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What is a radiologist

A radiologist is a specialist doctor who uses medical imaging such as x-ray, MRI, CT, ultrasound and fluroscopy, to diagnose and treat human disease or injury.  Radiologists require a strong grasp of anatomy, clinical knowledge and pathology.  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).

LEGO radiologist
A radiologist

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.  They are at the heart of many key decisions in hospitals, playing a vital role in diagnosis, management pathways and treatment.  Radiologists work as part of a clinical team to aid other doctors and health professionals in choosing appropriate imaging tests for their patients, balancing 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 biopsies, drain insertions 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)
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.

  • Diagnostic radiologists

    • General radiologist (no particular subspecialty)
    • Neuroradiologist
    • Musculoskeletal radiologist
    • Chest radiologist
    • Abdominal radiologist
    • Paediatric radiologist
    • Breast radiologist
  • Interventional radiologists

    • Vascular interventional radiologist
    • Neurological interventional radiologist

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.

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.


Many thanks to Dr Andrew Dixon et al.  Some text taken from the original article: “Radiologist” Radiopaedia.org