A Stern Radiologist

July 17, 2015

If only radiologists could learn to make incompetence in health care funny.

Fair warning to anyone with a knee-jerk negative response to the merest mention of Howard Stern: You might want to skip this one.

Myself, I think I fall somewhere between “listener” and “superfan.” A friend with a wonderful sense of humor introduced me to the Howard Stern show back when I was in grade school, but it wasn’t until university that I started tuning in. Even then, as my college town didn’t have good reception for stations broadcasting the show and such contrivances as satellite radio were years in the future, my listening was far from routine.

Still, circumstances improved, and by the time I was in residency I would get home from a 24-plus hour call shift, turn on the radio, and struggle to stay awake for just a few more precious minutes, since one never knew when “radio gold” would be struck.

If any of the anti-Stern folks forewarned above have made it this far, I am sure they have already determined that I tuned in due to a deep and abiding fondness for obscenity and the lowest forms of toilet humor, for what else did the show have to offer? Truth be told, I’m not sure I could have specified another motivation of mine until I had gone through a decade or so of practicing radiology in our dysfunctional health care machine.

Years which contained endless, often bruising reminders for young, motivated physicians like myself: You may have impressive talents and skills, and might be capable of great things if given the right resources and competent support from those around you…but you’re not going to get those things too often. So, either resign yourself to mediocrity, or be ready for a career of banging your head against the wall every time you know your potential is being hamstrung.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"39691","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_7864630279615","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3994","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":"float: right;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Gradually I saw some parallels: I had clipboard-wielding nurses and assorted hospital administrative types who didn’t understand a lick of medicine yet sought to ride herd on me. Stern had overbearing radio station execs and their minions hovering over “dump” buttons, ready to censor the life out of his work. I had technologists and office staff hindering rather than helping me; he had interns who bungled answering the phone and engineers who couldn’t be bothered to properly plug things in. I was trained to live in eternal fear of JCAHO and an alphabet-soup of other regulating entities. He was the FCC’s whipping boy of choice.

And yet, despite this never-ending parade of obstacles, he was winning. (In fact, he made his struggles against them a huge part of the entertainment.) He fought tooth and nail for it, and surely lost more than a little sleep in the process, but ultimately the formula of persistence, being good at what he did, and ability to adapt and improve couldn’t be held back.

Enough to give a still sorta-young physician, wondering at his role in the health care field, some hope. Perhaps all you really needed to do was keep on being a good doc, hold fast to what you knew was the right way to do things, maybe take some heat for it in the process…and, sooner or later, you would flourish. Even then, it might not be 100% easy street, but there might come a point in which you experience fewer bumps in the road.

In the meantime, I sometimes try cushioning the blows by imagining that, even if my struggles aren’t amusing me in the slightest, maybe my travails are entertaining someone else in the process. Perhaps I’ll name my next dictation macro “Bababooey” as a reminder to myself.