Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 3 Apr 2023
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 ionizing radiation exposure.

Radiologists are often called upon to perform image-guided procedures, such as 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.

Common misconception

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 partner of a radiologist put it:

"When I tell people my other half is a radiologist they usually ask if they take 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 is nothing 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 subspecialisation in the form of fellowship training to focus their expertise and practice, most commonly this takes the form of an additional year at the end of their training. Usually, this is taken at a different center from the center in which they did their core radiology training, often this is overseas. Broadly-speaking, radiologists may be grouped into being 'diagnostic' or 'interventional', although the groups are not mutually exclusive with a large degree of overlap.

Diagnostic radiologists
  • general radiologist (generalist)

    • no specific subspecialty, although will usually have one or more subspecialty 'interests'

  • neuroradiologist

    • pediatric neuroradiologist

  • head & neck radiologist

  • musculoskeletal radiologist

  • chest (thoracic) radiologist

    • cardiac radiologist

    • respiratory radiologist

  • abdominal radiologist

    • gastrointestinal radiologist

    • genitourinary radiologist

  • ​pediatric radiologist

  • breast radiologist

  • forensic radiologist

  • emergency/trauma radiologist

  • oncology radiologist

Interventional radiologists (IR)
  • vascular interventional radiologist

  • non-vascular interventional radiologist

  • neuro-interventional radiologist (NIR)

Veterinary radiologists
  • usually veterinary surgeons (a.k.a. vets) that have subspecialised in radiology

Dental radiologists
  • in many countries, these are dentists that have subspecialised in radiology

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 an 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 the start of which 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 subspecialisation in an area of particular interest.

History and etymology

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first recorded use of the term radiologist was in 1905 (the term "radiology" was first recorded in 1900) 1,2

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