10 Questions with Charles Kahn, Jr, MD, MS

June 29, 2015
Diagnostic Imaging Staff
Diagnostic Imaging Staff

For this “10 Questions” series, we spoke with Charles Kahn, Jr, MD, MS, about his work and the future of radiology.

Our "10 Questions" series asks the same questions to a diverse group of professionals in the imaging community.

Here, we profiled Charles Kahn, Jr, MD, MS.

1. Please state your name, title and the organization you work for. 

Charles E. Kahn, Jr, MD, MS, FACR, FSIIM. I'm professor and vice chairman of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"38868","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_1234710406912","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3903","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 300px; width: 200px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"Charles Kahn, Jr, MD, MS","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

2. How did you get where you are today?

Early on, I was attracted to mathematics for its challenges and beauty. I worked my way through college, in part, by designing and writing software for a medical genetics department and primate research center, and became interested in biology and medicine. It seemed that there were exciting opportunities to link computing and medicine, and I wanted a career that engaged my intellectual curiosity and provided an avenue to contribute meaningfully to our society. 

As a medical student, I had the good fortune to attend a clerkship at the National Institutes of Health on computers in clinical medicine. The clerkship not only provided a chance to work with leading researchers on the NIH campus, but also included guest lectures from nationally known experts in the emerging field of medical informatics. 

3. Why did you choose your profession?

Radiology touches almost all of the areas of medical practice – from head to toe, from embryo to old age, and using a variety of truly amazing technologies. Radiology offers the opportunity to serve as a consultant to other physicians and is a great field in which to apply math and computing to help address important health problems. In radiology, you can be a pure diagnostician or a surgeon, or do a bit of both. 

4. What is your biggest day-to-day challenge? 

One of my passions is to help radiologists communicate better with our referring colleagues and with our patients. As part the RSNA reporting initiative, I have helped create templates to guide the reporting process. Some colleagues and I are developing tools to help patients have a better understanding of their radiology reports.

5. What worries, if any, do you have about the future of radiology? If none, where do you think the field is going?

It's difficult to know where health care will be financially and technologically in five years, and that uncertainty has worried many in our profession. Despite concerns about declining reimbursement, radiology plays an important role in medicine, and can remain relevant well into the future. Radiology practice is moving away from anecdotal approaches towards greater uniformity and consistency. I envision that radiology will become more quantitative and evidence-based, and will find ways to link imaging findings with genes, gene-expression profiles, and disease prognosis. We can help lead in "precision medicine." At Penn, we're exploring intriguing opportunities to integrate radiology and pathology to improve workflow and diagnosis. 

6. What one thing would make your job better?

Chocolate.

7. What is your favorite thing about radiology?

The people. Over the course of my career at the Medical College of Wisconsin and now at Penn, my favorite thing has been working with great colleagues, both locally and worldwide, who have shared their enthusiasm, dedication, and knowledge. Working with residents and fellows is tremendously energizing; these younger members of our profession bring great energy and talent, and give one great hope for our specialty's future. 

8. What is your least favorite thing about radiology?

Sitting alone in a windowless room with only a computer (to view images) and a microphone (to dictate reports). I really enjoy consulting with colleagues, teaching residents and fellows, and interacting with patients. Obviously, interpreting imaging studies is a central part of what we do, but I value the diversity of an academic practice that involves clinical work, teaching, research, and helping advance our profession through professional organizations.

9. What is the field’s biggest obstacle?

Radiology has been hugely successful, especially in the past decade, and one danger of success is complacency. All of us must work to assure that what we do is truly relevant and useful to our patients – and that the value of our contribution is recognized. 

10. If you could give the radiology specialty one piece of advice, what would it be?

We think that radiology depends on our eyes, but having worked an on-call weekend with laryngitis, I can state emphatically that we depend on our voice as well. I'd encourage my colleagues to pay attention to language. Our referring colleagues, and increasingly our patients, read what we say, and depend on it to make decisions. The clarity of our writing is critical. 

Is there someone in the imaging community that you want to hear from? E-mail us their name and we'll ask them 10 questions.

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