Radiology Journals: A Little Light Reading

May 24, 2013
Eric Postal, MD

My stacks of unread radiology journals are growing taller and more numerous each month. But I can’t toss them and I don’t want to forgo the printed journals.

In my first semester of college, I was introduced to the phrase “the stacks” in reference to a library. It was counterintuitive, as I thought stacks to be vertical affairs, rather than horizontal rows such as with books on a shelf. Well, I have some stacks of my own now, and mine are vertical. Specifically, they are stacks of radiology journals.

They started accumulating while I was in residency, and thus had free memberships to more organizations than I could easily enumerate. Each supplied me with a monthly publication (some produced more than one). Between the less-than-idle schedule of a postgraduate trainee and a host of textbooks to study, I tended to read issues at a pace far below that at which they arrived in my mail.

The notion of trashing any without at least a brief perusal seemed blasphemous - could I just throw away tangible medical knowledge? When I was paying hundreds per year for similar knowledge that was bound with slightly harder covers? Surely not!

So I reconciled myself to the plan of gradually accumulating a collection of these things, at least until I was done with residency and/or fellowship, at which point I would have more time, catch up with my backlog, and subsequently remain current.

Well, it’s almost a decade later, and my stacks have grown taller and more numerous, rather than dwindling. I can at least say that they aren’t growing as fast as they once did. I tend to get through two to three issues in a good month (assuming I don’t encounter a novel I’d rather read instead, which can set me back).

I originally planned to catch up from the oldest issues and work towards the most current, but that hasn’t panned out; for one thing, the newest are easier to grab, being on the tops of the stacks. Also, given the choice between reading about radiological research, innovations, and techniques from this month versus stuff from 2006, I think the current issues might be a bit more relevant.

It has occurred to me that at some point, if I don’t ever get that deep into my backlog, the oldest journals at the bottom of my stacks will get antiquated enough as to be irrelevant to my daily practice and I might then feel better about tossing them without a brief skimming. When that might be, I have no idea. Perhaps I’ll eventually belong on that TV show “Hoarders.” There might be other folks like me; the show could do a specially-themed episode about academic types.

For now, the situation is manageable. I always have a handy source of reading material to grab when I’m traveling, or occasions when I’m going to have a lot of idle time (such as jury duty, for which I received notice just a couple of weeks ago). My cat’s also in no hurry to see the stacks disappear; some of them have formed a little fort on her favorite window seat, and she can nestle between them with the illusion that nobody knows where she is. I could even pretend that visitors to my home are impressed with the volumes of complex radiological lore they see hither and yon - although this would be more realistic if the journals weren’t in their unopened plastic mailers.

Environmentally-minded folks may point out that most of these publications are now available online, and that some radiological societies offer discounts in dues to members willing to forego actual printed copies. I have gone this route with my daily news; I can’t even recall the last time I actually bought a tangible newspaper.

I find it incredibly quick and easy to browse online news, typically over morning coffee while my brain is struggling to get into gear. If I feel like another update during the day, it takes no more than a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, just about the only journal feature I’ve ever gone through with that little an investment of time or brainpower was the classified section. Anything more substantial would involve a lengthier, more focused stint at my computer desk - and I spend enough time in front of a monitor for matters radiological as it is.