On my first day of Radiology residency, I was assigned a pager and a white coat with my name embroidered on it. I chuckled along with my fellow first-year radiology residents. “What are we supposed to do with these? Does anybody ever page a radiologist? What, will they want us to carry stethoscopes too?”
Now two months later, I find myself clinging dearly to any remnant or semblance of my former doctorhood!
It’s an abrupt and humbling change of pace, becoming a radiologist. Of all the medical specialties, this one is hands-down the hardest because it really is like nothing I’ve ever done in medical school, and I’m starting from scratch with minimal foundation from my previous education. I remember the daunting, sinking feeling I had while being told during orientation, “Don’t give up. You will see your senior residents nonchalantly spewing out diagnoses that you have never even heard of. Just keep studying.” After being at this so intensely for 5 years, how could there still be anything in medicine that I’ve never heard of?!
Only a couple weeks prior to this, as an Internal Medicine intern, I was running the hospital, making big decisions, receiving thanks left and right for saving patients’ lives, and frequently being reminded by my attendings how I was wasting my talent by going over to “the dark side.” Then all of a sudden, I was stripped of all my glory and confined to a dark room all day, doing something I sucked at and being told again that I was entitled to stupidity. To make matters worse, my first rotation was Fluoroscopy, which is not even like the rest of Radiology. The work involves acrobatic photography and heavy machinery; learning it is like learning to ride a bike in Boston during rush hour. Everyone was kind in helping me, but I couldn’t help anyone. My only dignity rested in micromanaging the lives of the Internal Medicine interns calling me for consultations; it was a pittance of consolation.
Since the beginning of July, I’ve been aching to be a good doctor again. All the studying is helping, but there is something more to be gained by experience—and in that regard, the years can’t pass quickly enough for my taste.
Thankfully, the learning curve is insanely steep, which means that I am constantly reaching new summits as I clamber my way up. It seems that every couple days I can look back and say I am drastically better than I was before. I owe a lot of this to the help of my senior residents; I am so impressed by them, and I’ve improved so much while trying to emulate them. The long list of things I’ve come to terms with over the last few weeks includes: abdominal radiographs, operating fluoroscopes, dictating reports when other people can hear, shouting out answers in large conferences, and talking to surgeons.
And lumbar punctures! Four weeks ago, I asked my neuroradiology fellow if I could observe him doing a lumbar puncture. An hour later, he insisted that I get right to performing my first lumbar puncture. I struggled through the next few, usually trumped by attendings who had the nasty habit of jumping in to complete the procedure. One attending asked in front of an already-nervous patient, “Does she even know how to use the fluoroscope?” I filed away these notable memories and kept asking for more. I just wanted to be good at something, even if it was something everyone else considered simple. In the second week, my goal was to do one without any physical help, and then without verbal help. In the third week, I started teaching my medical student to do the procedure. In the fourth week, I got to teach an attending who was out of practice. I went so far as to cut my own umbilical cord, telling my neuro fellow that I didn’t need him anymore (which I only hoped was true, knowing he wouldn’t let me live it down if it wasn’t). On my last day of the rotation, I did the whole thing alone within ten minutes, surprising an attending who had walked away expecting to see me still struggling when he got back.
Back when I first chose Radiology, I was attracted to “the intellectual challenge of having familiar concepts swept out from under my feet,” and now I get exactly what I wished for. Fluoroscopy is over. On Monday, I’ll be starting out as an idiot again; new rotation, new learning curve. I expect the stupidity cycle will continue for about six months before I get to revisit something I already know. At this rate, I guess I am starting to see how, in four years, I could totally be nonchalantly spewing out unheard-of diagnoses too.