Inspiring the Next Generation

Two radiologists go back to the classroom to educate students about the profession.

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Children often say, “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” but how many say, “I want to be a radiologist”? Taking radiology into the classroom is a passion shared by Rebecca L. Seidel, MD, assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, and Cheri L. Canon, MD, FACR, professor and chair of radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

Their time spent educating children is aimed at inspiring the future generation of healthcare profession­als. Canon’s experience started with a need to stop bul­lying of her then third-grade son, who has experienced some medical challenges. She went into his classroom armed with his head MRI, as well as pictures of him in the ICU with an open craniotomy. The bullying ended, and Canon noticed that the children were fascinated with the subject matter.

Seidel annually goes to her children’s classrooms to talk about radiology because she wants students to learn how radiologists contribute to patient care. Upon entering the classroom, she begins by scattering old film X-rays on the desks. “Students of all ages get excited,” she says. “They hold them up, frequently upside down, to the window or ceiling lights and start trying to decipher the shades of gray. They compare and exchange them, intrigued when they can identify a familiar structure like a tooth or a rib.”

Seidel then explains the role of the radiologist. She tells the students how radiologists help determine if a patient is sick or injured and to identify the cause. “For preschool and early elementary school students, I read a book called Jessica’s X-ray, written by Pat Zonta, a technologist, about a child who falls and breaks her arm,” says Seidel. “During her trip to the ED, Jessica gets a tour of the radiology department, where she meets the technologists and radiologist and sees all the equipment used to create medical images.” Seidel believes that by visiting class­rooms, she introduces children to an important member of their healthcare team and perhaps inspires some future physicians to pursue a career in radiology.

Canon agrees. “Many of us in healthcare share stories about a seemingly insignificant childhood event that moved us toward a career in medicine,” she says. “Sharing images, even just a simple radiograph, can be quite captivating to children. When you can show how this one image can help people and save lives, you have them enthralled,” she says.

According to Canon, early outreach may also help the specialty become more diverse. “Medical schools are now approximately 50/50 in terms of men and women,” notes Canon. “However, less than 25 percent of radiol­ogy residents and, subsequently, practicing radiologists are females. The numbers are even more abysmal for underrepresented minorities.” Canon believes showcasing the dynamic and evolving world of radiology to young children of all genders, backgrounds, and ethnicities will help improve the perception of the field and encourage a more diverse set of future trainees.

Both Canon and Seidel believe that other radiologists can become more involved in these types of mentorship opportunities by reaching out to their children’s teachers, social groups, and community leaders. According to Canon, significant change can be made with relatively little time investment and resource allocation. “This is particularly true with impressionable young children,” says Canon. “We need to be intentional about spending time outside of our hospitals and reading rooms and realize the broad impact we can have beyond interpreting a study.”

By Lori A. Burkhart, JD, freelance writer, ACR Press

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