Exploring this Job

Learn more about the radiology field by reading articles on professional associations' Web sites, such as the American College of Radiology,, and the Radiological Society of North America, A good way to find out how to get started in this career is by speaking with a radiologist. Ask your school's career services office for help with setting up an informational interview, and be sure to prepare your list of questions in advance. A part-time or summer job in the office of a radiologist or in a hospital or health care facility will give you opportunities to work closely with health care professionals and to see if this field is a good fit for you. Find job listings on professional associations' Web sites and through employment Web sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, among others.

The Job

Radiologists are medical doctors who examine patients and diagnose diseases, injuries, and disorders by using X-rays and radioactive materials. They conduct work at the request of the referring physicians of patients, and the request must be issued before patients are able to receive any type of imaging procedure. Radiologists work closely with radiologic technologists and technicians, and share diagnostic reports and findings with referring physicians, patients, and their families.

Radiologists may specialize in a subspecialty of radiology, which may be cardiovascular radiology, breast imaging, or nuclear medicine. They use medical imaging techniques such as X-rays, computer tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, nuclear medicine, ultrasound, and fusion imaging. All types of radiation may have harmful short-term and long-term effects, so radiologists are trained in radiation safety and follow procedures to ensure that patients and medical staff are protected.

The most familiar use of radiologic technology is X-ray pictures, which are used to diagnose and determine treatment for various afflictions, including ulcers, tumors, and bone fractures. Chest X-ray pictures can determine whether a person has a lung disease. In small radiology facilities, radiologists may also operate X-ray equipment and help patients prepare for the radiologic examination. In larger health care facilities, radiologic technologists handle these tasks. After explaining the procedure, they may administer a substance that makes the part of the body being imaged more clearly visible on the film, video, or digital file. (One note is that digital imaging technology is increasingly being used by imaging facilities today instead of film.) Radiologists make sure patients are positioned so the correct view of the body can be radiographed, covering adjacent areas with lead shielding to prevent unnecessary exposure to radiation.

The X-ray equipment is positioned at the proper angle and distance from the part to be radiographed; exposure time is based on the location of the particular organ or bone and thickness of the body in that area. The X-ray machine controls are set to produce pictures of the correct density, contrast, and detail. The photographic film or digital recording device is placed closest to the body part being x-rayed, and there are standards regarding the number of views to be taken of a given body part. The film is then developed, or the video or digital file is prepared, for the radiologist or other physician to interpret.

Radiologists may examine and diagnose patients by using computed tomography (CT) scanning, which is X-rays for detailed cross-sectional images of the body's internal structures, and MRI, which uses radio waves, powerful magnets, and computers to obtain images of body parts. They treat diseases by using radiation, which is known as radiation oncology. They may focus on mammography and cardiovascular interventional technology. They study image findings, correlate these findings with other examinations and tests, and write diagnostic reports that they share with patients' physicians and patients. Some radiologists may focus on examining joints and bones, or they may be involved in such areas as angiocardiography (visualization of the heart and large blood vessels) or neuroradiology (the use of radiation to diagnose diseases of the nervous system).