Seven Personal Truths from Charting My Own Radiological Course

Building a career for the long haul requires a foundation of good life and work habits as well as an openness to innovation and change.

Once you notice certain things, they suddenly seem to be everywhere. Theses things are often annoying. One thing that I noticed a few years back was the tendency of tabloids (and subsequently my Internet news feeds) to have headlines hyping numerical lists. Chances are that you have seea few of these headlines. 12 ways to lose weight before the holidays! 7 habits of highly successful people! 13 actors you've completely forgotten about but are still out there!

Partially, it got under my skin because I wanted to know how the industry had glommed onto this gimmick, and why they knew it would be successful. Did they just stumble across it, or had psychological types somewhere figured out that it was a semi-magical formula for attracting readers?

I still don't know, but clearly it works because it is still going strong. Near as I can tell, there aren't certain numbers that work better than others. This is kind of funny since many of these lists include pure fluff, or things that anybody would know without reading the pieces. Why include three wasteful items in your list of nine when a headline boasting six would have done just as well?

Whatever the case, I figured I might as well make use of the trick for one of my blogs. My radiological career hasn't exactly been traditional, so perhaps my perspective from off the beaten path will be of interest to those who remained on it.

1) Use nobody's scorecard but your own. I could have sworn I wrote a blog about this at some point, but a search of my records indicates otherwise. Your motivations and metrics for professional success, career satisfaction, etc. should be the ones that guide you. Whether you are an academician or private practitioner, onsite or telerad, diagnostician or interventionalist., feel no shame or pressure if someone who chose a different path takes a poke at yours. (Don't go poking at colleague career choices. It's not a good look.)

2) It's a marathon, not a sprint. Unless you happen to hit the lottery or find other reason to retire early, you're in this career for the long haul. Multiply whatever conditions you're thinking of enduring (or enjoying) by a pragmatic factor of forever. Perfect situations are vanishingly rare, and holding out for one isn't a great strategy. try to think about which seemingly minor "I can put up with this for now" imperfections today will evolve into "I can't take this anymore" in a few months or even years.

3) Cultivate (and maintain) good habits. You probably can't remember the first few times you read any particular type of study in residency, but chances are you recognize how much more efficiently, quickly, and accurately you do it now. Part of what happened was that you developed good habits. These may include a search pattern when looking at the actual images, hanging protocols and dication macros that work best for you, etc. When a good habit is ingrained, it takes less energy and effort but habits can be unlearned too. Be on guard against slacking off. For instance, some may consider skipping review of sagittal and coronal recons if the axials looked totally normal. However, not doing it once or twice can lead to doing it rarely if at all. Also, it doesn't matter how old and wise you get. New good habits can always be learned.

4) That goes for non-radiological stuff too. You could have the best set of professional skills out there, but that radiological brick house isn't going to remain all that impressive if it's missing a decent foundation. Short yourself on sleep, eat bad (or too much) food, or fail to get regular exercise, and it will impact the rest of your performance. Such things are perfect examples of habits trumping conscious effort. If getting to bed on time is part of your routine, you'll do it far more automatically and reliably than if it's a nightly toss-up whether you notice the clock while you're rewatching your favorite movie for the gazillionth time.

5) Be outstanding in the easy ways. One tends to compete with others of similar capability. It doesn't matter if you're a rad, an engineer, or a professional athlete. Aside from the extreme outliers (at both the superstar and scrub ends of the spectrum), there's usually very little individual difference in performance. If everybody in your practice reads with 99 percent accuracy, for instance, how likely is it you'll be celebrated for doing 99.1 percent? So don't let that be the only feather in your cap. Choose easier ways. Show up on time, answer emails or return phone-calls promptly, and generally make dealing with you a pleasure. You might be amazed how many colleagues get left in your dust.

6) Embrace change. An awful lot of people can't. They cling to what is known, whether from a considered appraisal of the devil they know, or simpler things like ignorance of what else is out there and laziness against pursuing it. The more one has to lose, it seems, the stronger the inclination to "stand pat." A lot of opportunities can be missed this way and, not uncommonly, the status quo gradually deteriorates even as folks cling to it. Don't needlessly imprison yourself. Throw out the excuses and be willing to consider the potential of new opportunities.

7) Learn non-radiological things. It can be tricky to find time for anything extra given the hours some rads can pull, especially when you count in ancillary obligations like CME. The "lifestyle" things I mentioned above (adequate sleep, exercise, even a social life) also take chunks out of the day. But try to find opportunities to "feed your head” as the song says. In addition to the value of simply broadening your mind, you never know when some of the stuff you pick up might synergize with your professional life. Building a "talent stack," as podcaster/author/artist Scott Adams writes, can come back to benefit you in all sorts of ways.