Radiology stars as career choice despite federal funding limits

April 13, 2007

A radiologist will probably not become the next American idol, but radiology was the fifth most popular specialty among U.S. senior medical students who participated in the 2007 residency match. Its popularity is reflected in the field’s inability to graduate enough residents to meet growing demand. Congress has been unwilling to fund more slots for the profession.

A radiologist will probably not become the next American idol, but radiology was the fifth most popular specialty among U.S. senior medical students who participated in the 2007 residency match. Its popularity is reflected in the field's inability to graduate enough residents to meet growing demand. Congress has been unwilling to fund more slots for the profession.

The number of senior medical students, practicing physicians, and foreign students who applied for radiology resident and internship slots in the 2007 match rose 5% with 1026 applications, according to the National Resident Matching Program. The 2007 total was 51 higher than the 975 applications that were processed in 2006.

The applications deadline was Dec. 1, 2006. Results were announced on Match Day, March 15. Students were assigned to slots based on a computerized evaluation of their list of preferred radiology residency programs compared with the program director's preferred list of students.

The NRMP reported that radiology ranked in the 2006 residency match among the top 10 most popular medical specialties:

1. Plastic surgery

2. Orthopedic surgery

3. General surgery

4. Otolaryngology

5. Radiology

6. Dermatology

7. Emergency medicine

8. Obstetrics/gynecology

9. Internal medicine

10. Radiation oncology

While radiology remains popular among medical students, Congress controls the number of radiology residency slots, subsidized by grants from the federal Medical program. The number of diagnostic radiology residency slots matched by the NRMP grew slightly more than 2%, from 882 in 2006 to 902 in 2007.

Radiology's growth rate lagged behind the increase in slots allocated to internal medicine, orthopedic surgery, and emergency medicine, said Dr. Howard P. Forman, chair of the American College of Radiology's Committee on Radiologist Resources.

This year's results mark the continuation of a 10-year trend established by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, said Dr. Allen D. Elster, chair of the division of radiologic sciences at Wake Forest University, which forced cutbacks of more than $5 billion in Medicare payments to the major teaching hospitals through 2002.

The cuts have so far not affected the overall quality of radiology education, despite imperiling some residency programs, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (J Am Coll Radiol 2006 Mar;3[3]:207-212).

Demand from would-be entrants continues to far exceed the supply of available resident slots, Elster said. Although matches were not found for 17 radiology slots on Match Day, all were quickly filled soon after the results were announced.

The NRMP annual report included other highlights:

  • A record 15,600 U.S. medical school seniors participated in the 2007 Match Day. Through the match process, they ranked their interest in 21,845 first-year residency positions, another record.

  • Interest in obstetrics/gynecology residencies increased (99.5% of positions filled in 2007).

  • Family medicine residency positions continue to decline. This year's total fell by 100 to 2063. About 88% of the positions were filled.

  • The number of graduates from medical school outside the U.S. rose 9%.

  • The number of married couples looking for a professional match in postgraduate medical education increased.

The match was established in 1952, at the request of medical students, to provide a fair and impartial transition from medical school to residency.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

Residency programs face sweeping changes

Strategies strive to revive interest in ultrasound

Informatics takes spotlight in radiology teaching tasks

Radiology shows growing appeal for residency applicants