10 Surprising Things About Interventional Radiology

August 1, 2017
UVA Health System team member smiles at the camera

I spent an afternoon in the Interventional Radiology (IR) Department at UVA Radiology and Medical Imaging, and this is what I saw and learned about interventional radiology through the experience.


Those who know me know I don’t belong in scrubs. I haven’t had any formal medical education, and before my marketing internship this summer at UVA Radiology and Medical Imaging, I had very little knowledge of anything medical. But after three months of learning about medical imaging and the amazing things going on in this department, I figured it was time for me to literally suit-up and observe what happens in IR.

I organized my great IR adventure with my supervisor and the friendly staff in Interventional Radiology. The IR team told me I needed three things: a hair-tie to hold my hair under the cap, closed-toed shoes, and (my personal favorite) gray scrubs.

It was really exciting and, I thought I knew what to expect. I already knew what an interventional radiologist is and the types of minimally invasive procedures they perform, and I knew what a day in the life of an IR resident looked like based on blog posts we wrote in the past. But, I had never actually seen first-hand how IR works.

So, I made my way over to IR and met up with Bob Growden, Lead Technologist IR. Bob guided me through the maze of procedure rooms and brought me to the control room. Once there, he took the time to explain what each of the doctors were doing.  He even pointed out where they were working inside the patient’s body on the medical images.

Then, he took me over to a procedure where I met up with technologist Amber Simmons. Amber helped me get into my protective lead apron and vest and let me stand by her as she operated the bed and machine in the procedure room. She was great about explaining exactly what was happening and why.

It is important to understand that “procedures” in IR are surgery.  The operating room’s probably have everything you might expect as far as medical equipment: vitals monitors, screens, gloves, masks. And everyone is very professional. But IR is also different than you might expect.

For anyone who is as curious as I was about what it’s like in IR, here is a list I put together of things that stood out to me on my IR adventure.

(Text only version)

An infographic describing ten things our team member learned about IRMy IR adventure was a huge success! I learned so much about what they do, and seeing the doctors, technologists, and everyone else at work was really inspiring. It’s amazing what they can do with wires, catheters, and balloons: they save lives–and all through tiny little incisions!

Learn more about the interesting field of interventional radiology.




Infographic Text: 10 Surprising Things About Interventional Radiology
Ten Things About IR that stand out to a person without medical training:

  1. It’s a pretty chill environment. The doctors in the procedure I was watching were listening to Willie Nelson, and jokes were being told around the room. They were still very professional, but the atmosphere was less stressful than I expected.
  2. They don’t really look at the patient. The doctors look at the screen that shows them the medical images far more than they look at the patient… which is good! If they weren’t watching the screen, they wouldn’t be able to see what they are doing.
  3. There are a lot of people who make it work. In the room for the procedure, there is an attending doctor, residents, fellows, anesthesiologists, and technologists. And that doesn’t count the nurses who prep patients and housekeeping who cleans the rooms between patients.
  4. It’s a real team effort. All the people diligently working during the procedure stand at different posts in the room, and communication between these posts is very crucial. It’s a good thing they all like each other!
  5. They use really interesting equipment. UVA is lucky to have the most advanced medical imaging equipment we can. The machines are really cool, and resemble robotic arms you might see in factories. But no worries, the imaging equipment isn’t a robot, it’s operated by very qualified IR technologists.
  6. The people in IR do a lot. In my two-and-a-half hour adventure, I was exposed to three vastly different procedures. They treat most things that they can reach through blood vessels, so they can do anything from treat blood clots to administer chemotherapy— and they do!
  7. They see a lot, too. Patients of all ages and backgrounds can find their way into IR, so the doctors get to work with all sorts of people and conditions. No one day is the same as the one before.
  8. They’re on their feet all day. The people in IR see so many cases each day, and each one can take anywhere from half an hour to six hours. So they spend a lot of their time on their feet and in heavy lead protection.
  9. Being in an academic hospital has its perks. Since UVA is an academic hospital, everyone is always in the mindset of learning and teaching. While I was there, the people in IR were great about answering all my questions in a way I could understand (which probably required a lot of dumbing down). I’m sure they would answer any of your questions too!
  10. Everyone is so friendly. No matter if the person I met was a technologist, a nurse, or a doctor, they people in IR are some of the most friendly I’ve met. They’re so qualified to do their jobs, but they are even wonderful people beyond that!

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