Radiologist Assistant: What They Do

Radiologist Assistant

The radiologist assistant (sometimes known by the misnomer “radiology assistant”) is a highly skilled professional who acts as an assistant to a radiologist, a physician who specializes in the use of radiation to make images of the interior of the body or to treat diseases, such as cancer. A radiologist assistant is not a doctor, or a physician’s assistant, but a person with the unique skills to perform specialized procedures under the direction of a doctor.

What Do Radiologist Assistants Do?

Radiologist assistants perform direct patient care requiring advance technical knowledge. They have to have a compassionate attitude toward patients, and the skills to communicate with patients and doctors, but they also have to mastered very complex technology. Among the day to day duties of radiologist assistants are:

•    Interviewing patients to take a medical history.
•    Listening to breath and circulation through a stethoscope.
•    Interpreting the effects of prescription drugs and looking for potential problems with contrast agents injected into the bloodstream.
•    Operating CT and MRI machines and interpreting the results for possible disease diagnosis, helping the doctor ask the right questions in exam to make the right diagnosis.
•    Communicating with patients and professionals in clear language and with respect and compassion.

There are also certain things radiologist assistants cannot do. These include:

•    Interpreting images or making diagnoses,
•    Prescribing drugs, or
•    Recommending a course of treatment.

These decisions are made by doctors. Most of the states that license radiologist assistants have very specific laws limiting what the radiologist assistant may do.

What Kind of Training Is Required of Radiologist Assistants?

A radiologist assistant usually has a great deal more training than a radiologic or X-ray technician. A bachelor’s degree is a minimum, and a master’s degree is preferred. Most colleges will require third- and fourth-year students to get their licenses as radiologic technologists before starting advanced study. One advanced skill a radiologist assistant has to acquire is the ability to recognize structures in the body from all angles, since modern imaging techniques “slice” the body to interpret changes in organs and tissues.

The radiologist assistant has to understand disease processes well enough to communicate with the doctor, but without making a diagnosis. He or she has to be able to “zoom in” on a problem, confirm what he or she is seeing with what the patient says while giving a health history, and choose various possible diagnoses for the doctor to consider. More than other allied health professionals, the radiologist assistant has to understand changes in body structures in response to medications.

Sometimes the radiologist assistant works directly with the doctor to guide the placement of needles or catheters during surgery. The radiologist assistant, however, lets the doctor share the diagnosis with the patient, because the doctor has access to many other diagnostic results and specialized experience in patient care.

Where Can I Get a Job as a Radiologist Assistant?

Right now, ten states in the United States have special licensing programs for radiologist assistants. There are Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Wyoming. In these states, however, radiologist assistants are among the most highly compensated of all health professionals, averaging $102,972 per year base pay, with some earning as much as $120,000 per year.