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What Does an Interventional Radiologist Do?

An interventional radiologist reviewing an X-ray.
Interventional radiologists often assist in the placement of a stent to prevent serious complications from the blockage of an artery.
An X-ray of a hand.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
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An interventional radiologist is a doctor who uses medical imaging technology such as ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, or X-ray to guide procedures performed for the purpose of diagnosis and treatment. These medical professionals complete medical training, a residency in radiology, and a fellowship in interventional radiology. It can take 10 years or more to complete medical training and become a board certified interventional radiologist.

The procedures performed by interventional radiologists are minimally invasive and nonsurgical in nature. This discipline is used increasingly in the treatment of conditions which were managed surgically, reducing risks to patients and making them more comfortable, and it is also used for a wide range of other conditions. Most procedures performed by an interventional radiologist involve the insertion of catheters which can be used to place tools and dye tracers into targeted areas of the patient's body.

When the services of an interventional radiologist are needed, the doctor meets with the patient to discuss the procedure and set up an appointment time. Assisted by the staff, the doctor can work with patients who are anesthetized to varying degrees. Conscious sedation may be used, or the doctor may simply use local anesthesia at the site where the procedure is being performed. Using medical imaging, the doctor guides a catheter into place and performs the procedure, monitoring the progress with the imaging equipment.

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Some examples of procedures performed by interventional radiologists include: embolizations, biopsies, cardiac catheterization, placement of tubes for drainage, angiograms, tissue ablation, chemoembolization, placement of access for dialysis, and treatment of pulmonary embolism. The doctor can work with part of a larger patient care team to address a medical issue such as kidney failure, and can also be involved in rapid interventions to save lives, such as placement of a cardiac stent. Work for an interventional radiologist is quite variable, and can be appealing to people who are interested in radiology but who want to take a more active role in patient care than interpreting images.

Specialists in interventional radiology tend to work in hospitals or clinics. Their salaries vary, depending on their experience and where they work. Working hours can also be variable. People who perform emergency procedures may be on call and obliged to come in at odd hours to deal with trauma and emergent medical issues. People who focus on routine procedures, on the other hand, may be allowed to set hours for practice, with colleagues handling emergency treatments.

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