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Interventional Radiology

"Improved imaging techniques, combined with the development of various catheters, have given rise to a field known as interventional radiology. This subspecialty enables radiologists to do much more than just diagnose. These specialists use medical images to help guide small instruments such as catheters through blood vessels or other anatomic pathways in the percutaneous treatment of disease. With these invasive techniques, interventional radiologists are in many ways similar to surgeons. They scrub in, gown up, and perform procedures that are often invasive enough to require general anesthesia. Some examples include draining abscesses, opening blocked areas of the cardiovascular system, creating vascular shunts in the liver, and inserting various devices into patients requiring long-term vascular access (for things like chemotherapy, antibiotics, or dialysis). As you can see, these radiologists combine the fundamentals of diagnostic radiology with the technical and clinical skills of a surgeon."

— Freeman, B. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. 3rd Ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill: New York, p.432.

M1 and M2 Students

 What advice would you offer first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing your specialty?

Join the Northwestern IR interest group. Meet and network with other medical students who are interested in the field.

Meet with an interventional radiologist and shadow them for a day so you can see firsthand what the specialty involves. Find an IR mentor.

Join the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR). Membership for medical students is free. The Resident-Fellow-Section is quite active, offering frequent opportunities to network, participate in educational webcasts and attend regional symposia. In addition, SIR offers yearly scholarship to medical students to attend the annual meeting.

Join the Radiologic Society of North America, which is also free to medical students. While not specific to IR, the society holds its annual radiologic conference in Chicago every year with a great deal of IR content.

 How important is a research experience in your specialty? If important, does it need to be in the specialty itself?

Research experience is very helpful, but not an absolute necessity to succeed in IR. Performing research enables a student to gain more insight and demonstrate their interest.

M3 and M4 Students

 What M4 electives would you recommend to a student who is interested in pursuing your specialty?

M2s/M3s can pursue an IR selective (two-week rotation) at any time, even prior to starting the "real" third-year rotations at the end of the second year.

In addition, M3s and M4s can choose to complete an IR elective (four-week rotation). The Diagnostic Radiology department also offers a four-week rotation.

 Does your specialty recommend doing away rotations?

Away rotations can be helpful, but are not necessary. Away rotations can be useful in seeing firsthand how other programs operate and demonstrating interest in a particular program or region of the country.

 If your specialty recommends doing away rotations, how many “aways” do you recommend?

One to two away rotations should be sufficient.

 If away rotations are necessary, when should they be completed?

As early as possible in the M4 year, especially if you plan to interview for a residency position there.

 Which month do you recommend taking off to interview?

November to December.

 Does your specialty recommend that all letters of recommendation be written by members of your specialty?

No, but there should be at least one or two from IR. A letter from a diagnostic radiologist is also helpful.

 If letters can come from other disciplines, do you have a recommendation as to which disciplines are more highly valued?

Letters from surgical services are best, especially those services that perform surgeries or procedures that are similar in scope to that of Interventional Radiology.  Vascular surgery, interventional cardiology and interventional GI are some examples.

 Does the academic rank of the letter writer matter?

No. The relationship the student has with the letter writer is more important.

 Does your specialty require a letter from the chairman?


 Overall Recommendations

Interventional radiology is an extremely competitive field that will require more than just excellence in the classroom. Strong letters of recommendation from interventional radiologists and demonstration of advanced interest in the field through research and involvement in regional/national organizations are strongly encouraged.

Interventional Radiology Resources

Request an Interventional Radiology Advisor

Specialty Career Advisor:


Kent Sato, MD 
Interventional Radiology

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For More Information

Department of Radiology
Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine
676 N. St. Clair St.
Chicago, IL 60611-2923
Phone: 312-695-5753