Friday, April 24, 2015

So you want to be a Radiologist

A student writes, I've been following some of your posts and noticed some of the comments by others mentioning that radiology residencies/jobs are drying up and even face the possibility of disappearing completely. Could you explain why? I am currently a senior pre-medical student who's taken a recent liking to radiology after following a few radiologists in a hospital, so I would just like to get some input.”

A colleague, Dr. Saurabh Jha, an Assistant Professor of Radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, has graciously agreed to respond. He can be followed on Twitter @RogueRad.

Should I go into radiology?

I used to be a surgical resident in the UK. One day, I was a little dispirited during a brutal call, and my senior resident asked “do you love surgery?”

“I like surgery,” I replied.

“If you don’t love surgery, love it unconditionally I mean – like loving your child – you will be unhappy.” He warned.

I really liked surgery. I like radiology. I’m happy as a radiologist. Radiology fits my temperament. You don’t have to love radiology like one has to love surgery, but you have to like it. It helps if you like it a lot.

The worst reasons to go in to radiology are to make lots of money and to avoid patients. The days of radiologists making $500 K + 12 weeks of vacation after reading 20,000 studies a year are over. Radiologists doing interventional, ultrasound, mammography and fluoroscopy (such as barium enemas) must speak to patients, and speak well.

Radiology is a tech-heavy field. If you’re excited by technology, you will like it. Radiologists are leading healthcare in IT. If you have an interest in health IT, then some programs will integrate informatics with your training.

Residency involves substantial reading. You have to master anatomy, radiological pathology, and physics, as well as have a decent knowledge of clinical medicine. Prepare for 20-30 hours of reading a week. Radiology is now 24/7. Calls are intense – 12 hour shifts are non-stop. But when you are off, you are off.

Believe it or not, international health – if you are into that – increasingly asks for radiologists. Although you won’t be parachuting in to Sierra Leone or quarantined in Fort Hood.

Will there be jobs when I graduate?

Like Yogi Berra I am reluctant to make predictions, particularly about the future. But radiologists have a poor record in making predictions about jobs. During Hillary care, we thought there would be a surplus of radiologists. We were wrong. During the Bush era we thought there would be a shortage of radiologists. We were wrong.

That’s 0/2. That’s worse than a coin toss.

Here is what I can say. American medicine will not do with fewer imaging tests. American population is not getting younger. Healthcare coverage is not shrinking. There are more lawyers who need something to do. Bottom line: demand for medical imaging will not fall suddenly.

There are emerging number of “empowered consumers” who want to pick up disease before symptoms. They will need radiologists, or someone who understands false positives, to keep their normal kidneys from the surgical pathologist’s slides.

Will residency positions be reduced?

They should but won’t be. That means you have the upper hand – because supply of residency spots exceeds demand. Beware though. The demand for good residencies has increased. The current first and second year residents at my institute are the brightest I’ve ever seen. They’re scary good.

Ask the program director how many of their residents had to do two fellowships before getting a job. Demand that information. You have a right to know how their residents fared in this competitive market.

What should I do to before residency to be a better radiologist?

Rule 1: avoid radiologists and radiology rotations. You’ll have a life time of us. And there’s only so much you’ll learn watching us stare at the screen and bark at the mike.

Improve your knowledge of medicine. Spend time on the ICU, in the ED, at the trauma bay, with the surgeons in the OR. Understand clinical decision making. Understand how doctors think. Understand the ill patient. Become a doctor. I don’t mean that in touchy-feely terms. I mean develop clinical acumen.

The radiologist with a sharp eye and no clinical acumen is a generator of differential diagnoses – though not as good as IBM’s Watson will be. The radiologist with common sense (read clinical acumen) and even a mediocre eye will prevail.

Any other advice?

Join radiology’s professional society – ACR – it’s free and has a vibrant section for trainees. Get yourself employment-specific disability insurance, if possible.

Get in to the habit of exercising or playing sports. You will not be walking as much as your clinical colleagues.


artiger said...

Wow, that almost made me want to get out of surgery and apply for a radiology residency.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

He is a good writer. He would have made a good salesman too.

Wilhelm said...

As a radiology resident, I often invite medical students to spend some time with me on call. When students are writing their personal statements to a residence program the objective is to convince the reader that the student would make an exceptional resident. The best way to understand the role of resident is to spend some time with one and gain an appreciation for what it takes to be an exceptional trainee.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Wilhelm, thanks. That is good advice.

Anonymous said...

New reader here.
Thank you for this post and thanks to Dr. Jha. Although I'm only pre-med it was great to hear from a current radiologist about where the field is and where it's headed. And although I love reading surgery blogs (you guys & gals are heroes) I don't think it is meant for me.
I did take the aptitude test and the first surgical specialty came in at #17, haha, whereas radiology was #3.

Thanks again,

Skeptical Scalpel said...

ES, thanks for reading the post. Feel free to check out some of the others. Good luck with you choice of radiology.

dias said...

New reader here.
Thank you for this post and thanks to Dr. Jha. Although I'm only pre-med it was great to hear from a current radiologist about where the field is and where it's headed. And although I love reading surgery blogs (you guys & gals are heroes) I don't think it is meant for me.
tks for this artickle

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Dias, thanks for reading my blog. Good luck to you.

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