What, Exactly, Is an Interventional Radiologist?

osman-ahmedBy Osman Ahmed, MD

During my training as an interventional radiologist, my family, patients and colleagues in other specialties would ask me exactly what it was that I did. Only after training another six years after medical school, I’ve come to realize that the answer is far more complex than the question would imply.

In the simplest of terms, interventional radiologists use cutting-edge imaging equipment to perform minimally invasive procedures. We are part radiologist because we must interpret imaging studies like X-ray, computed tomography (CT) and ultrasound to diagnose abnormalities inside patients. But we are also part surgeon (or more aptly coined “interventionalists”), as we use this imaging to guide a combination of needles, wires and catheters to treat these abnormalities.

While this explanation provides insight into how our specialty works, it still doesn’t answer what it is that we do. Herein the answer gets even more complicated because, we in interventional radiology, at the risk of sounding arrogant, believe there is very little that we can’t do. The Society of Interventional Radiology lists over 32 generic types of procedures done by IR, but this only scratches the surface of the services we can provide to our patients and referring physicians at Rush University Medical Center.

Because the scope of our practice is so broad, my day-to-day schedule is ever-changing (and when trying to explain to my wife, ever-confusing). In just one morning, I opened up blocked arteries in a patient’s leg to help him walk again and then blocked off arteries in another patient’s liver with chemotherapy to treat a liver tumor. On another day, I placed a tube in a patient’s stomach so we could feed him and then placed a tube in another patient’s kidney so we could drain out her infection. And the subsequent day, I dissolved life-threatening blood clots in one patient’s lungs and, later that afternoon, clotted off uterine fibroids to help another patient control her heavy menses.

By now you probably understand why it was hard for me to explain what we do in IR. The truth is that this journey to explain my occupation has led me to realize what it is that I love about my job. I have the privilege to interact and collaborate with many different types of doctors on any given day, including internists, ER physicians, oncologists, hepatologists, surgeons, urologists and even gynecologists.

More important, it gives me the opportunity to treat a variety of patients, ranging from the sickest in the intensive care unit to those who walk into my office for cosmetic treatments. The use of cutting-edge technology to treat a variety of patients with a breadth of minimally invasive procedures is what makes IR so great and, in my opinion, will continue to make it so in the future. It’s also the reason why, if you ask me what I do five years from now, my answer will likely be completely different.

Moving forward, it is my hope to help further resolve IR’s identity problem with a series of posts that highlight the procedures and services we offer to our patients. In these upcoming features, we’ll focus on those conditions whose treatment has been significantly transformed by IR. Heck, who knows, by the time we meet again there will be another groundbreaking IR treatment to treat another of medicine’s many diseases. After all, it’s the unexpected that I’ve come to expect and love about interventional radiology.

Osman Ahmed, MD, is an interventional radiologist at Rush University Medical Center.

4 thoughts on “What, Exactly, Is an Interventional Radiologist?

  1. Have an online contact who has received treatment at your clinic for CCSVI, ( related to MS.) She had great results. We live in Colingwood, Ontario and I am seeking information about treatment for CCVSI. Does your clinic address TVAM treatment at all? Dr. Arata in California does. Please reply to lnr2@rogers.com.

    Lorna McGann

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