Pay No Attention To That Radiologist Behind The Curtain, Please

December 12, 2014

People don’t need to see the true representation of radiologists.

There’s been more than a little noise made about the importance of radiologists stepping out from behind the scenes. If not into the spotlight, then at least into the realm of public visibility. Reasons for this have been discussed ad nauseum elsewhere, not the least of which being that a profession generally stands a better chance of thriving when it can define itself, rather than letting others (especially would be manipulators or outright detractors) do so.

A fresher take on the old message has just been crafted by some of the folks at vRad, who cleverly noticed that, if you do internet searches for images and/or videos pertaining to “radiologist,” you turn up a lot of things that aren’t quite what those of us in the trenches have experienced in the field. A white paper and a video can be found here, and a selection of more prime time offerings here.

As a brief experiment, I tried the same sort of thing with a couple of other fields. First, I tried “surgeon”. Not too surprisingly, Google supplied dozens of images of scrub wearing, intent guys, magnifying, and/or illuminating doohickeys often adorning their brows, hard at work in the OR. Next, I tried “politician”. Well-dressed, earnest looking types, almost always talking, and frequently at a podium or (at least trying to be) center stage in some forum or another. Finally, “lawyer”. Again, well-dressed without exception, often standing in front of full bookshelves, smiling confidently.

One could argue that these results, also, were less than 100% representative. I’m not suggesting that there needed to be imagery of politicos lying through their teeth (not sure how you’d show that, anyway…maybe a video of their lips moving?), but surely a smirk here or a sneer there would have been fair game. Maybe a DC denizen with a droplet of drool visible at the corner of his mouth as a generous campaign donor hands him a fat check. In the interest of interspecialty harmony, I’ll refrain from comment as to what else might have been included in a true-to-life representation of some of our surgical colleagues.

All of which makes me wonder: Just how accurate do we want our depiction to be? When I think of how I’d like the public to perceive my profession, it gets me thinking less about how the truth needs outing, and more about how I wish my career could live up to what outsiders seem to believe.

I’d dearly love to be one of these fictional radiologists - well-rested, unhurried, having plenty of time to receive in-person, respectful referring clinicians in a spacious, clean, state-of-the-art reading room where things actually work as intended. I’d like to work alongside one of our fictional counterparts, too; they generally look cleaner and prettier than we do in real life, charismatic, and generally pleasant to be around.

As I envision the reality of my workplaces over the past decade, decidedly different imagery comes to mind. The radiologists are anything but well-rested, and instead of calm, cheerful, and confident, they increasingly tend to be edgy, irritable, and worried. Some of them look, smell, and/or behave in ways one might not ideally seek in a close-quarters coworker. There would also have to be a few images of rads borderline-screaming into their dictaphones after a dozen failed attempts to “train” the VR software to get something right.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"30247","attributes":{"alt":"radiologist","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_9337551794206","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3161","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: 160px; width: 240px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"Just your everyday radiologist. ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Perhaps the smell of stale coffee can’t be conveyed via Google just yet, but empty or abandoned cups on shelves and virtually any other available horizontal reading room surface can. Perhaps images can’t well depict an endlessly ringing phone, but a half-crazed rad poised over it with a hammer would work. Reading rooms cluttered with variably broken chairs, stacks of backlogged imaging studies, and virtually abandoned equipment that never quite seems to get fixed, sold, or trashed would be easy to depict.

So…yes, it would certainly be possible to have ourselves represented more accurately on the ever growing internet. The question is, how much of the truth do we really want to get out there?