My role as a Radiologist

Today is International Day of Radiology, held to mark the discovery of the x-ray in 1895, 125 years ago today! To celebrate, we spoke to Fortius Consultant Radiologist Professor Rowena Johnson to learn more about her role. 

How would you explain a Radiologist’s role in two sentences? 

Radiologists are medical doctors who use different imaging techniques such as x-ray, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and nuclear medicine scans to look inside people’s bodies. It requires a broad, deep knowledge base in anatomy and pathology, and good communication skills with other doctors and with patients.

What made you want to become a Radiologist, and how did you get there?

Radiology is akin to being a detective and putting together pieces of a puzzle - you get a few clues and you try to add them up. One of the most rewarding aspects of medicine for me is the intellectual challenge in working out what the diagnosis is. I also love performing interventional procedures, and I get to do numerous different types of injections into joints, tendons, muscles and around nerves using either ultrasound, CT or x-ray guidance. I try to make these as painless as possible!  


After graduating I rotated through a range of surgical and medical jobs. I then did 5 years of radiology training at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, based at St Mary’s, Charing Cross, and Hammersmith hospitals, as well as working at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (Stanmore). I then did a fellowship in Musculoskeletal radiology at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, followed by another fellowship at the University of Toronto hospitals, Canada. My NHS consultant practice was subsequently at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Oxford University Hospitals.


What are the most rewarding parts of your job? 

I enjoy meeting a wide variety of patients, and making a difference to their clinical management. I see a wide spectrum of ages from babies to elderly patients, though my main demographic is sporty adolescents and adults. I’m always seeing interesting cases, and I work with a team of brilliant radiologists, surgeons and sports physicians who are leaders in their field and always driving for excellence.  


My main interest is in sports injuries, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with Premier League and Championship football teams, international cricket clubs and rugby teams, as well as Olympians and Paralympians across multiple disciplines. I worked at Wimbledon this year, with the added benefit of being able to watch some centre court tennis!


What can be the most challenging parts of your job? 

We work with an extremely motivated group of patients, particularly in elite sports so I sometimes have to work outside of traditional working hours. There are also limitations to imaging, and a scan cannot always answer the clinical question or explain a patient’s symptoms, in which case we need to manage expectations.


What advice would you give to any new or aspiring Radiologists?

Radiology is one of the most rapidly evolving, technologically advanced and cutting-edge specialties in medicine. It’s a time consuming and competitive road with challenging postgraduate exams, but it is absolutely worth it!

Always follow your passions - I’ve trodden a less traditional path, for example I previously left hospital medicine to work full time as an Editor at the British Medical Journal. In the long term this has given me an excellent basis in evidence-based medicine, and the ability to think outside the box with complex patients. It has also been a foundation for me to be a Professor in Sports Medicine Imaging, which is intertwined with my clinical practice.