A Rad for All Seasons: Developing a 'Talent Stack' Outside of Radiology

Having interests outside of one’s chosen profession provides more of a multifaceted perspective and potentially more door-opening opportunities in the future.

I was recently contacted as a prospective guest for a radiology podcast. Evidently, they noticed this blog of mine, and thought my perspective e would be worthwhile. I was flattered and had a phone call with their organizer in advance of the actual recording, which may be scheduled for some time this week.

Courtesy of many years listening to the Howard Stern show, I know a thing or two about behind-the-scenes stuff. "Pre-interviews" commonly go over what a guest has to offer so the host will know the lay of the land in order to focus on the interesting stuff and avoid conversational landmines, etc.

I had these expectations for the phone call, but it turned out to be just a brief touchpoint to ensure I was interested in going on the podcast and to answer any questions I might have. I suggested they send me a list of points of interest, lest I go on the show and proceed to bore the heck out of everyone. Just because I know my way around a keyboard doesn't guarantee I would be good on the air.

Not yet having that list, I found myself thinking about what I might say off the cuff. It is a notion I've had for the past couple of years: Someone (Dale Carnegie, maybe) semi-famously said that everybody should have at least one interesting 10-minute talk they're capable of giving on the spot without any prep. What would I do with my 10 minutes?

I could speak about all sorts of things -- and not just for 10 minutes -- but what should I choose for maximum interest? It would somewhat depend on the audience. A nitty-gritty talk about radiology stuff would do a lot better on this podcast than it would at a get-together of my HOA.

A lot of folks would be apt to talk about career-related topics. These topics would likely convey their hard-won skills and experiences most worthy of showcasing (or lamenting). It should be no big surprise that when I imagine speaking, it is to an audience of medical (or aspiring medical) types. For instance, I have sometimes imagined guest lecturing at my old med school or residency program.

However, I am not anything resembling an academic. I don't consider myself cutting-edge on any particular aspect of clinical radiology. Given some prep time, I could present on venous thrombosis or the Bosniak classification system for renal cysts, but so could anybody else with a modicum of training. My personal experience would contribute nothing unique to the event.

If people are expecting me to share my perspective as a rad, what do I do? While I am inclined to talk about how I practice radiology for a living and daresay I do it well, I don't consider "radiologist" as my core identity. Further, I encourage others to do the same.

That might not sound like a groundbreaking, "Who would ever think of it" kind of attitude nowadays but to me, it doesn't seem all that long ago that people conceived of themselves in terms of what they did for a living. I imagine a lot still do. It can define one's attitudes, actions, and even his or her personality. I recall a time when, if a physician didn't act stereotypically doctorly, he or she might be regarded as anything from a likable eccentric to a dangerous crackpot.

Some folks, of course, still identify by whatever it is they do for a living, and Godspeed to any for whom that still works. Perhaps if I lived in a small town and the traditional career path was reliably available in my neck of the woods (earn partnership in your first post-training job, stay there till retirement, become a pillar of the community, etc.), I would be one of them.

With my zig-zagging career (details known to my longtime readers), however, such a self-conception might leave me with some serious life dissatisfaction. Maintaining and developing other interests has been a better path for a couple of reasons.

First, it just keeps things interesting. I think I would be bored if I saw radiology as my defining aspect. Keeping physically fit, traveling, remaining active in my geeky pursuits of videogames and comic books, and maintaining my other intellectual activities such as writing this blog are more than occasional hobbies. Under the right circumstances, just about any one of them could step in to fill the void if rad became a diminished role in my life.

Second, it's adaptive to have more than one thing in your "talent stack," a phrase coined by author/podcaster Scott Adams. If rad is all you are and all you have, you have got few to no options if its doors ever close to you (Artificial intelligence engulfs the field, you lose your vision, government takes over even more of health care and declares it will pay you pennies on the dollar, etc.). In addition to having very pragmatic concerns about how to make ends meet, you might tailspin into a full-on existential crisis.

However, if you have other arrows in your quiver and you are more easily able to identify yourself by them rather than exclusive reliance on your career in rad, you always have options. You're a "rad for all seasons." I don't know that I would necessarily take my fitness knowhow and go become a personal trainer, or find myself a full-time writing job, but just knowing I could would be a major reassurance.

Further, the real power of a "talent stack" is that you can combine facets of your identity to be something unique. There are a lot of radiologists, of course, and there are a lot of writers, but how many people can do both? The intersection of those circles on a Venn diagram is a comparatively small pool. Doors open to that sliver may not be accessible for those outside of it. If your talent stack is unique enough, you might just be able to create your own door.