Best Radiology Programs in 2022
According to the U.S. News & World Report, the top 10 diagnostic radiology residencies in the U.S. are as listed:
- Johns Hopkins University
- Harvard University (Massachusetts General Hospital)
- University of Pennsylvania (Perelman)
- University of California – San Francisco
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Duke University
- Stanford University
- University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
- Yale University
- Columbia University
The U.S. News & World Report determines its list of top programs by looking at a variety of factors, including “faculty resources, the academic achievements of entering students, and qualitative assessments by schools and residency directors.” There is a focus on research productivity and NIH funding.
As I’ve mentioned in other articles, the “best program” will be different for different people and it won’t necessarily be a program on this list for everyone. I’ve found that program culture, clinical training/teaching reputation, program size, resident happiness, location, research opportunities, where recent graduates have gone for fellowship, and call structure were some of the leading factors that I took into account when going through this process.
It is up to you to decide what program will be the best fit for you and how you learn.
As a former chief resident at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and a former abdominal imaging fellow at the University of California – San Francisco, I have had the opportunity to train at two of the top programs in the country. I am also fortunate in that I have colleagues that have trained at most of the programs on this list. I can say with certainty that all of the programs on this list are excellent and provide superb training. I can also say there are a ton of programs not on this list that are also excellent and provide incredible training. I cover my “Honorable Mentions” at the end of this article.
If you’ve decided to pursue a career in radiology, congratulations on your amazing choice! While these programs are incredibly competitive and may be difficult to match into, there’s no harm in applying to one or more of them and you’re actually doing yourself a disservice by not giving it a shot. I was essentially told I did not have a chance of getting into Michigan by my medical school adviser. I applied anyway, matched, and eventually became a chief resident. Suffice it to say, I’m glad I tried. Don’t close doors that need not be closed 🙂
Many of us fall prey to wanting the name recognition of an elite program, sometimes at the expense of attending the program that is actually the best fit for us. You could go to the best program in the country and be miserable (because of culture, location, etc.), have a less than amazing experience, and potentially come out a weaker radiologist because of it. You won’t get turned down for a job because you didn’t do residency or fellowship at Stanford University or Duke University but you may struggle to find a job if you struggle in residency. Set yourself up for success in residency and you’ll set yourself up for success in getting a job.
Rather than look at a top-ranking list, I believe that there are certain features that you should consider when choosing a radiology residency program. Let’s cover what key elements I think you should be basing your decision on.
Key Elements to Consider When Choosing a Residency Program
When it comes to radiology, we often talk about things in terms of benign versus malignant and this applies to radiology residency programs as well. Medical students should have some familiarity with this concept and will be able to relate to their own medical school experience.
“Malignant” programs have a less friendly feel. The hierarchy feels tangible and you know your role as a trainee (thankfully there are still medical students below you…;)). Faculty at these types of programs have high expectations for their residents and may like to put their residents on the spot, “pimping” residents during clinical rotations and/or conferences to test their knowledge base. If you have thick skin, you’ll likely be fine. If you’re sensitive to feedback, especially in front of your peers, you may struggle with this. However, this can also be a blessing in disguise as it may help you develop thicker skin and prepare you for the real world.
“Benign” programs have attendings with reputations of being friendly. They may seem more down to Earth, go by their first name, and have a more positive approach to teaching. Residents typically feel more comfortable in this setting, which may be more conducive to their learning. However, residents in this setting may find it easier to become complacent and slack on studying.
Clinical Training/Teaching Reputation
This one is pretty straightforward. You want to go to a training program with a reputation for excellent training. One thing that top programs have in common is their ability to spoon-feed you most of the information you need to become an excellent radiologist. They provide a broad medical education from medical imaging diagnosis to clinical manifestations and treatment. They make it easier to succeed.
Programs not known for excellent teaching will require significantly more effort on your part as you will have to make up for any weaknesses the program may have. You have to rely more on self-learning which means you have to sacrifice more personal time.
Program size varies among programs and ranges from ~3 to 18. Program size is another factor that can affect your residency experience.
Small programs (say 3-5 residents/year) tend to be closer-knit programs. These residents tend to have closer relationships with their co-residents both within their own year and with their more senior and/or junior residents.
Medium-size programs (say 6-11 residents/year) share the benefits of both. They can still be fairly tight-knit, at least within each radiology class, but also have increased flexibility. This is great for scheduling, call, vacation, finding coverage when someone gets sick, etc.
