I have been asked about my medical specialty countless times. Questions usually range from, “What is a Radiologist?” to “Are you the one who takes the X-rays?” to “You’re a tech, right?” and even, “But, are you a doctor?” If I further specify that I’m a Teleradiologist, then things get even more spicy and I am given a dumbfounded look, wondering, “How do you take an Xray at your home?” To break the level of discomfort we’ve reached, I’ll add some light, Radiology humor and say, “Yes, and my entire family glows in the dark.” This conversation has occurred so many times that my husband has suggested that I not use the word “Radiologist” or “Teleradiologist.” Seriously? Downplay my speciality because it leaves people in the dark? (another attempt at a Radiologist’s humor).
This general lack of understanding about Radiology is quite impressive and always surprises me. So many of us have had at least one X-ray to evaluate a bone for a possible fracture or an ultrasound for abdominal pain or pregnancy, just to name a few examples. Imaging has become such a common exam and yet, so many lay-people do not know what Radiology really is.
Radiology is a science that uses X-rays and other forms of radiation for the diagnosis of disease. A Diagnostic Radiologist is a physician (MD or DO) who interprets images obtained on a patient and provides a diagnosis. A Radiologist completes 4 years of medical school, one year of an internship, and 4 more years of a Diagnostic Radiology residency training program. A Radiologist is an integral part of the clinical team and serves to provide differential diagnoses to aid in patient care.
I have been a Diagnostic Radiologist with board certification since 2004 and completed an additional year of Musculoskeletal Imaging fellowship in 2005. Since then I have been a Teleradiologist which means that I work from a remote location. I do not drive to work or see patients in a hospital but I provide diagnostic interpretation services from a location where the imaging was not performed or obtained. A Radiology technician obtains the images in a hospital or out-patient facility and will send them to the Radiologist for evaluation and interpretation. The images are sent to me via the internet in my home office, I review them and provide a report of the findings, along with an impression and oftentimes, follow up recommendations. That report is sent back via the internet and is received by the referring clinician or medical team to aid in the care of their patient.
A Diagnostic Radiologist is a very important piece of a puzzle; the puzzle being a patient who presents with a clinical question. Without Radiology, surgical planning, cancer staging, and emergent care, for example, would be much more inefficient and cumbersome for both the clinician and the patient. We are a unified team and when each piece of the puzzle comes together, the culmination is beautiful medicine.
As a Radiologist, I provide specialized knowledge to my medical colleagues as part of a collaborative process. I enjoy being a diagnostician. Each image provides clues to the cause of the patient’s pain or answers a clinical question.
I know that despite my many efforts to educate, people will continue to be confused by my profession and will often not understand that I am a medical doctor with a specialty in Diagnostic Radiology and a subspecialty in MSK. Perhaps it’s easier to say that I’m a physician and leave it at that. But, after so many years of medical training and because I value myself and my profession, I choose to take the road more challenged…and illuminate it with a glow stick. (Ok, ok, I’ll keep my day job!)