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Many people may think of a radiologist as a physician who looks at an X-ray and makes a diagnosis. That perception is only partly correct, as radiologists have a number of other roles within health care, and their role is continuing to evolve, according to the “Journal of the American College of Radiology.”
Education, Licensing and Certification
All radiologists are physicians, and like all physicians, must complete college and medical school as well as residency -- a period of education lasting 12 years. Most radiologists also go on to a radiology fellowship, which includes further training and often includes specialty training in particular aspects of radiology such as breast imaging or nuclear medicine, according to the Texas Radiological Society. In addition to a license, which is required to practice, most radiologists also become board certified.
Diagnostic vs. Interventional Radiology
Radiologists may diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. A radiologist’s primary specialty affects her duties. A diagnostic radiologist, as the name implies, evaluates imaging studies such as X-rays, nuclear medicine scans, and blood vessel studies to determine if a patient has a medical condition, disease or injury. An interventional radiologist performs procedures that may be primarily for diagnostic purposes -- such as a bone biopsy -- or therapeutic interventions designed to effect a cure -- such as an angioplasty.
Radiologists also enter subspecialties of radiology. A radiation oncologist treats patients who have cancer. She may use a variety of different types of therapy and techniques, but all involve the use of radiation, such as gamma rays, linear accelerators or radioimmunotherapy. Nuclear medicine is another subspecialty of radiology that uses radioactive material that the patient inhales or swallows, or that is injected into the patient’s body. The radioactive material is then picked up with imaging technology to diagnose diseases or used to treat conditions such as thyroid cancer.
Basic and Emerging Roles
As with all physicians, radiologists examine patients, take or review medical histories, and may prescribe medications or order diagnostic tests, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Expanding roles for radiologists include those of economic gatekeeping, political advocacy, public health delivery, patient safety, quality of care improvement and information technology, according to the “Journal of the American College of Radiology.” The changes are related to increased scrutiny by regulatory organizations and legislative bodies, and the impact of information technology on health care.
- Journal of the American College of Radiology: The Evolving Role of the Radiologist within the Health Care System
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- American Board of Medical Specialties: Specialties and Subspecialties
- RadiologyInfo.org: Interventional Radiology
- RadiologyInfo.org: Radiation Therapy
- RadiologyInfo.org: Nuclear Medicine
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images