A radiologist is a medical professional who is specially trained so that he or she can interpret medical images such as MRIs, X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasounds. A radiologist may also use radioactive materials for the purpose of medical imaging, while another related medical specialty focuses on the use of radiation to treat conditions such as cancer. Prospects for a career in radiology are quite good, and the work is varied, although same radiologists who focus on interpretation sometimes miss patient interaction.
In the sense of using diagnostic images, a radiologist knows how to operate equipment such as MRI and X-ray machines, and how to interpret the images which this equipment generates. Generally, a radiology technician performs the actual imaging, turning the results over to the radiologist, although in a small hospital or clinic, a radiologist may perform both tasks. Sometimes, patients must ingest various substances such as barium for a specific imaging study, and radiologists may supervise this proceeding.
A radiologist can also inject radioactive tracers into a patient so that images can be taken to study things like the flow of blood and the nervous system. This branch of radiology is known as nuclear medicine, in a reference to the radioactive materials which are used. Nuclear medicine can be used to screen for a wide range of conditions, and to get a general idea of physical health and functionality in patients.
After acquiring and interpreting images, a radiologist discusses the situation with the patient’s doctor. The doctor decides what action to take in the patient’s case, although the advice of the radiologist may certainly be considered. In a clinic where tests are performed by a technician, the radiologist may never actually interact with the physical patient, which is considered one of the downsides of radiology as a career.
Radiologists who prefer to be more hands-on may specialize in interventional radiology, which involves minor medical procedures conducted with the guidance of radiology equipment. A familiar example of interventional radiology is an amniocentesis, in which a needle is carefully inserted into a pregnant mother’s amniotic sac to withdraw fluid for further study; this test is carried out with the assistance of an ultrasound machine to make sure that the needle is in the right place.
Therapeutic radiologists are trained in the use of radioactive agents in disease treatment. Generally, they specialize in a separate branch of medicine, radiation oncology, in which they learn about cancers and their treatments along with the use of radioactive agents.