisfaction and Burnout Rates

Job satisfaction plays a significant role in career fulfillment. According to various studies, diagnostic radiology tends to have higher job satisfaction rates than rheumatology. Many radiologists express contentment with their career choice and would choose it again if given the chance.

According to recent data, diagnostic radiology ranked near the upper end of all medical specialties with 90% of radiologists stating that they would choose the same specialty again, while rheumatology ranked lower with 81% of rheumatologists feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Radiologists reported a 90% job satisfaction rate, while rheumatologists reported lower satisfaction with 81%

That being said, the burnout rate for diagnostic radiology was 54%, ranking above the middle of all medical specialties. In comparison, rheumatology had a burnout rate of 50%, ranking in the middle.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Radiologists have a burnout rate of 54%, while rheumatologists have a slightly less burnout rate of 50%.

Diagnostic Radiology vs. Rheumatology Comparison

To provide a visual overview, here’s a table comparing diagnostic radiology and rheumatology:

AspectDiagnostic RadiologyRheumatology
Average SalaryGenerally high incomeLower than radiology
Job SecurityHigh demand due to importance of imaging in diagnosis and nonsurgical treatmentsHigh demand due to an increase in autoimmune and musculoskeletal disorders
Training PathTypically involves 5 years of radiology residency

Typically involves 3 years of internal medicine residency, followed by 2 years of rheumatology fellowship
LifestyleBetter work-life balance, no take-home workGenerally more predictable hours with less frequent emergencies; outpatient clinic-based practice
Administrative PaperworkLow documentation requirementsModerate documentation requirements, focusing on rheumatologic assessments, imaging, and treatment plans
Job SatisfactionHighLower
Burnout RatesModerateModerate
PersonalityAnalytical, technology-oriented, ability to multitaskStrong analytical skills, empathy, and good communication skills to understand and address patients' complex musculoskeletal and autoimmune concerns

Please note that this table serves as a general comparison. To determine the most suitable career for you, consider your personal and career priorities and goals.

Concluding Thoughts

Choosing the right specialty between diagnostic radiology vs. rheumatology depends heavily on your priorities. To determine this, try reverse engineering your ideal life and identify your top priority. A helpful exercise is to write down the top five things you want to achieve in your career and personal life. Knowing these priorities will make finding a career that aligns with them easier. Often, the biggest obstacle is not a lack of knowledge about different fields but a lack of self-awareness about our preferences.

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Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.