A Radiology Life
About This Hub
I am a radiologist. I chose this career path because I love reading radiographs, MRIs, ultrasounds, CTs, and nuclear medicine studies. It is an extremely rewarding profession, but is it right for everyone? In the article below, I have attempted to outline pros and cons of a career in radiology, and hopefully it will help you decide for yourself if it is the right choice for you.
Great Things About Being a Radiologist
The best reason to become a radiologist is because you like looking at images to solve a problem. You also have to draw on the vast amount of information you have learned and have stored in your brain. This makes the radiologist somewhat of a detective, and solving the mystery is, understandably, very rewarding. Furthermore, there are very few "well visits" in radiology. In other words, unless we are talking about screening mammograms, radiology studies are generally ordered because there is problem that needs solving. This makes the likelihood of making an interesting diagnosis much higher than a primary care doc doing "checkups" on healthy patients. Someone told me a story years ago that the primary care physician used to be the main "detective" in medical care. They would assess a patient's history and physical exam, use this to order appropriate laboratory tests, and ultimately render a diagnosis. As imaging has become more advanced, that "eureka" factor has now been granted to radiologists, who can look at an image and make the exciting diagnosis. Again, very rewarding.
Helping Tons of People
In what part of medicine can you help more patients? I look at anywhere between 50 to 150 studies in a given day, and I try to contribute meaningfully to each patient's care in my report. What could be better from a high-volume, feel-good approach. That primary care physician or surgeon can't make this claim...
Many people think a radiologist sits in a dark room all day. Nothing could be further from the truth. I get to do so many different things during a day, that I never get bored. The variety of studies I read by itself keeps me interested, and yes, I do this part in the relative dark. But I also get to talk to patients when I perform image-guided procedures on them. I will stick a needle in almost anything, as CT or ultrasound allows me to see where I am going and minimizes danger. I do lung biopsies, abscess drainages, abdominal and retroperitoneal biopsies, thoracentesis, paracentesis, spinal taps, joint injections, bone biopsies, breast biopsies and thyroid biopsies. There are tons more as well. You don't necessarily have to do or be able to do all of these procedures as a radiologist, but it is a fun part of the job that I like.
Not-So-Great Things About Being a Radiologist
Getting Pushed Around
Everyone thinks that surgeons get their way because they are the ones that yell the loudest. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and all that, right? Well, no. I guarantee you if a radiologist made the same demands that a surgeon did, they would be laughed out of the hospital administrator's office. And the same goes for emergency medicine docs, hospitalists, and any other type of physician that doesn't bring patients into the hospital. Radiologists read the images, but they don't order them, nor do they attract new patients to the hospital. Sure, a radiology group can have a great reputation in a community, but at the end of the day, they are replaceable.
So generally, radiologists have to take whatever the hospital gives them, and not put up too much of a fight. While there is always a risk that surgeons will say "forget you" and take their valuable patients elsewhere, radiologists don't have the same bargaining power.
The Business That Is Not A Real Business
Picture a business where the owner doesn't employ most of the workers, so they can't hire or fire the ones they like and dislike, respectively. The business can charge whatever they like, but they get paid pretty much what someone else decides. Some services they have to give out for free.
Sound crazy? Well, the business I just described is medicine. Nurses and technologists are typically employed by the hospital, and while they are generally supposed to do what doctors tell them, the docs don't have any real decision-making power here. Physician groups charge for services, but they generally only get paid a percentage of what Medicare will pay. If a patient comes in with an emergency, the medical work is done first (as it should be), but the physicians (or hospital) may never get paid for the work if the patient can't pay. Who, in their right business mind, would get into this type of business?
Unless you work exclusively in an outpatient imaging center, it is likely call will be a part of your duties as a radiologist. Hospitals are always open, always doing imaging studies on inpatients and ER patients, and someone always needs to be available to interpret them. So as a radiologist, you may find yourself working until 10 pm (or even overnight) on a regular basis. It gets a little lonely and depressing that late at night, and it's not for everyone.
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It's A Personal Choice
At the end of the day, it's up to you whether you want to embark on the career journey that is medicine, and specifically radiology. Don't make the choice lightly, as it takes a lot of hard work and long years to get there. I hope some of the discussion points I have provided help you make the decision that is right for you.