Learning Radiology for Medical Students & Non-radiologists

Most radiology books make for a terrible and overwhelming introduction to radiology for medical students or non-radiologists. The physics. The detail. The long lists of differentials and rare conditions. A clinician with limited time is best served with having a grasp of the different radiologic modalities, their limitations, and the proper exams to order to answer a particular clinical question. After all, clinicians—unlike radiologists—have the opportunity to correlate clinically.

Next, interpretation of plain films can be an essential skill. This is particularly true of chest x-rays in practice contexts where wait times are too long to guide clinical management. Surgeons of various types will find differing degrees of imaging knowledge to be relevant, particularly for operative planning.

Below is a brief list of high quality free online resources as well as a handful of excellent print books.

General introductory texts for medical students and non-radiologist physicians:

Learning Radiology: Recognizing the Basics is the best book geared for medical students (or non-radiologist physicians). A slightly faster read / good alternative would be Squire’s Fundamentals of Radiology, which was the de facto standard before Learning Radiology came around. Squire’s gives a very readable alternative but has fewer examples and is slightly less helpful in actually learning to interpret images yourself. It also costs more and hasn’t been updated in a while, so it’s a little less fresh (but not out of date). If you don’t want to buy anything, Herring’s companion website LearningRadiology is beloved, widely-utilized, and entirely free.

Learning how to interpret chest films yourself

Look no further than the very readable Felson’s Principles of Chest Roentgenology. The CXR aka chest x-ray is the most common radiologic study obtained by a country mile, and everyone should know how to do this. If you’ve ever worked with someone “who read all of their own films” but then couldn’t see what the radiologist was talking about, read this and you’ll have the context to do better. Actively evaluate the exam, and correlate the films you see in clinical practice with the reads you receive. The combination will help you more than simply opening up the study in the EMR and looking in its general direction for a big white blob somewhere. Pick a search pattern and stick to it. Use it every time. You can’t see what you aren’t searching for.

Free online resources

There are a seemingly limitless number of free online radiology resources, far far too many to even approach. For an example of an extensive list, see Radiology Education.

Here is my significantly briefer list of excellent general radiology resources for medical students, whether you’re interested in the pursuit of knowledge or the pursuit of a career in the field. Everyone has to start somewhere.

  • The Radiology Assistant is probably my favorite, very readable and concise.
  • Radiopaedia is the wikipedia of radiology. Articles are pretty terse, but when you see a finding or diagnosis and want to have an explanation, this is where to look (e.g. what the heck is “ground glass“?)
  • University of Virginia’s Introduction to Radiology online tutorial series is one of the best and even covers some more esoteric modalities (like cardiac MRI).
  • CaseStacks has lots of great paid cases to learn bread and butter for a decent price (and 15% off with code benwhite) but they also have some great free anatomy content.
  • Learning Radiology is a massive resource with lots of cases. The design is somewhat overwhelming and cluttered, but don’t let that discourage you.
  • Lieberman’s eRadiology is another nice, big, well-organized resource, including a lot of lectures, powerpoints, cases, imaging workup algorithms, etc.
  • HeadNeckBrainSpine was easily the best resource for learning neuroanatomy, but it uses Flash, which makes it unusable on most university computers.
  • And my final far-reaching inclusion is Radiology Resources for Medical Students, which is also solid but requires a bit too much clicking to get around the lessons.

Keep your eyes open

For anyone with plans to enter radiology as a career, know that you will almost certainly learn more radiology in your first two weeks of training than you could hope to amass during medical school or internship. Knock yourself out, but don’t forget this is your last chance to be exposed to the unadulterated breadth of clinical medicine.

If you have a book fund and want some good reading geared toward beginning radiologists, then you might find this post helpful.

If you’re a specialist (pulmonologist, urologist, etc) and are looking for more focused resources divided by section or modality, then see this compilation.


John O'Neill 01.14.18 Reply


I thought this may be a useful addition to your radiology educational resources

We have recently released the second edition of 3 Free Imaging Apps in Rheumatology, the ESIMR series, Essential Imaging In Rheumatology. This is a joint project between rheumatology and radiology to increase awareness and understanding of the indications, assessment and impact of imaging in rheumatological disease.

Available on iOS and Google play (under ESIMR). Apps can also be accessed via the Canadian Rheumatology Association website (‘Smartphone Apps’ section of the CRA website).

We were fortunate to provide all Apps free download for a limited period, without in-App purchases on both iOS/Android App Store (ESIMR) as well as free desktop downloads (Tap on links in Boxes in attachment or type in links below)

John O’Neill
Associate Professor,
Musculoskeletal Imaging,
McMaster University/St Josephs Healthcare,
Hamilton, Canada



ESIMR Imaging Apps.pdf

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