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Radiologist vs. Orthopedic Surgeon: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Radiologists and orthopedic surgeons are both medical professionals who use their skills to diagnose and treat patients. While they share some similarities, there are several key differences between these two roles. In this article, we discuss the differences between radiologists and orthopedic surgeons, and we provide additional information about medical careers you may be interested in pursuing.

What is a Radiologist?

Radiologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries using medical imaging techniques such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They often work with other physicians and surgeons to develop treatment plans for patients. Radiologists may also provide guidance to patients on how to reduce their risk of developing diseases or injuries. In some cases, radiologists may also perform interventional procedures such as biopsies or insert catheters.

What is an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Orthopedic Surgeons are medical doctors who diagnose and treat patients with injuries or diseases of the musculoskeletal system. This includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons. Orthopedic Surgeons use a variety of surgical and nonsurgical techniques to treat their patients. They may perform joint replacement surgery, spinal surgery or trauma surgery. They may also treat patients with less invasive methods such as medication, physical therapy or braces. Orthopedic Surgeons work in hospitals, clinics or private practices. They often work with other medical professionals such as physical therapists, occupational therapists and primary care physicians to provide comprehensive care for their patients.

Radiologist vs. Orthopedic Surgeon

Here are the main differences between a radiologist and an orthopedic surgeon.

Job Duties

Both radiologists and orthopedic surgeons perform similar duties, although the specific tasks they carry out depend on their specialty. As a radiologist, you may analyze medical images such as MRIs, CT scans and X-rays to diagnose conditions such as tumors, fractures and infections. You can then communicate your findings with the patient’s primary care physician or the department that ordered the test.

Orthopedic surgeons typically treat patients with issues related to bones, joints and muscles. They may perform surgeries to repair broken bones, remove bone fragments from joints and correct congenital deformities. Additionally, orthopedic surgeons can assess whether a patient is a good candidate for surgery and help them prepare for the procedure.

Job Requirements

Radiologists and orthopedic surgeons must both complete a four-year undergraduate degree before attending medical school. During medical school, students take classes on topics like human anatomy and physiology, as well as more specialized courses related to their chosen field of medicine. After completing medical school, radiology residents spend four years in an accredited residency program, where they receive training in diagnostic imaging modalities like X-ray, MRI and CT scans. Orthopedic surgery residents, on the other hand, complete a five-year residency program focused on musculoskeletal surgery.

After completing their residencies, both radiology and orthopedic surgeons must pass exams administered by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) to become board certified in their respective fields. Radiologists can choose to subspecialize in a particular area of diagnostic imaging, such as nuclear medicine or interventional radiology. Orthopedic surgeons may also choose to subspecialize, with options including sports medicine, pediatrics or spine surgery.

Work Environment

Radiologists work in hospitals, medical offices and other healthcare facilities. They may travel to different locations for work or spend most of their time at one location. Orthopedic surgeons typically work in hospitals, but they also have the option to open private practices. These professionals often work long hours and may travel between multiple locations during a single day.


Both radiologists and orthopedic surgeons use critical thinking skills to make diagnoses and determine the best course of treatment for their patients. They also need to have excellent communication skills to explain procedures and treatments to patients and their families.

Radiologists benefit from having strong technical skills because they often work with complex medical equipment, such as MRIs and X-rays. They need to be able to operate this equipment properly and understand how to interpret the images it produces. Orthopedic surgeons also need to have strong technical skills because they perform surgeries. They need to be able to use surgical tools and equipment correctly and safely.

Radiologists typically do not interact with patients directly, but they need to be able to communicate effectively with other members of the medical team, such as nurses, doctors and technicians. Orthopedic surgeons need to be able to communicate with patients and their families to explain procedures and answer any questions they may have. They also need to be able to work well with other members of the medical team, such as anesthesiologists, nurses and physician assistants.


Radiologists earn an average salary of $275,060 per year, while orthopedic surgeons earn an average salary of $338,302 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the location of the job, the level of experience and the type of employer.


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