What Is a Radiologist?

A radiologist is a medical professional specializing in radiology, the field of medicine involving imaging techniques to diagnose and treat disease. Radiologists are responsible for interpreting the results of imaging tests. They work along with radiology technicians, who are responsible for maintaining and operating radiology equipment. 

You may interact with a radiologist if your primary healthcare provider or a specialist requests any kind of imaging. Imaging may be requested to help diagnose a suspected condition, evaluate how your treatment is going, or treat a specific condition.

This article will take a closer look at what radiologists diagnose and treat and what you might want to keep in mind when going for a radiology appointment. 

Radiologist examine images

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Procedural Expertise 

Imaging is done to screen for certain conditions and to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of many conditions. Any part of the body may be imaged.

You may undergo imaging in a clinic, emergency room, or hospital. The radiologist who interprets the images may be a generalist or specialize in certain areas of the body or procedures.

Radiologists are trained to interpret medical imaging results from the following:

Once they interpret your imaging results, the radiologist will relay the findings to the requesting healthcare provider in a detailed report. They may also recommend a treatment plan depending on the results.

You may not have much contact with a radiologist. While some radiologists may perform diagnostic imaging, technicians are also trained to perform imaging under the supervision of a radiologist. 

In some cases, your radiologist may be your primary care provider and will be highly involved in the diagnosis and treatment process. How involved a radiologist is may depend on their specialty.

Imaging can be done in a hospital setting or a specialized outpatient setting. 

Subspecialties 

Radiology has different subspecialties, including:

Emergency Radiology

This field of radiology involves diagnosing emergency conditions that may or may not involve traumatic injury.  

Cardiovascular Radiology

This field of radiology involves the diagnosis of heart and blood vessel conditions. 

Breast Radiology 

This field of radiology involves diagnosing breast disease, including breast cancer

Chest Radiology

Radiologists specializing in chest radiology focus on diagnosing and treating conditions involving the heart and lungs. 

Gastrointestinal Radiology

Radiologists specializing in gastrointestinal radiology are responsible for diagnosing and treating digestive tract disease

Head and Neck Radiology

If you have an issue with your head and neck region, a head and neck radiologist will interpret the results of your scans to diagnose and recommend treatment for your condition. 

Interventional Radiology

This field of radiology involves using minimally invasive techniques to diagnose and treat disease. For example, interventional radiology may be used during biopsies (taking a tissue sample to analyze in the lab) or an angiogram (visualizes blood flow). 

Musculoskeletal Radiology

This field of radiology is specifically concerned with conditions that affect your bones and muscles. 

Neuroradiology

This branch of radiology deals with diseases of the central nervous system (CNS), including the spine, head, and neck. 

Pediatric Radiology

Pediatric radiology focuses on imaging children. 

Radiation Oncology

Radiation oncology involves the diagnosis and treatment of people with cancer.

Training and Certification

Radiologists are doctors that have completed medical school and radiology residency. Residency typically takes about four years to complete. After that, radiologists may choose to undergo a fellowship in a radiology specialty such as pediatric or interventional radiology.  

Most radiologists are board certified by the American Board of Radiology (ABR). To become board certified, radiologists must complete two computer-based exams: a core exam and a certifying exam.

Appointment Tips

In most cases, you’ll need a referral from a healthcare provider to make an appointment for imaging. It’s a good idea to contact your insurance provider to determine whether a specific provider is considered in network. Choosing an out-of-network provider is likely to increase the costs associated with imaging. 

Once you make an appointment, you’ll be informed about how to prepare for the appointment. Exact preparation instructions depend on what kind of imaging you’re getting done.

It’s essential to follow the instructions given to you before your appointment. In most cases, arriving a bit early for your appointment is a good idea. In some cases, you may need to come an hour earlier. 

During an appointment, the technologist may:

  • Ask you to change into a gown 
  • Ask you to stand or lie in a certain position
  • Apply gel to the area of concern for an ultrasound 
  • Inject radioactive material for nuclear imaging 
  • Inject contrast dye for specific MRI or CT scans 
  • Instruct you to drink a solution to help make imaging clearer 
  • Ask you to remove jewelry or anything made of metal 
  • Ask you about any implanted metal devices (e.g., pacemaker)
  • Ask you to wait between separate scans or after drinking substances to clarify imaging results

Summary

Radiologists are medical doctors trained to interpret medical imaging results. Often, radiologists specialize in specific types of radiology. For example, some radiologists specialize in treating and diagnosing cancer. 

When you make an appointment for medical imaging, you’ll receive detailed instructions on how to prepare. 

A Word From Verywell 

Feeling nervous about getting imaging done? Don’t hesitate to ask the staff or technician questions about the process. While you might not speak directly to the radiologist who will be interpreting your results, rest assured they’ll send their findings to your healthcare provider, who will discuss next steps with you.

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2 Sources
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  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. The radiologist.

  2. Radiopaedia. Radiology training in the United States of America