Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a radiologist and what they actually do on a day-to-day basis? As patients, we typically don’t interact with the radiologist during our imaging studies unless we are having a biopsy or procedure. Most people only think of a radiologist when they receive a medical bill for their services despite never actually meeting or interacting with the physician. Do you know why that is? Today, I am going to explain what a radiologist does, why they are so important to patients as well as the healthcare field and, yes, why you received that bill.
Let’s begin with understanding the process one must go through in order to have the credentials to practice as a radiologist.
Becoming a radiologist is an intense, long, and competitive process. In fact, a typical radiologist will spend between 13-15 years in school to complete their training prior to becoming a board-certified physician. One must complete a bachelor’s degree, followed by 4 years of medical school, a one year of internship in a specialty such as internal medicine or general surgery, and then a four-year residency in diagnostic radiology. Once they complete their general studies and residency, they can apply for a fellowship to study in a subspecialty field. This adds on another 1-2 years. Upon completion of their residency, they can apply for their license to practice. Fifteen months after their residency is completed, they can take their board certification, which is an intense two-part examination.
Once a radiologist has graduated and passed their board certification, they choose a work environment that best matches their training. Options include working in a hospital, an outpatient imaging center, a private practice, or even a combination of these settings. Teaching is always an option as well. When a radiologist joins a group, this means they read images and consult on therapeutic options from multiple medical facilities and work remotely or in an office.
Advances in technology allows radiologic images to be viewed, shared and stored electronically through Picture Archival Communications systems (PAC). There are many benefits to electronic transmittal of images, including the ability to have a subspecialist consult on unique findings. Images can be viewed anywhere a radiologist has access to wifi, and workloads can be shared amongst a group of doctors in order to keep up with high volume medical facilities.
Radiologists who work in a hospital setting typically work long hours, including nights and weekends, trying to keep up with the 24/7 demand of patient imaging needs.
Even though the typical radiologist works behind the scenes analyzing and reading images, their role is far more reaching than just reading an x-ray and dictating the diagnosis. A radiologist has to review the entire medical history of the patient needing an imaging study, including their physical examination, and laboratory findings so that they are provided with the bigger picture when trying to diagnose the issue at hand. This allows them to help manage and recommend therapeutic options and work as a team with the primary doctor, surgeon, or specialist who requested the study.
While making a diagnosis on a broken bone can be fairly straightforward, a radiologist reads all types of imaging studies that can be very complex, especially when it comes to cancer or neurological issues.