becoming a radiologist: how your dr. got here

Your radiologist is the physician specifically trained to be the expert in medical imaging. Radiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries using various imaging techniques such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound.

Interventional Radiology (IR), is a sub-specialty of radiology which uses image-guided minimally invasive techniques to diagnose and treat a large variety of medical conditions. IR can be an alternative to some surgical treatments such as epidural steroid injections or some oncology procedures.

Training requirements

From the very beginning, radiologists follow the same education path as every doctor in the U.S. They attend four years of undergraduate college and then four years at an accredited medical school, earning either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O). They also complete an internship and residency in diagnostic radiology, and some physicians go on to complete fellowships in advanced radiology specialties such as vascular and interventional radiology, neuroradiology or mammography.

What role does a radiologist play in my health care?

Generally the provider taking your mammogram or x-ray is not the doctor, but a highly-trained radiologic technician. In fact, you may never actually meet the radiologist who reads your mammogram or MRI after the image is taken. Your radiologist is available to you and your referring provider by request, to ensure the correct study is ordered, to assist in the interpretation of the results and to discuss further examinations or potential treatments needed. Of course, during interventional procedures you will meet with the radiologist for your procedure.

After analyzing your images, the radiologist sends a report (an electronic written review) to your referring provider. Most of the communication regarding your exam goes from your radiologist straight back to your referring provider who will deliver your imaging results and formulate a management plan.

In general, a radiologist:

  • Acts as an expert imaging consultant and provides a detailed report to the physician who ordered your exam
  • Works with your referring physician to determine the appropriate imaging exam for your needs
  • Reviews and interprets the images from your exam
  • Recommends further exams or treatments when necessary and confers with referring physician

Key Skills and Strengths

Radiologists tend to be very analytical, detail oriented, and may have a strong interest in physics and technology. Knowledge in physics helps the radiologists with the proper positioning of the patient to ensure a clear image. Additionally, to become a successful radiologist, they must become experts at diagnosing and examining diseases using radiation or magnetic machines.

Certification and Accreditation

To ensure quality and safety, radiologists should also become board certified by the American Board of Radiology (ACR), a professional medical society dedicated to serving patients and society by empowering radiology professionals to advance the practice, science and professions of radiological care.  

Written by: Marysa Stevens

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