Untapped Talent

December 7, 2012

Many radiologists can bring their non-interpretative skills to bear in the workplace, in ways both intellectually satisfying and financially rewarding.

“So you’re a radiologist? What does that entail?”

Although styles may vary, most in our field will respond to such queries with more or less the same information. We interpret, and sometimes acquire, medical images. We use them to provide diagnosis and possibly therapy. Whether we sum this up in a cute little quip (“Art appreciation for doctors,” for instance), or a rambling diatribe that makes the questioner’s eyes glaze over, we’re talking about the sum-total of what our education and training have enabled us to do.

Now think back to your pre-medical school CV. You know, when you still called it a “résumé.” There was a lot of stuff on those pages, wasn’t there? Probably not too much about how brilliantly you could size up a CT or examine an X-ray. No, you had to toot your own horn in other ways.

Of course, the focus was on what a hardworking student you were, and how stratospheric your grades and test scores trended. But it was also important to be well-rounded - meaning that you were good at, or at least interested in, other things, even (gasp!) non-academic stuff.

While this may have seemed a horrible chore at the time, it’s not unexpected that a couple of decades of life would produce skills a little more diverse than absorbing the contents of textbooks and acing standardized tests. Especially in the population of young folks with the capability and determination to eventually get into the competitive field we now occupy.

Many of these extracurricular skills may have fallen by the wayside during the subsequent decade-plus of graduate and postgraduate life (I, for instance, have experienced a distinct lack of fencing and tuba-playing subsequent to college). Some of them, however, may have undergone further refinement, and entirely new interests have been known to develop, even in minds overstuffed with medical knowledge and preoccupied by the logistics of being professionally successful.

In fact, while I’m sure there are plenty of radiologists out there who could happily do nothing more than interpret studies at a workstation for the entirety of their careers, I suspect there is a very healthy population of docs who have notions as to how their non-interpretative skills could be brought to bear in the workplace, in ways both intellectually satisfying to them and financially rewarding (to their practices, if not directly to themselves).

A radiologist with the gift of gab might be ideal for courting prospective referrers, or maintaining good relations with current ones. Someone with a mind for numbers is great for wrangling with financial aspects of the practice. A computer-savvy sort could be involved with decisions regarding PACs upgrades and support-contracts. A wordsmith is useful for composing important correspondence, whether for internal circulation or communications external to the practice.

Even tangential skills may have value. For instance, a doc on the team who happens to be a wizard at chess or other games of strategy might be good to involve in planning future moves for the business.

There are obstacles to realizing such untapped potential. One would be on the part of the individual radiologist, thinking he or she has no skills of potential use or simply preferring to focus on clinical stuff. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this; assuming the group is in good shape, there’s likely no shortage of such work to go around.

A more frequent impediment is the failure of leadership to encourage and make use of such ancillary skills in the non-command staff. This can be an unintentional oversight. It can also be part of a “just shut up and read the scans” overtone (whether or not punctuated by the crack of a whip), wherein the radiologists are interchangeable cogs in the machinery of the practice; anything that takes away from their RVU-generation is unwelcome.