Why I Became a Radiologist

November 8, 2012

To recognize International Day of Radiology, we asked radiologists why they chose radiology. Here’s what they had to say.

Today is the first International Day of Radiology, an initiative aimed at calling attention to radiology’s valuable contribution to patient care. The day, which marks the 117th anniversary of the discovery of the X-ray, is being organized by the ACR, ECR, and RSNA as a day of action and awareness. 

To recognize International Day of Radiology, we asked radiologists why they chose this specialty. The following are their responses. We welcome your insights in the comments section.

“I can’t for the life of me understand why everyone doesn’t want to be a radiologist.” 

I said it again yesterday. I’ve said it over and over for as many years as I can remember every time a new medical student or clinical resident comes on my service.

It got me to thinking about why I chose radiology on the first place. I was tremendously influenced by an energetic, dynamic attending when I did a third year clerkship at a crossroads in my career path choice. This specialty was exciting with requisite knowledge of all kinds of diseases in all kinds of patients of all ages.

These rads were the ultimate detectives figuring out what was wrong with people when others were challenged. They could actually see inside patients in a manner no others could. It was fun to come to work (or school) as a radiologist. I had never experienced that before and I wanted that feeling for the rest of my career.

Now it’s all about staying a radiologist. My gosh, could any specialty be any better? I think not! We have the most dynamic specialty there is. We experience patients on a cyberspace level unlike any other. We interact with colleagues in the most cerebral, intellectually stimulating way possible. We get to tell them what is wrong (or right) with their patients without having to deal with the challenges posed by directly caring for those same patients, so that we can go on and solve other issues for other physicians, and so on.

I still for the life of cannot understand why everyone doesn’t want to be a radiologist, but boy am I glad they don’t.

- Ken Keller, MD, FACR, medical director of the Department of Radiology at Trinity Health in Minot, ND

My decision to go into radiology was not something I planned from childhood. During medical school I gravitated to the physicians who were the most happiest about their profession. Most of those physicians were radiologists.

I am very happy with my choice and enjoy coming to work every day. Not only do I have the privilege of helping my peers with diagnosing clinically difficult cases but I also have the ability to perform minimally invasive procedures.

As a radiologist, I do not just focus on one body part, rather I focus on the whole body and need to know details of every organ in the body. In many instances I may be the first to diagnose a problem such as in diagnosing breast cancer.

- Vikash Panghaal, MD, MBA, private practice radiologist

From my earliest memory I wanted to become a physician. Imagine my surprise on making it to medical school and learning that I had to choose what kind of physician to be. Because of a misguided experiment by my medical school to shorten school by a year by having a twelve-month curriculum, I only had two clinical rotations (pediatrics and internal medicine) before having to submit my application for my postgraduate training match.

Since one of the pediatric professors told me I would make a good pediatrician and the internal medicine professors didn’t even know my name, I chose pediatrics. During medical school I never knew radiology existed. We were shown X-rays, of course, primarily by orthopedic surgeons. The darkening of the room as the slideshow began affected me like a tranquillizer dart. During my pediatric training I encountered my first radiologists.

The radiologists at the Children’s Hospital were great teachers. They were intelligent, calm, nicely dressed, well-rested, and wore cool red goggles before they did fluoroscopy. I will never forget responding to a code in the fluoroscopy room. While we resuscitated the child, the radiologist would occasionally step on the pedal and pronounce, “The heart is still beating.” What panache!

Although it wasn’t a regular elective rotation, I asked if I could spend a month with the radiologists, and I was hooked. I was definitely a visual learner and radiology seemed all visual. Even though these were the low-tech days of radiology, the fact that radiology touched all specialties, seemingly made all the diagnoses, and happened in a darkened, climate-controlled room with a comfortable chair appealed to the young, sleep-deprived, house-staff physician that was me.

- Douglas G. Burnette, Jr, MD, CFP®, part-time radiologist and wealth manager

I love trains. My father worked for the railroad (CB&Q/Burlington/Burlington Northern/BNSF) all of his life. I was lined up to get my business degree in college and follow my father’s footsteps. My older brother, Bob, was a chief technologist and worked in nuclear medicine. In my senior year in high school he showed me around his department and introduced me to the world of radiology.

Instead of going into getting my bachelor’s in business, I went to Seattle University and got my bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine. I was a technologist and then a chief technologist before getting into medical school. While I gave every other specialty and subspecialty a good look during my medical rotations, radiology kept calling to me. Three radiologists, Dipak Shah, MD, Akhtar Ashraf, MD and Fong Tsai, MD, set the final hook by demonstrating their enthusiasm in their own choice of radiology as a career.

I have found over the years that radiology is multifaceted, with a reach that touches every other specialty from OB to forensic pathology. The detective work involved in going from symptoms to diagnosis never loses interest for me. Each day brings new areas and levels of complexity. And, knowing I am an integral part of a patient’s care brings me great satisfaction. But, I would have say, I still love trains.

- Timothy V. Myers, MD, private practice radiologist with Peacefield Radiology and director of professional services at vRad

In the late 1970s I was destined to become a surgeon. Half-way through my surgery residency I learned about an interesting new technique showing some potential promise: MRI. Most of life depends on what horse you choose to ride. So I jumped off surgery and moved to radiology without ever looking back. And it turned out MRI became quite a ride!

- Allen D. Elster, MD, FACR, neuroradiology professor, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

When I was a fourth-year medical student, I was having a difficult time deciding which area of medicine to choose for my career. I took a radiology elective in September, not even thinking of radiology as a possibility. I was focused on my limited choices, and the areas I did not like in medicine.

I did not want to be a pediatrician because I did not want to be in a traditionally female practice. I had a difficult experience on surgery rotation and crossed it off the list of possibilities. Obstetrics and gynecology was unappealing. I did not receive an endorsement from the internal medicine department and could not apply for residency positions without the recommendation of the chairman of the internal medicine department.

I didn’t know about radiology and pathology and had not considered them. With such limitations, I was planning to graduate from medical school and move to another career.

I was privileged to spend a week in emergency radiology with a gentleman who helped me to choose radiology. Dr. Stuart Eisenberg was my attending for the week. He asked me what I was planning to do for a residency. I explained my difficulties in choosing a career path.

Dr. Eisenberg listened carefully as I described all the problems I had encountered in the third year medical school rotations. When I finished, he asked if I had considered radiology as a possibility. He said he thought I had a good eye for discovering abnormalities.

With a sense of relief, I applied for residency positions in radiology. I took a second elective in radiology later in my fourth year and found the discipline interesting, just as I had on my first rotation. When the match came in March of my fourth year, I matched with the Medical College of Virginia. I was elated.

I have had the opportunity to continue learning throughout my career, both with improvements in technology and with discoveries about the appearances of disease processes with various imaging techniques. I have taught residents, explained procedures and findings to patients and discussed imaging findings with doctors. I give thanks to Dr. Eisenberg for his help, gently steering me to a career I love.

- Jane Clayton, MD, works in mixed private and academic practice

I became a radiologist because as a radiologist you are not limited to one part of the body or one disease process. My field of nuclear medicine has the added advantage of using physiologic processes - sometimes down to the molecular level - to answer medical questions. Add in the exciting and always changing technology, and it makes for a most exciting and challenging specialty.

- Gary L. Dillehay, MD, FACNM, FACR, Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging President-Elect