Looking beneath the surface

RADIOLOGISTS are often called “X-ray doctors.” However, with advances, radiology has become a far more sophisticated science now. 

Imaging techniques like the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed tomography) scan and the ultrasound have enabled radiologists to gain a clearer picture of what is happening inside the body. This has resulted in better, faster and more accurate diagnosis and treatment of patients. 

Radiologist Dr Ouzreiah Nawawi’s few weeks in the radiology department as a medical student triggered her interest in the field.  

“I was intrigued by the fact that I could look into someone’s body to read and detect diseases. I realised that there was more to being a doctor than stitching people up and sticking needles into them.” 

She is part of a new generation of radiologists who use imaging equipment not only to diagnose but also to treat patients. 

Traditionally, radiologists don’t deal with patients that much as their job is to give clinicians adiagnosis based on the expertise they gave. 

Sophisticated equipment has been a boon to radiologists and patients, says Dr Ouzreiah seen here with her colleague Dr Khairul Azmi.

As an “interventional radiologist”, Dr Ouzreiah has a hand in treating patients and helping to rectify their conditions through minimally invasive procedures using imaging guidance. 


What qualifications do you need to enter this profession? 

A basic medical degree (MBBS). You need to have at least two years of working experience first before you can specialise by doing a four-year masters programme in a local university – Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia or Universiti Sains Malaysia. I also did a Fellowship in London, which is equivalent to a masters, as well as another stint in interventional radiology in Australia. 


What does a radiologist do? 

Radiologists arrive at a diagnosis by reading the images provided by X-rays, MRI, CT scan and ultrasound. There are many sub-specialties in radiology such as mammography, musculo-skeletal radiology and interventional radiology.  

Normally, radiologists look at cases referred to by clinicians and give their diagnosis and feedback.  

Being in an academic institution, I also lecture undergraduate, postgraduate and radiography students. Medical lecturers also have to do research and publish their findings. 

In my area of specialisation, that is, interventional radiology, we use our expertise in reading X-rays, ultrasound and other medical images to help rectify problems. We insert instruments like guidewires and catheters. For example, if a patient has an abscess in his abdomen, we can drain the fluid out. Or, if a patient suffers from excessive bleeding, we can do an embolisation. That is a less invasive way of treating diseases. 


Describe a typical day at work 

Generally, it’s an eight-to-five job. Although we do have to be on call, usually the calls are not as busy compared to other clinicians. We do what is called “passive calls” – investigations of CT scans and ultrasounds especially when there is an accident or a case of trauma. This can even happen in the middle of the night. 


What kind of personality do you think suit this career? 

It helps to have good PR skills as we don’t treat patients firsthand but depend on referrals from clinicians. A lot of teamwork is involved in treating patients.  

You also have to have a logical mind as, for certain diseases, several diagnoses are possible, so you have to think of all the possibilities and not be quick to jump to conclusions. You should also be comfortable sitting in the dark and looking at X-rays. 


What’s the best part about your job? 

Assisting the clinician to make the right diagnosis by helping him to narrow his focus.  

I also get satisfaction when I can treat patients and spare them surgery. I remember one patient with chronic backache who was practically bedridden.  

The neurosurgeon attending to her had asked for my assistance and I performed an image guided steroid injection.  

About two weeks later, I met her at a pasar malam and she thanked me profusely, saying “You gave me my life back.” 


What’s the worst part about your job? 

When you are on call and have to wake up in the middle of the night but thankfully for me this rarely happens. 


What is the salary range? 

I would say that the starting pay (including perks) for a medical lecturer is about RM5,000.  

A senior radiologist in the public sector could easily earn a five-figure monthly income but obviously would not be as well paid as those in the private sector. 


What are the career prospects in this line? 

It’s an exciting field to be in because of the medical advances. With CT and MRI, we can see things that we could only dream of before. 

As in any field, you have to keep abreast of the latest technology and thinking. 


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