Radiologists: The Doctor You Should Get To Know

I recently learned of an interesting statistic. A survey was conducted in Miami, Florida and Burlington, Vermont where random people were asked what it is that radiologist does. Greater than 40% of people didn’t know radiologists are doctors. Hearing this, I was reminded of a story. My friend in residency told me when he first decided to go into radiology, his father thought he was leaving medicine and wanted to fix radios. Although this may seem silly to some people, not everybody may know about the medical specialty of radiology. I will answer some of the more frequently asked questions about radiologists.

Q) Are radiologist doctors?
A) Radiologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating disease and injury by using medical imaging techniques such as X-rays, MRI, CT, Mammography and Ultrasound. 

Q) What kind of training and education does a radiologist need to complete?
A) A radiologist must graduate from an accredited medical school and pass a licensing examination. After medical school, they complete a 4 to 5 year training program called a residency. A residency focuses on specific medical education in such fields as quality interpretation of medical imaging examinations and radiation safety. For additional training, many radiologists also often complete a fellowship — one to two additional years of specialized training — in a particular subspecialty of radiology, such as breast imaging, cardiovascular radiology, or nuclear medicine. If you take into account four years of undergraduate education, the average radiologist has more than 13 years of training.

Q) Do radiologists receive any type of certification I should ask about?
A) Radiologists are usually board-certified by the American Board of Radiology after passing three rigorous examinations. Additionally, the equipment in a radiologist’s office is certified by the American College of Radiology. This assures obtaining the highest quality of images at the lowest possible radiation dose. 

Q) What does a radiologist actually do? 
A) Radiologists play an important role in your health care in several different ways. First, they act as an expert consultant to your referring physician (the doctor who sent you to the radiology center for testing). They will aid him or her in choosing the examination that fits your needs. Then the radiologist will assist by interpreting the resulting medical images and recommending further scans or treatments when necessary. When referring doctors say they have reviewed the radiology scans and reports, they usually mean they have gone over and discussed the study with the radiologist.

Q) Who are the people who take the X-rays or perform the ultrasounds?
A) Those are radiology technologists or ultrasound sonographers. They are invaluable members of the radiology team who are licensed to perform a particular examination. They received extensive training however, they are not physicians.

Q) Can I talk to my radiologist? 
A) Absolutely! Your radiologist  is available to you and your referring physician in choosing the proper examination, interpreting the resulting medical images, and in using test results to recommend further examinations or treatments. Although you may not physically see the radiologist during you visit, the radiologist is a very integral part of your health care. Always feel free to regard the radiologist as your own physician and your preferred imaging center as an extension of your family doctor’s office.