A radiologist is a medical professional who interprets medical images like MRIs, X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasounds. He or she may also use radioactive materials for the purpose of medical imaging, while another related medical specialty focuses on the use of radiation to treat conditions such as cancer.
In the sense of using diagnostic images, someone in this position knows how to operate equipment such as MRI and X-ray machines, and how to interpret the images which this equipment generates. Generally, a radiology technician performs the actual imaging, turning the results over to the radiologist, although in a small hospital or clinic, a radiologist may perform both tasks. Sometimes, patients must ingest various substances such as barium for a specific imaging study, and radiologists may supervise this proceeding.
A radiologist can also inject radioactive tracers into a patient so that images can be taken to study things like the flow of blood and the nervous system. This is known as nuclear medicine, in a reference to the radioactive materials which are used. Nuclear medicine can be used to screen for a wide range of conditions, and to get a general idea of physical health and functionality in patients.
After acquiring and interpreting images, a radiologist discusses the situation with the patient's doctor. The doctor decides what action to take in the patient's case, although the radiologist's advice may be considered. In a clinic where tests are performed by a technician, a radiologist may never actually interact with the physical patient, which is considered one of the downsides this career.
Radiologists who prefer to be more hands-on may specialize in interventional radiology, which involves minor medical procedures conducted with the guidance of radiology equipment. A familiar example of interventional radiology is an amniocentesis, in which a needle is carefully inserted into a pregnant mother's amniotic sac to withdraw fluid for further study; this test is carried out with the assistance of an ultrasound machine to make sure that the needle is in the right place.
Therapeutic radiologists are trained in the use of radioactive agents in disease treatment. Generally, they specialize in a separate branch of medicine, radiation oncology, in which they learn about cancers and their treatments along with the use of radioactive agents.