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What is a Radiologist?

A Radiologist is a specialized type of Doctor. Also known as: Neuroradiologist, Interventional Radiologist, Interventional Neuroradiologist, Diagnostic Radiologist.

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.

What does a Radiologist do?

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.

What is the workplace of a Radiologist like?

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.

How can I become a Radiologist?

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

  • Analytical abilities

  • Compare Radiology Medical Schools

    Compare Radiology Medical Schools in the USA

  • Radiologist Education Requirements, Training And Career Info

    After graduating from medical school, a physician must complete four years of a radiology residency, which is a combination of specialty medical education and paid on-the-job training, to become a radiologist.

  • Professional Requirements For Radiologists

    Physicians begin specializing in radiology by completing a required radiology residency after medical school. Radiologists must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam and obtain a license for each state in which they practice. Many radiologists choose to become board certified in radiology, even though it's not required.

  • How do I know if radiology is suitable for me?

    Early on in medical school, it would be wise to pay attention to the role imaging plays in your cases. Keep your mind open to the specialty and what it entails, as this will give you a taste of what happens in radiology without committing a lot of time.

    Do some radiology electives, and try to spend time in different areas to get a good sense of what the resident and the radiologist do in their day. When watching the residents and the radiologists interpret films, ask good questions in between images.

    Talk to radiology residents, and ask them what the training is like, what they like and dislike about their specialty and their program. Talk to radiologists, and ask them what they like and dislike about their job. Ask them what their day is like. Ask them if they have any regrets about their choice of career. Ask if they can give you any advice that they wish they had received when they were first starting out.

    What is the difference between a radiologist and a radiologic technologist?

    Both radiologists and radiology technologists work in a clinical or hospital setting, and are both health-care professionals.

    A radiologist is a physician that will interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe a course of treatment for the patient. They begin their education with a bachelor's degree, then attend medical school. After a two year internship, they take a residency in radiology for four to seven years.

    A radiologic technologist is the person performing the imaging tests on the patients (CT scans, MRI's, x-rays, and ultrasounds), who then hands them over to the radiologist for interpretation. The technologist needs to have earned either an associate's or a bachelor's degree before practicing, and must be licensed.

    What is the job satisfaction of a radiologist?

    Medscape’s Physician Compensation Report 2011 determined the overall satisfaction level of 22 specialties. Overall satisfaction was ranked by averaging responses to questions about compensation and career and specialty choice. Radiologists came in second as a group in overall satisfaction (72 percent). John A. Patti, M.D., FACR, radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and chairman of the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors, has been practicing for 36 years. He’s not surprised that his specialty ranked so high among physician satisfaction. “You’re at the center of everything,” he says. “There’s very little diagnosis that occurs today without the use of imaging. That makes you able to interact with a wide range of physicians and a wide range of patients.” Radiologists tied with orthopaedic surgeons for the highest median annual income in the report ($350,000), which might add to the group’s happiness quotient. (article from

    What is it like being a radiologist?

    Radiologists are able to work with internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, obstetrics, and all the sub-specialties, giving radiologists a huge range of things they can participate in. Although a radiologist is a physician, they generally don't interact with patients. In a way, radiologists are doctor's doctors. When a physician is not sure about a certain problem his patient is having, he will order a test (an x-ray, MRI, CT scan, or an ultrasound) and will sometimes consult with the radiologist personally to try and figure the problem out.

    Typically, whatever the results are that come back from the radiologist will determine the course of the patient's therapy. Even though a radiologist doesn't get a lot of patient recognition and gratitude for their work, they do get a lot of satisfaction in knowing that what they do makes a big difference in people's lives everyday.



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    Further Reading

    • Who’s the Happiest?

      What specialty has the most satisfied physicians? Dermatologists take the cake, with radiologists and oncologists following.

    • What Is An Interventional Radiologist?

      Due to technology advances and high-quality imaging equipment becoming widely available, interventional radiologists are able to offer patients and referral physicians a host of treatment options.

    • What Are The Different Types Of Radiology?

      A radiologist, through extensive clinical work and related research, may also specialize in one or more radiology subspecialties...

    • Radiologist Salary

      Radiologists are physicians who earn a high salary from their profession. A radiologist is a medical doctor and has a higher degree of education and training, earning a higher salary than radiologic technologists and technicians.

    • Radiologist Career Profile

      A radiologist is a physician who reads and interprets digital images, or x-rays, of patients obtained through a variety of cameras, machines, and imaging equipment. The radiologist uses this information to help diagnose the patient and consult with the treating physician to develop a course of treatment.

    • How To Become A Radiologist

      Radiologists are physicians who use cutting-edge imaging technology to examine organs and tissues inside the body in gentle, noninvasive ways. Their expertise in physics, anatomy and the disease process allow them to diagnose injuries and illnesses so treatment can begin.

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