What is a radiologist?
A radiologist is a specialist doctor who uses medical imaging such as x-ray, MRI, CT, ultrasound and angiography, to diagnose and treat human disease or injury. Radiologists undergo lengthy training and assessment in order to be accredited by relevant governing boards and colleges around the world.
What do radiologists do?
Radiologists apply advanced knowledge of anatomy and pathology to interpret the findings of medical imaging examinations, and to formulate written diagnostic reports to assist other doctors and health professionals.
Radiologists work as part of a clinical team to aid other doctors and health professionals in choosing appropriate imaging tests for their patients, that balance the benefits against the risks, with a particular focus on preventing unnecessary radiation exposure.
Radiologists are often called upon to perform image guided procedures, such a biopsies, drainages and targeted injections, to directly enable diagnosis and treatment of patients. A subset of radiologists also perform more advanced image-guided procedures including vascular stenting and aneurysm coiling.
There is a common misconception that radiologists "take" x-rays, however this task is performed by radiographers (radiologic technologists). The core role of a radiologist is to interpret or "read" x-rays. Here's how the wife of a radiologist put it:
"When I tell people my husband is a radiologist they usually ask if he takes x-rays.
I explain that a radiologist is a doctor that looks at scans of patients and helps other doctors work out what is wrong and what to do next. Also sometimes there isn't anything wrong, which is just as tricky!
I explain that a radiologist needs to know what all parts of the human body look like, from all angles, using any type of scan. They then need to know what it looks like when it's wrong and what it might mean."
What types of radiologists are there?
Commonly radiologists undergo sub-specialisation in the form of fellowship training to focus their expertise and practice. Broadly speaking, radiologists may be grouped into being 'diagnostic' or 'interventional'.
- general radiologist - no particular subspecialty
- musculoskeletal radiologist
- chest (thoracic) radiologist
- cardiac radiologist
- respiratory radiologist
- abdominal radiologist
- gastrointestinal radiologist
- genitourinary radiologist
- paediatric radiologist
- breast radiologist
- vascular interventional radiologist
- neurointerventional radiologist
How do I become a radiologist?
Pathways to becoming a radiologist vary from country-to-country. Broadly speaking the process starts after undertaking an undergraduate or postgraduate medical degree and gaining registration as a doctor. The next step is completing internship and often one or more years of postgraduate experience.
Gaining entry to a radiology training programs is competitive and this pathway takes 4-5 years to complete at which point the doctor becomes known as a radiology registrar or radiology resident. The training involves the completion of basic science and advanced fellowship examinations as well as other numerous hurdles.
On completing a radiology training program and gaining specialty recognition as a radiologist, many go onto further sub specialisation in an area of particular interest.