A radiologist is a specialist doctor who uses medical imaging such as x-ray, MRI, CT, ultrasound and angiography, to diagnose and treat human disease or injury. Radiologists undergo lengthy training and assessment in order to be accredited by relevant governing boards and colleges around the world. In the UK radiologists are doctors registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) and fellows of the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR).
What do radiologists do?
Radiologists apply advanced knowledge of anatomy and pathology to interpret the findings of medical imaging examinations, and to formulate written diagnostic reports to assist other doctors and health professionals. Radiologists work as part of a clinical team to aid other doctors and health professionals in choosing appropriate imaging tests for their patients, that balance the benefits against the risks, with a particular focus on preventing unnecessary radiation exposure. Radiologists are often called upon to perform image guided procedures, such a biopsies, drainages and targeted injections, to directly enable diagnosis and treatment of patients. A subset of radiologists also perform more advanced image-guided procedures including vascular stenting and aneurysm coiling.
There is a common misconception that radiologists "take" x-rays, however this task is performed by radiographers. The core role of a radiologist is to interpret or "read" x-rays.
"When people ask me what a radiologist does, they usually assume we take x-rays. I explain that a radiologist is a doctor who looks at scans of patients and helps other doctors work out what is wrong and what to do next. A radiologist needs to know what all parts of the human body look like, from all angles, using any type of scan. They then need to know what it looks like when it's wrong and what it might mean."
CT scan showing consolidation (pneumonia)
What types of radiologists are there?
Commonly radiologists undergo sub-specialisation in the form of fellowship training to focus their expertise and practice. Broadly speaking, radiologists may be grouped into being 'diagnostic' or 'interventional', although many do a bit of both.
General radiologist (no particular subspecialty)
Vascular interventional radiologist
Neurological interventional radiologist
Radiologist performing a CT guided para-aortic lymph node biopsy
How do radiologists image patients?
Below are a list of the main imaging modalities radiologists use today. Click the links to find out more about each one.
- Plain film radiography
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear medicine
How do I become a radiologist?
How to get into radiology? Pathways to becoming a radiologist vary from country-to-country. In the UK the process starts after undertaking an undergraduate or postgraduate medical degree and gaining registration as a doctor with the GMC. The next step is completing foundation training and some applicants also do one or more years of post-foundation training e.g. core medical or core-surgical training (optional). See when to apply and career in radiology for more details.
Gaining entry to a radiology training program is competitive. Once accepted you become a radiology registrar and start training. The training is 5 years long (6 years for interventional radiology) and involves the completion of basic science and advanced fellowship examinations as well as other numerous hurdles. You can read more about life as a radiology trainee here. On completing a radiology training program and gaining specialty recognition as a radiologist, many go onto further sub specialisation in an area of particular interest.