A radiologist is a physician or medical specialist trained in obtaining and interpreting medical images. Images may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound. The physician uses medical imaging in addition to the traditional tasks of examining patients, obtaining medical history, diagnosing illness and prescribing treatment. Since radiology is used in conjunction with most medical specialties, radiologists have a comprehensive understanding of physical anatomy and the components of human health.
There are some subspecialties of diagnostic radiologists that include physicians who perform mammography and breast procedures, cardiovascular radiology, gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal radiology, and other specialties including those relating to pediatrics, emergency care, and oncology. This is a profession in very high demand as technological advancements have discovered more uses for medical imaging and techniques that are less invasive and more diagnostically accurate.
There are some branches of radiology that include radiology assistants and technologists and radiation therapists. These health professionals assist the physician in conducting procedures and making clinical observations. The radiologic technologist often operates the equipment and works directly with the patient to obtain images. In many countries outside the U.S. and Canada, the term radiologist actually refers to one of these assistant branches. The radiologist interprets the medical images created by MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, and ultrasounds and must know how to operate all types of machinery used to obtain medical images. He or she also administers radioactive materials to the patient to obtain medical imaging. Radiologists working in larger hospitals or health centers often have a specialty.
In nuclear medicine, a radiologist injects radioactive tracers into the patient's bloodstream. These radioactive substances are then followed to study blood flow and the action of the nervous system. The results are used to screen for a range of medical conditions and to assess general physical health.
Once the results have been obtained and interpreted, these are taken to the patient's doctor and advice is offered. The doctor is responsible to make the final decision, based on the information provided. Much of the work involves interactions with other health professionals: the technologist, the oncologist and the physician.
Some radiologists perform minor medical procedures with interventional radiology. One such technique is amniocentesis, in which a needle is inserted into a pregnant woman's amniotic sac in order to study the health condition of the fetus. Another specialty is therapeutic radiology, which involves using radioactive agents to treat disease. This would include oncology in cancer treatment.
It is necessary to first become a physician. In Canada and the U.S. this requires pre-med studies at a university level, which usually involves four years of a Bachelor degree; a three or four year Medical Doctor degree, and post-graduate training in a specialty. Up to four years of residency training are also required. Programs are highly competitive and difficult to gain acceptance, so candidates must maintain high grade averages and meet other criteria.
Once an MD has been earned, an additional five to seven years of specialist training is required. This depends on whether it is a subspecialty in radiology, such as mammography, interventional radiology, or pediatrics is pursued. In the U.S. it is also necessary to pass the USMLE exam and board certification in radiology, obtain a licence, and earn hospital credentials and privileges.
Other skills that are required:
Excellent memory and grasp of anatomy
Excellent scientific and medical knowledge
Good understanding of technology, computers, and machines
Good vision and an eye for detail
Most radiologists work in a hospital or medical facility where the different types of radiation machines are available. Work can involve linear accelerators, which are used primarily in oncology for cancer care, ultrasound devices, and other types of x-rays. Although in larger centers an assistant or technician may perform much of the manual work in close contact with radiation and radioactive material, the radiologist must know how to operate all of the equipment and can also be exposed. In smaller centers, the radiologist operates the equipment and does the interpretation and diagnosis.
Most work is done in an office setting, interpreting images, reading reports, and recording the results and diagnosis. Since most of the job involves interpreting results of radioactive imaging, patient contact is minimal. This is particularly true if the tests are performed primarily by a technician. Most of the dialogue is done through a patient's physician, who is responsible for applying the results and making treatment decisions. Those who prefer a more hands-on workplace often choose a specialty such as interventional radiology. This line of work for a physician tends to have greater flexibility in scheduling, less shift work and more vacation time.