What is a radiologist?
A radiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions and injuries using imaging equipment, including:
- Computed tomography (CT), also known as computerized axial tomography (CAT).
- Fusion imaging (a technique that fuses two different imaging tests).
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA).
- Nuclear medicine imaging.
- Positron emission tomography (PET).
There are three main types of radiology:
- Diagnostic radiology.
- Interventional radiology.
- Radiation oncology.
Each of these branches of radiology has several subspecialties.
Diagnostic radiology helps healthcare providers see structures inside your body. Diagnostic radiologists are experts in interpreting these images. Using the diagnostic images, they can often:
- Diagnose conditions.
- Monitor how your body is responding to a treatment you’re receiving.
- Screen for different conditions, such as breast cancer, colon cancer or heart disease.
Interventional radiologists use imaging techniques, such as CT, ultrasound and MRI, to help guide procedures. The imaging is helpful when your provider inserts catheters, wires and other small tools into your body. This typically allows for smaller incisions (cuts).
Examples of conditions that interventional radiologists are often involved in treating include:
- Cancers or tumors.
- Blockages in your arteries or veins.
- Uterine fibroids.
- Back pain.
- Liver and kidney issues.
Some imaging techniques involve radiation. When used for imaging purposes, radiation can’t treat conditions. However, certain radiologists called radiation oncologists have expertise in using radiation therapy to treat cancer and some benign (noncancerous) conditions.
Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses radiation (strong beams of energy) to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing and dividing.
Radiation oncologists determine the optimum doses for specific types of cancer that maximize effectiveness and minimize any harm to healthy tissues. A radiation oncologist knows what type of therapy is best suited for you and your specific type of cancer.
Are radiologists doctors?
Yes, radiologists are medical doctors. All licensed radiologists have completed medical school and have a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.
What’s the difference between a radiologist and a radiologic technologist?
Radiologists are medical doctors trained to read and interpret medical imaging scans. Radiologic technologists (radiographers) are medical professionals who perform diagnostic imaging tests.
Radiologic technologists don’t interpret results or make a diagnosis. Instead, they operate various types of imaging equipment and assist people through the imaging procedure. They make sure you’re comfortable and that you’re positioned properly so the images are high quality.
What does a radiologist do?
Radiologists have several important roles, including:
- Evaluating your medical history to make sure an imaging procedure won’t harm you.
- Interpreting the results of medical imaging tests.
- Comparing medical image findings with other examinations and tests.
- Consulting with your referring healthcare provider (the provider who ordered the imaging tests) to help choose the proper imaging test and using test results to inform your medical care.
- Writing reports of results and diagnoses.
- Recommending additional examinations or treatments when necessary.
- Treating diseases by using radiation (radiation oncology) or imaging-guided procedures (interventional radiology).
- Performing or directing radiology staff to carry out imaging tests.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do radiologists go to medical school?
Yes, all licensed radiologists have attended and graduated from medical school.
How do you become a radiologist?
To become a radiologist, you must:
- Obtain pre-medical education at a college or university, graduating with a bachelor’s degree.
- Graduate from an accredited medical school.
- Pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
- Complete a residency of at least four years.
The majority of radiologists also complete a fellowship — one to two additional years of specialized training in a particular subspecialty of radiology, such as:
- Radiation oncology.
- Pediatric radiology.
- Interventional radiology.
- Breast imaging.
- Cardiovascular radiology.
- Nuclear medicine.
How long does it take to become a radiologist?
It usually takes at least 13 years to become a radiologist. This includes:
- Undergraduate education.
- Medical school.
- A four-year residency.
- A one- or two-year fellowship (this isn’t required, but most radiologists complete this).
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Needing to undergo an imaging test to screen for or help diagnose a condition can be stressful. Know that your radiologist has specialized knowledge and skills to interpret the image results. They’ll create a detailed report and consult with your healthcare provider or team to determine the best care for you. If you have any questions about your results, don’t be afraid to ask them.
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