Large programs (say 12-18 residents/year) make it harder to know everyone in your program, including those in your own residency class. Large programs have significant flexibility and also generally offer exposure to very different practice settings (Veterans Affairs, high-end academic settings, community hospitals, etc.).
This is a good predictor of future happiness. If the residents at a program seem overly stressed and unhappy, take that as a red flag. There will be the occasional unhappy resident, but if you notice a trend of unhappy residents, that’s a sign of a larger underlying issue.
Conversely, if everyone in the residency seems very happy and well-rested, that shows they are likely being treated quite well and receiving above-average support.
Location is another incredibly important factor. You’ll be spending at least 4 years in the city your residency program is located and it will likely be a stressful experience. The last thing you need is for you or your family to be miserable after you get home from work.
Do you need to live in a city? Somewhere warm and sunny? Close to family? Are there deal-breakers – snow, lack of diversity, etc.? Cost of living?
You know yourself. Factor this into your decision.
If you aren’t interested in research, skip this section.
If you are interested in research, you’ll want to ensure to match at an academic residency program. Academic programs have tons of resources, NIH funding, and more to help you participate in interesting research projects or even start your own research project(s). Whether it be data analysis, artificial intelligence, reconstruction techniques for medical images, or anything related to biomedical imaging, practice management, or quality, large academic institutions will have you covered.
You gain access to data scientists, statisticians, illustrators, and more!
What’s an awesome bonus to doing research? Publishing articles and presenting at conferences. I personally had opportunities to visit Chicago, Boston, Bellevue, Santa Fe, New Orleans, Portland, and more. I even got status on Delta airlines one year! 🙂
Recent Fellowship Track Record
Getting into a top-tier fellowship program is much easier than getting into a top radiology residency program – they have more fellowship slots than residency slots each year.
Make sure they have a good track record of sending residents to excellent fellowship programs (programs on this list and in the Honorable Mentions section).
Call is incredibly important. This is where you have the steepest learning curve and get prepared for the real world, especially if you take independent call.
You will have to get used to making critical diagnoses that will send patients to the operating room, get transferred to other hospitals, get put on blood thinners, etc. at some point in your career. It’s much better to cross this bridge while you’re still a trainee and be more prepared for practicing on your own.
Moonlighting is another opportunity to get this experience (and get paid!) if offered.
Are there opportunities to moonlight, whether it be issuing preliminary reads for a local hospital or babysitting a scanner to provide contrast coverage? These are nice opportunities to earn a little extra money and upgrade from eating Chipotle to… just kidding, there’s no upgrade from Chipotle (I am not sponsored by Chipotle, just a huge fan).
Unfortunately, a top 10 list does not do justice to many of the other incredible training programs out there and this section will include some shout-outs to some other excellent training programs that deserve mention. This is not an all-inclusive list and is limited to programs I or my colleagues and friends have experience with. If your program isn’t on here, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also deserve to be on this list!
- University of Wisconsin – Madison
- Cleveland Clinic Foundation
- Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science – Rochester
- Indiana University
- Northwestern University
- New York University Langone Health
- Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University
- Emory University School of Medicine
- Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai – Mount Sinai Hospital
- University of California – Los Angeles Geffen School of Medicine
- University of Virginia
- Wake Forest University
- Brown Radiology
- Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
- Lahey Health and Medical Center
- The Brigham and Women’s Hospital
- Oregon Health & Science University
- University of Iowa
- University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine
- University of California – San Diego
- The Medical University of South Carolina
- University of North Carolina
- Beaumont Hospital – Royal Oak
- Henry Ford Hospital
- University of Colorado
- Medical College of Wisconsin
- Virginia Mason Franciscan Health
- and more!
The 10 best radiology programs consist of many of the elite institutions that you expect to see in a top 10 (Harvard University, University of California – San Francisco, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, etc.) and some you may not have expected (e.g., Washington University in St. Louis). These are incredible programs that offer well-rounded training and produce some of the brightest radiologists in the country.
Fortunately, however, you can still get a fantastic radiology education without going to a top 10 radiology program. There are many amazing programs across the country with excellent faculty and a robust training experience.
Regardless of where you match out of medical school, you will get the most out of residency through hard work and dedication. Immerse yourself in each rotation and challenge yourself every day. Take into consideration where you think you will best thrive – you might be surprised to find that the best program for you is actually an unexpected gem.
And don’t worry if you don’t get into a top 10 residency program – there’s always fellowship!
Best of luck to you as you navigate the residency interview process! I hope that this article has been helpful and look forward to welcoming you into the field of radiology shortly!