Although many qualified individuals outside the field of medicine are also referred to as
“doctors,” the mission of healthcare practitioners in medicine—and radiology, in particular—is centered on teaching, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration to achieve the best possible patient outcomes. After all, the word doctor originates from the Latin word docēre, which means “to “teach.”
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Every patient, every image, every new diagnosis is a teaching and learning opportunity. The radiologist not only teaches residents and students who will one day go on to teach others, but also his or her daily work involves educating referring physicians about imaging findings and the best course of action.
Most importantly, with ACR’s new imaging 3.0 initiative, radiologists are increasingly using their expertise to teach patients directly about their imaging findings—leading to more informed patients as well as a more gratifying experience for the radiologist. Thus, the teaching role of the radiologist is vast: consisting of teaching oneself, trainees, other radiologists, referring clinicians, and patients.
Once a physician enters the field of radiology, he or she become committed to life-long learning. One does not truly become an expert in any field—much less a field such as radiology which requires a vast knowledge base spanning many disciplines—without continuous and deliberate practice.
A paper published in the Harvard Business Review titled, “Making an Expert” claims that “The journey to elite performance is not for the impatient or the faint of heart. It takes at least a decade and requires the guidance of an expert teacher to provide tough, often painful feedback. It also demands would-be experts to develop their ‘inner coach’ and eventually drive their own progress.”
The notion of requiring a decade to become an expert in a field is often repeated in various circles and holds true for radiology. Expertise requires an external teacher to provide critical feedback as well as a great internal drive and for that, one must be willing to teach themselves even after having completed residency.
Beyond life-long learning and self-teaching, one of the core pillars of radiology is trainee education and teaching. Many radiologists enter academics with the ambition of teaching tomorrow’s radiology and healthcare leaders. This mission is critical for ensuring a supply of well-trained, competent radiologists needed to address the rapidly-growing imaging needs of our increasing population.
While teaching is an honorable and noble mission, increasing rvu demands and decreasing reimbursements represent emerging challenges for radiologists to provide robust teaching while maintaining productivity. Interestingly, a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology demonstrated a positive relationship between clinical productivity and teaching—highlighting the role of well-trained residents and fellows in helping maintain efficient imaging operations. Despite the challenges, the opportunity to teach trainees and have a positive impact on the personal and career development of trainees is ultimately rewarding to both the staff radiologists and trainees.
Beyond that, radiologists also spend time teaching their fellow colleagues by writing case reports, giving lectures, conducting various CME sessions, and by sharing their research findings. In this manner, radiologists continue to develop the field professionally and help contribute to life-long learning of radiologists.
Radiologists are also responsible for teaching and mentoring their junior colleagues within a radiology group or academic department. Senior residents are often an instrumentional factor in the education of junior residents, and various models for such teaching already exist.
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For example, one particular challenge for new, first-year residents is physics. One study implemented upper-class residents teaching introductory radiological physics to first-year radiology residents in their first month of training. This teaching was well received by the first-year residents—they found both improvement in their knowledge as well as an increased interest in physics. It also served as an excellent way for residents to practice teaching in a formal manner, an opportunity many residents miss during their residencies.
Yet another aspect of teaching that radiologists must undertake is when discussing patients with referring physicians. In the past—before the advent of PACS and digitilized images—clinical rounds often began in the radiology reading room, which promoted robust radiologist-clinician interactions. While the direct interactions have decreased in the age of PACS, the role of the radiologist as a consultant is more important than ever with opportunities to positively impact patient care in interdisciplinary consultations and tumor boards.