Guest Editorial: Radiology’s identity crisis

By C. Douglas Phillips, MD, FACR
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Dr. Phillips is a Professor in the Departments of Radiology, Neurosurgery, and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and the Director of the Division of Neuroradiology in the Department of Radiology, University of Virginia Health Systems, Charlottesville, VA.He is also a member of the editorial board of this journal.

The other day, I was thinking about how I would describe my average workday to a lay person-let's call him John Q. Public (JQP). JQP has little knowledge of medicine, or radiology, specifically.

Me: "Well, most of the day I look at pictures, and then I talk into a microphone about what I see. Occasionally, I go stick needles into people and inject them with a compound that is both safe and heavily iodinated, or perhaps safe and swimming with gadolinium, or maybe safe but radioactive. Occasionally, I just look at the pictures to figure out what is wrong with something and other times I make pictures of the things that are wrong, fix them, and then take more pictures." Confused yet?

JQP: "Man, I have no earthly idea what you do. It sounds weird. Did you say 'radioactive'?"

Me: "Well, I really am a doctor. I finished medical school. Honest."

Long pause…

JQP: "Okay, well, that explains the sticking needles in people, and maybe the fixing part."

Me: "Yeah, I'm a special kind of doctor. One who is really good at looking at pictures and finding things that are wrong."

You must admit this is an obvious truth; we radiologists have an unusual job, difficult to explain to "JQP."

How many of you have been referred to as a technologist ? How many of you have been called a radio-ologist ? How many of you have been asked where the water fountain or bathroom is? Our specialty gets modest, at best, respect. We're the folks responsible for that last line in the bill from that recent hospital stay, and no one in the family has any remote idea which doctor you were. "Was that the guy who pulled your tube out?" You know what I'm saying.

I actually think that radiology has had reasonable exposure in movies, TV, and popular culture. Unfortunately, most of the time, someone who could not possibly be doing the task is performing it on screen-certainly not a radiologist. It's usually ER docs, surgeons, technologists, Frasier, etc. My favorite scene with a real honest-to-goodness radiologist is in the movie Altered States , where a lateral neck radiograph at the Brigham is taken for interpretation. Mason Parrish (as played by Charles Haid) says to Eddie Jessup (William Hurt): "I'm gonna' show these to someone who can read them right, 'cause you're reading them wrong, that's all there is to it… I'm gonna' show these to a radiologist!"

Ha! I love it. That guy knew his specialties and his limitations. You know what would be great? We need a song. If we were just mentioned in a song or two we'd get some recognition. The song should swing, with a real catchy, hopefully danceable rhythm. Or, maybe we need someone to be our spokesperson. What we need is Bob, the gruff but lovable radiologist. "Hey, you kids get away from that PET scanner!" Maybe we need a recurring character on Barney, or Teletubbies . I think we have to get to them when they're young, before they can walk. An alternative might be a weekly spot on the Today show, or, even better, Oprah . I'd stay away from The View , however. That's just my opinion.

It would be nice to be viewed in a positive light and not necessarily the glow from a flat-screen workstation.

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Guest Editorial: Radiology’s identity crisis.  Appl Radiol. 

March 19, 2007
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