What Does a Radiologist Do and What Are There Job Duties?

Radiologist analyzing results

Your doctor has ordered tests for you that have you at the hospital's Speciality Imaging Unit. The technician tells you that your doctor will get the results after the radiologist reads the images. What exactly is a radiologist, you wonder. What does a radiologist do? Why do they spend all day in a dark room?

Radiologists are a vital part of the healthcare team. Their training allows them to read the medical images and distinguish between what is normal and what is not. This is crucial in the diagnosis of diseases like cancer and determining the proper course of treatment. Without their knowledge, many serious health conditions would go untreated and/or unnoticed.

What Is a Radiologist?

Radiologists are medical doctors who have specialized training; their expertise is in medical imaging. Radiologists can read the images from MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, PET scans, and X-rays, to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. They rarely handle the medical needs of patients. Instead, after reading the medical images, he/she provides the results to the patient's doctor.

Does the single word radiologist really give us a clear idea of what a radiologist is? Are we left wondering what does a radiologist do? Probably, and that is because there are many specialized areas of radiology. Below are five of the most common areas of specialization.

Abdominal Imaging

Abdominal imaging radiologists use diagnostic radiology to examine the abdomen and pelvis to diagnose diseases of the internal organs. They diagnose and plan treatment for urinary organs and the gastrointestinal tract, as well as reproductive organs.

Breast Imaging

breast imaging

Image via radiology.ca

Breast imaging, better known as mammography, is a diagnostic radiology used to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. Screening mammography is done before symptoms are present, while diagnostic mammography is done after symptoms are present.

Cardiac Imaging

A cardiac radiologist reads and interprets medical images to diagnose diseases of the heart. They use X-rays, ultrasounds, CTs and MRIs to determine what is causing your symptoms and plan the best course of treatment.

Musculoskeletal Imaging

Musculoskeletal imaging radiologists use X-rays, fluoroscopy, and MRIs to image bones and joints, as well as the tendons, ligaments, and muscles surroundings them. They can them diagnose injuries and diseases to create treatments plans that they then recommend to the patient's medical professional.

Neuroradiology

neuroradiology

Image via​ hunter healthcare

Neuroradiologists use diagnostic radiology to look for abnormalities of the head, brain, spine, and neck. A wide range of neuroimaging techniques is available to help them accomplish this task. These radiologists diagnose neurological conditions such as strokes, tumors, aneurysms, Alzheimer's disease, and many others.

Educational Requirements 

radiologist

Image via CME Science

What are the educational requirements for a radiologist? Since they are fully licensed as medical doctors, the radiologist must complete 11 years of higher education. What does a radiologist do to begin his or her journey through the education system? They start by earning their bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's Degree

Bachelor Degree

A radiologist education begins with earning a bachelor's degree in pre-medicine. This is a four-year program and a minimum grade point average must be maintained. Most pre-medical majors will require at least one year of each of the following subjects, and one semester of biochemistry and a math requirement.

  • Biology with lab
  • General chemistry with lab
  • Organic chemistry with lab
  • Physics with lab
  • English

After earning their bachelor's degree, radiologists must pass the Medical College Admission Test'

Medical School

The next step on the educational journey is the completion of four years of medical school. During the first two years, the students take courses in the practice of medicine, bodily systems, and diseases. During the last two years, students rotate through the hospital departments to gain patient care experience. While in medical school, the radiologist must pass two United States Medical Licensing Examinations by the National Board of Medical Examiners. Upon graduation, many students have one more final to take and must complete a final medical licensing exam to become certified. The radiologist has then earned a Doctor of Medicine degree.

Internship

Internship

Image via Spies Radiology

After completing medical school, the radiologist will have to complete an internship. What does a radiologist do during an internship? Here are some basic duties of a radiologic internship.

  • Interns observe back office procedures 
  • Interns observe several types of procedures
  • Interns will assist with patient records
  • Interns will learn hygienic procedures 

Residency

What do radiologists do after their internship? The internship is followed by four years of residency training in radiology. During their residency, radiologists dedicate extensive amounts of time studying and mastering the content of their specialty. Along with book study, they spend large amounts of time in the hospital setting practicing and honing the skills that will make them highly qualified radiologists.

At the end of the residency, radiologists must pass a board review and exam to become certified. If they choose to sub-specialize in an area of radiology, they may also be required to complete an additional two-year fellowship program.

What Does a Radiologist Do?

When asking the question what does a radiologist do, there is no single answer. A radiologist performs many functions within the healthcare system. Much of a radiologist's day is spent at a computer workstation in a dimly lit room. There are multiple high-resolution monitors that display the current images alongside any former images, and the patient's medical history and current symptoms.

The radiologist carefully studies and compare the images, looking for any changes. Using findings from the images, a patient's medical history, and current symptoms, the radiologist then prepares his or her report for the referring physician. If the findings are urgent, they are sent immediately to the physician to expedite patient care.

Diagnostic Evaluation

Diagnostic Evaluation

Image via ​www.chestercountyhospital.org​​​

The radiologist examines various types of images throughout the day. These include X-rays, CTs, MRIs, PET scans, ultrasounds, mammograms, and computer tomography. He or she will compare to previous images if they are available to look for differences that may indicate that disease is present.

Consultant

Consultant

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What does a radiologist do as a consultant? After reading the results of the medical images, the radiologist will consult with the primary care doctors who referred the patient for the testing. The radiologist will explain his or her findings on the results of the imaging procedures. He or she with then give recommendations for further testing if needed, or suggest a possible course of treatment for the patient.

Treating Patients

cat scan

There are certain medical treatments that require radiation, such as radiation oncology. Radiologists are specially trained and have the certification to provide patients who are in need of nuclear medicine, oncology or other radiation treatments with the proper care. They will examine the patients, record their medical history and prescribed medications just as a general physician would.

Staff Management

Staff Management

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Radiologists have a team of radiologic technologists working with them. These technologists operate the equipment and are highly trained to ensure the quality of the exams meets the high standards expected.

What Tests Does A Radiologist Use

There are several tests available to radiologists for the diagnosis of disease. Below are some of the more commonly used tests that radiologist make use of in hospitals everywhere.

CT Scan


Computed tomography, or CT scan, uses a combination of X-rays and a computer to create more accurate pictures of organs and bones than an x-ray alone.

MRI


Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, uses powerful magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures of the inside of your body.
 

PET Scan


Positron emission tomography, or PET scan, uses a special dye containing radioactive tracers that are absorbed by organs which allows your doctor to check for internal diseases.


Ultrasound


An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to show live images from inside your body.


Mammography


Mammography is a low-dose x-ray system to see inside the breast.


Flouroscopy


Flouroscopy is a continuous X-ray beam that shows a moving body structure.


X-ray


X-rays are a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves that create pictures of the inside of the body.

Conclusion

There is one question we haven't answered regarding what does a radiologist do. That is why does a radiologist work in such a dark room? Since the images are displayed in varying shades of gray, it is easier for the eyes to distinguish between them in a darkened room. Too much light makes it harder for the eyes to separate the shades of gray into distinct sections. A dimly lit room lends itself to a more accurate diagnosis of the image.

As you can see, becoming a radiologist is an intensive, educational process. It needs to be to prepare the radiologist for the intensive work environment he/she will be entering. We are grateful that there are those people who will dedicate their time and energy to this career. Without their hard work and knowledge, we would not be able to detect many serious diseases at early stages when they are treatable. What does a radiologist do? A radiologist looks at pictures of the insides of our bodies and can tell us if we are in danger of becoming seriously ill. A radiologist can save our lives.