doctor taking patient's pulse

Are Doctors Too

According to the American College of Radiology (ACR), radiologists are medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries using medical imaging techniques. These techniques include X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound.

Yes, radiologists are real doctors. After college they go through four years of medical school, pass a licensing exam, complete a residency program for “on-the-job” training in their specialty, and they sometimes gain further training in highly specialized areas through fellowships. However, the general public and most patients don’t realize this, often believing that a radiologist is a kind of medical technician.

According to a 2012 study presented at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting, more than 64 percent of patients undergoing CT scans said they had little or no idea of what radiologists do, and only about half (53%) of the patients knew that radiologists were medical doctors.

Northern Arizona Radiologist Stephen V. Ward, M.D., said radiologists are often mistaken for medical technologists or other medical-related professions.

“I think a lot of it has to do with patient contact,” said Ward. “We’re usually behind the scenes, so patients simply don’t have that front-line contact with us like they do with their family physician or pediatrician. We’re the man or woman behind the curtain.”

Ward, who performs general radiology with an emphasis on vascular and interventional radiology, including varicose vein treatment, said the profession as a whole is working to increase awareness of the radiologist as a physician with a critical role in patient care.

“Increasing the visibility of the radiologist and getting radiologists comfortable with patient interaction is key,” continued Ward. “At our center, we work to increase patient awareness of what we do, and the photo and bio of every radiologist on staff is posted on our website for all patients to see.“

The RSNA has also developed a new campaign called “Radiology Cares: the art of patient-centered practice,” whose stated mission is “to encourage and facilitate radiologists’ meaningful engagement in the patient experience.” The RSNA says the effort is meant to help radiologists become more comfortable interacting with their patients and improve patient awareness of the radiologist’s role.

So, the next time you visit the hospital or imaging center for your mammogram, MRI, or one of dozens of other imaging procedures, remember the man or woman behind the curtain is a radiologist and a doctor, and don’t be surprised if next time, he or she steps out from behind the curtain and introduces him or herself.

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