A radiologist is a physician who reads and interprets digital images, or x-rays, of patients obtained through a variety of cameras, machines, and imaging equipment. The radiologist uses this information to help diagnose the patient and consult with the treating physician to develop a course of treatment.
Most radiologists are primarily involved in medical diagnosis. However, interventional radiologists may perform some therapeutic, image-guided procedures to aid in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and some other health problems.
Education and Training
Radiologists must complete the requirements to become a medical doctor or physician. This requires:
- 4 years of undergraduate (Bachelor’s degree)
- 4 years of medical school (Medical degree)
- 4 years of residency training
- 1 year of (optional) fellowship training for sub-specialization
A radiologist must then meet the additional requirements to practice medicine in the United States, including passing the USMLE exam, obtaining a state medical license, passing the board certification exam in Radiology, and obtaining hospital privileges and credentials. Some of the optional radiology subspecialty fellowships include interventional radiology, mammography, musculoskeletal, body imaging, and neuroradiology (brain imaging).
Job Description and Skill Requirements
Most radiologists spend the majority of their time in an office setting, reading reports and interpreting images, and recording their results and diagnosis to be reviewed by the treating physician.
Unlike many other types of physicians, radiologists typically do not spend as much time directly interacting with patients, unless they practice interventional radiology. Interpersonal skills are still helpful to radiologists, as some of their work is collaborative and consultative, coordinating with the techs and allied health professionals who obtain the digital images, and also collaborating with other physicians.
For example, an oncologist may order a CT scan or MRI of a patient to determine the size and location of a tumor before treating it:
- A technologist will operate the CT machine to obtain the image, which will then be viewed by the radiologist.
- The radiologist will then interpret the information and put it in a report for the oncologist, who then reviews the report to decide on the best course of treatment.
- Often, the radiologist would not ever interact directly with the patient, or the oncologist, unless there is a question or further clarification requiring personal consultation.
Radiology is used in conjunction with most medical specialties, to diagnose problems in a variety of areas within the human body, including the brain, heart, digestive system, and just about any organ or system within the body.
Like most physicians, radiologists must have a comprehensive understanding of the human anatomy and medical and scientific principles relating to human health. Additionally, radiologists should be technically savvy, as they will be working on a computer frequently. Plus, radiologists should be very focused, have excellent vision and analytical skills, with a keen eye for detail.
Advancements in technology over the past ten to twenty years have created a boom in radiology careers and uses for medical imaging.
A variety of newly developed imaging machines and radiologic equipment utilizes a wide range of technologies, including nuclear and radioactive materials, magnetic imaging, (MRI), computers, cameras, and digital imagery, and sound waves (ultrasound).
Medical imaging allows doctors to more accurately and quickly diagnose a variety of maladies, and do so in a much less invasive way than exploratory surgery or other methods.
Radiology is one of the most lucrative medical specialties a physician can practice. According to the Medscape’s Physician Compensation Report 2019, radiologists earn $419,000 on average. Interventional radiologists, who have completed additional fellowship training in interventional radiology, earn $507,508 on average.
Physicians enjoy the practice of radiology for a number of reasons:
- Compensation: As noted above, radiologists enjoy some of the highest salaries and best benefits of all physicians.
- Vacation: Although being a radiologist is stressful, (a mistake can be very costly, and radiologists read tens of thousands of images annually), radiologists also enjoy a lot of perks. Radiologists also have time to enjoy their salaries, as they have more vacation than most physicians, at an average of 8-12 weeks, nearly twice the average of 4-6 weeks other physicians typically command.
- Schedule and Work Flexibility: Due to the nature of their work, radiologists can take a call from home, reading scans on a computer linked into a hospital network. Also, the portability of radiology allows for additional flexibility in work schedules, including "nighthawk" coverage. Nighthawk coverage is provided by radiology services, sometimes overseas even, to cover overnight calls for radiologists, so they don't have to work in the middle of the night like physicians of other specialties. Most traditional, full-time radiology jobs still do require the physician to be on-site at least part of the time, however, if not full-time.