Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I definitively knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Every week, I would enviously wait and watch the garbage truck pull up to the curb, hoping one day that would be me. As I continued to grow up, I started playing sports, especially basketball. At the same time, the Chicago Bulls were rising from their mediocre ways on the back of Derrick Rose. Watching his explosive, silky playmaking, I realized my true calling was becoming the next star to lead the Chicago Bulls. Realizing my calling, I played as much basketball as I could, and as one does playing any sport, I started accumulating injuries here and there. The brutal limp to my bus stop in the morning after rolling my ankle helped me understand that good health is something to be grateful for. Most importantly, it also made me curious to learn more about how my body works. My curiosity, love for learning, and desire for service led me pursue a career in medicine. Once beginning medical school, I began the search of what specialty was the best fit for me with an open mind. Not knowing what was out there, I started reading specialty profiles on the AAMC website, talking to friends who were further along in their career (residents, attendings, or older medical students), and shadowing physicians in various specialties. Most people gave similar advice: first decide between surgery or medicine. Then, consider lifestyle, patient population and contact, and what different practices look like (private versus academic). Of all the phenomenal specialties I have come across, one has been a standout. If you haven’t guessed it already, this specialty is interventional radiology (IR). According to the AAMC, “An interventional radiologist combines competence in imaging, image-guided minimally invasive procedures, and periprocedural patient care to diagnose and treat benign and malignant conditions of the thorax, abdomen, pelvis, and extremities. Therapies include embolization, angioplasty, stent placement, thrombus management, drainage and ablation, among others.” As this description suggests, IR has a broad scope of practice. On any given day, an IR doctor may be embolizing a GI bleed, placing a nephrostomy tube, and then stenting an occluded vessel in an extremity. This requires immense understanding of the anatomy and physiology of each organ system they work with. From shadowing, I first-handedly saw just how knowledgeable the attendings were. Furthermore, despite being so knowledgeable, the attendings were humble, patient, and gave me time to help me learn.
After learning about IR, I went back and started to learn more about diagnostic radiology (DR). In my 9 th grade biology class, we had read an article detailing how radiologists would be replaced by robots, and due to that misguided belief, I had never considered radiology. In fact, I was terrified by the thought of dedicating the prime years of my life to train for a job that a robot would take over. Thankfully, my classmate’s parents who are radiologists helped learn that artificial intelligence would be a tool for radiologists to perform their jobs rather than replacing their jobs. Now that my fear was gone, I started reading, shadowing, and learning more about diagnostic radiology. Other misconceptions I dispelled along the way about radiologists was that they sit in dark, isolated rooms, never talk to patients, and have boring jobs. Dispelling my misconceptions about the role of technology in radiology, I have now begun to appreciate how useful these tools are. Additionally, it is exciting to join a specialty that is on the cutting edge of technology and is continually developing new treatments and techniques. For example, a mentor of mine, an IR attending, was explaining that when he was training, clots in the brain were removed via mechanical thrombectomy (essentially using a catheter to remove a clot; now, there are new devices that vacuum the clot out of the vessel (aspiration thrombectomy)). Countless other advances such as these are continually being made and the opportunity to be a part of this is quite exciting. From each experience I have had with an IR physician, my favorite aspect of it has been patient contact and care. Most patients the physicians saw were ill and needed urgent care. In these times, the physicians obtained consent, planned their approach, executed their plan, and offered their patients immediate relief. I really appreciated seeing how the physicians were great at the intervention but were also humble and charismatic with the patient and their families.
Whether it is a broad scope of practice or evolving procedures and techniques, there is a lot to be excited about in IR. If you are interested in learning more, there are great resources like the AAMC specialty profile on IR, Without a Scalpel (a multi-episode series following IR doctors and their patients), or the Society of Interventional Radiology website. Do not be afraid to reach out to physicians near you. Most of them are more approachable than you think.
By Shreekar Patel