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The Radiologist

Who is the radiologist?

Radiologists are medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who have completed a four year residency in either diagnostic radiology or radiation oncology. A radiologist may act as a consultant to another doctor who is caring for the patient, or act as the patient's primary doctor in treating a disease (such as a radiation oncologist).

Following the residency, most radiologists and radiation oncologists become board-certified by the American Board of Radiology (for a medical doctor) or the American Osteopathic Board of Radiology (for an osteopathic doctor). Some go directly into practice, while others enter fellowship programs for additional training in a specialized area, such as the following:

  • Neuroradiology. Diagnostic radiology that focuses on the central nervous system, head, neck, and spine.

  • Pediatric radiology. Diagnostic radiology that focuses on the unique techniques used to create images of children's bodies, their organs, and internal structures.

  • Breast imaging. Diagnostic radiology that focuses on the diagnosis of breast diseases.

  • Cardiovascular radiology. Diagnostic radiology that focuses on the diagnosis of diseases of the heart and blood vessels (including the arteries and veins).

  • Chest radiology. Diagnostic radiology that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of the chest, specifically the heart and lungs.

  • Gastrointestinal radiology. Diagnostic radiology that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or digestive tract.

  • Genitourinary radiology. Diagnostic radiology that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of the organs of the reproductive and urinary tracts.

  • Musculoskeletal radiology. Diagnostic radiology that focuses on the diseases of the muscles and skeleton.

  • Emergency radiology. Diagnostic radiology that focuses diagnosis of trauma and nontraumatic emergency conditions.

  • Interventional radiology. A subspecialty of radiology that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of patients utilizing minimally invasive interventional techniques. These include imaging and treatment of blood vessels (such as angiography), biopsy procedures, line and tube placement, and fluid abscess drainage.

  • Nuclear radiology. A subspecialty of radiology that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of patients with trace doses of radioactive material.

  • Radiation oncology. A a separate specialty from radiology that has its own residency training program, but is also certified by the American Board of Radiology. This specialty focuses on the treatment of cancer with radiation.

As a result of increasing knowledge and levels of technology in the field, radiology has become highly specialized, as have most other medical and surgical specialties. The current trend is for radiologists to become specialized in a particular discipline, such as cardiology (the study and treatment of the heart) or neurology (the study and treatment of the brain and nervous system).

Who performs the diagnostic imaging?

Diagnostic imaging can be performed by the following professionals:

  • Radiologist

  • Specialized doctor, who can perform basic imaging functions such as X-rays or ultrasounds. An example is an obstetrician who performs a routine ultrasound on a pregnant woman. Subspecialist cardiologists often interpret CT or MR imaging.

  • Radiologic technologists, who are specially trained to perform specific imaging techniques and are certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, or another registry. Radiologic technologists work under the direction and supervision of the radiologist.

Where is diagnostic imaging done?

Diagnostic imaging can be performed in a number of settings, including the following:

  • Hospital-based radiology departments

  • Freestanding outpatient centers

  • Specialized centers, such as urology or sports medicine centers