Does Radiology Need a Little Blue Pill?

January 30, 2015

Radiologists can only do so much.

I have a good friend who has a theory that your various body parts have a limited number of uses, thus explaining the proliferation in joint replacements and “little blue pills.” I wonder if the same is true for the number of decisions a person can make in a career or the number of radiology reports one can read.

When I started out in radiology, the maximum number of images in a study was in the tens. Now, with CT and MR, the maximum number of images is in the hundreds and even thousands. The digitization of radiology has played a large role in this. In the days of matrix cameras and manually processed image cassettes, the fact that the techs had to load and unload matrix camera cassettes and insert the films in a processor was probably some deterrent to large studies, and I remember complaining to an ultrasound technologist that she wasn’t giving me enough images on the studies she was submitting back in those days. Nowadays, I feel like I’m viewing an ultrasound video frame by frame with image counts sometimes approaching a hundred. I know, be careful what you wish for.

At the end of a long day of reading imaging studies, I frequently feel like I can’t make any more decisions (much to my wife’s chagrin when she wants to know what I want for dinner). I want to believe that the quality of my decisions is as good as ever, but I am haunted by a statement I made half a dozen years ago when I made the decision to go part time. When asked how long I intended to practice part time, I said I didn’t know but believed once you cut back, the clock starts ticking and one’s ability begins to atrophy.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"31533","attributes":{"alt":"blue pills","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_7757579860016","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3329","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: 107px; width: 160px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

It is true that my sense of enjoyment practicing radiology was revived temporarily by being able to choose when and how often I worked, but the decreasing frequency of call and weekends made them even more unpleasant when they occurred as the months went by. I am sure that some groups have discovered ways of minimizing stress and increasing individual longevity. There are, after all, radiologists practicing into their 70s and I know of one in his mid-80s.

Most groups I have worked in believe that everyone has to pull their weight, and that means call and weekends. Perhaps implementing a shift system that limits the number of hours worked similar to airline pilots and truck drivers will prolong careers in the future. Perhaps someone will invent “a little blue pill” for radiologists. What do you think?