A Radiological Christmas Carol

December 16, 2013
Eric Postal, MD
Eric Postal, MD

Huddled in his reading room, Ebenezer Scrooge, DABR, encounters the ghosts of Radiology Past, Present and Future.

Huddled in his reading room, Ebenezer Scrooge, DABR, encounters the ghosts of Radiology Past, Present and Future.

Ebenezer Scrooge, DABR, huddled in his reading room on Christmas Eve, plowing through as many cases as he could from the multiple hospitals his group was covering. Dr. Scrooge covered call for more than his share of holidays; as usual, he took on extra shifts in an increasingly futile attempt to counterbalance his diminishing professional income.

The ghost of his former residency mate, Dr. Marley (who had died of an MI covering a similar callshift some years back), drifted into the room, and was disappointed at Scrooge’s failure to be particularly, for lack of a better term, spooked. Scrooge, relieved that the ghost wasn’t a clinician wanting to review a previously interpreted case, asked if Marley could perhaps come back for a proper haunting at a less hectic time.

“Look at you,” Marley scolded. “Is this how we were supposed to be spending our professional lives? Chasing down fragments of RVUs like workers on an assembly line? I’m here to help you learn from my mistakes - ” but he caught Scrooge’s eyes darting back towards the monitors, and vanished with a ghostly harrumph.

The Ghost of Radiology Past appeared some time later. A well-fed, jolly sort in a lab coat marked by stains of contrast, blood, and other unidentifiable splotches, he tried to tell Scrooge what a wonderful world radiology had been in his day, and how its physicians had been blessed to be in it. Wizards of cutting-edge technology, intellectually satisfied by case after case, they didn’t even need to think about how they’d get by - you couldn’t help but be a huge financial success, even if you were doing nothing but double-reading mammos and a few X-rays each day.

Scrooge, of course, had already heard more than enough about how he’d missed out on the Golden Age, and gave the ghost such a sour look that the spirit beat a hasty retreat.

The Ghost of Radiology Present turned up in time, looking decidedly more weary and weather-beaten, in a business suit but nevertheless unkempt. Sounding less convinced of his own story than his predecessor, he acknowledged that, yes, things weren’t as wonderful as they once were, but the field was still a good place to be. There was life in the old thing yet, don’t you know, and if you just lowered your expectations, worked a couple dozen more hours per week, and ratcheted up your productivity, good things could still happen for you. Eventually you might get rewarded with a spot on an influential committee of some sort, or an administrative appointment.

This was no news to Scrooge, who was entirely frustrated and bored with the Radiology Present. He didn’t even bother to glare at the ghost, which, accustomed to falling short of its goals, vanished without another peep.

The Ghost of Radiology Future, on the other hand, got Dr. Scrooge’s attention. This spirit was the picture of prosperity and health (as much as can be said for a nonliving entity), comfortably yet fashionably casual in attire, well-rested and with a golden tan that might have been straight from the beaches of a five-star Caribbean resort.

Scrooge not only fully turned away from his current CT, but spoke first:

“I have to say, you’re a welcome surprise. I was expecting some desperate, ragged figure, all set to tell me about how much worse my profession is about to get. But it looks like there are good times ahead for us!”

With a relaxed, confident smile, the ghost gave a confirmatory nod. (Readers may recall that the Ghost of Christmas Future, also, didn’t talk much.)

“Well, please, I’m all ears!” Scrooge exclaimed. “How does a radiologist do so well for himself in the future?”

The ghost produced a shiny business card holder, worthy of the “American Psycho” movie, and handed Scrooge one of its contents. The card read:

G.R. Future, MD, DABRMedical Liability Care ReviewsPolitical AdvocacyConsultations for Hospital or Group PracticesProfessional Mediations

Scrooge looked back up at the Ghost. “Well, it looks like you’re keeping busy. How do you have any time left over to read actual cases?”

The ghost had a good laugh at the notion, and, before vanishing, fondly patted him on the shoulder, in much the same way as one might for a student who, though slow at first, finally seemed to be learning his lesson.