William B. Yeats, an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature, once wrote,“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” This concept of growth can certainly be applied to the medical profession, particularly radiology.
Data science is revolutionizing the way medicine is practiced. Machine learning application is on the rise in just about every field of healthcare, signaling changes that have some specialists, including radiologists, speculating on how the ever-improving technology may change their position in the landscape. According to Valerie P. Jackson, MD, FACR, executive director of the ABR and president-elect of the
RSNA, “Medicine, especially radiology, is quickly changing. It is critical to keep up with all the new innovations and to retain the basic information needed for high-quality practice.”
Amid these shifts, lifelong learning has never been more critical to radiology. The challenge is keeping up with the attainment of the knowledge and skills necessary for quality patient care in the evolving healthcare environment. In this process, lifelong learning is not an option; it is a necessity.
LEARNING AT THE BEGINNING
The importance of lifelong learning for radiologists is emphasized at all stages of one’s medical career. But the type of ongoing training varies, depending on which phase of the profession a radiologist resides.
According to Jackson, once radiologists finish training and become board-certified, they should begin self-directed learning. This ongoing process of professional development enables physicians to maintain their knowledge, skills, and professional standards.
Lori A. Deitte, MD, FACR, chair of the ACR Commission on Publications and Lifelong Learning, agrees. “I advise my residents and fellows that participating in continuing education assures patients and their families that radiologists are actively working to stay up-to-date with the most current medical knowledge over their lifetimes as they practice medicine.”
Cheri L. Canon, MD, FACR, chair of radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, stresses the importance of not limiting learning to case-based formats. “Radiology has always been a rapidly evolving field, which means that ongoing education is paramount. Passively attending meetings is not enough,” says Canon. “We are obligated to provide the best care for our patients by actively advancing our knowledge and staying abreast of the current changes in the field.”
Attending conferences that include self-assessment and participating in journal clubs affords new radiologists the opportunity to explore topics not traditionally covered in their resident coursework or day-to-day training. “Continuous education allows them to see new technologies being developed and learn their real value to the patient,” says Canon.
EVOLVING WITH THE PROFESSION
As technologies and research continue to accelerate, the commitment to professional growth and lifelong learning has become even more critical for practicing radiologists.
Deitte illustrates with the fictional example of Dr. Smith, an ABR-certified fellowship-trained abdominal imager. It’s 1992, and Dr. Smith has completed her residency and fellowship training at top-notch programs and is excited to start her career as the newest member of a busy eight-person private practice group. The most frequent exams on a typical weekend call day include radiographs, ultrasounds, intravenous pyelogram exams on patients with renal colic, non-contrast head CT scans on patients with suspected stroke, and contrast CT scans on patients with acute abdominal pain.
Now fast forward to 2018. Dr. Smith works in a large hospital system, where her typical weekend call day continues to include radiographs, ultrasounds, and CT exams. However, non-contrast CT is now performed for renal colic, CT and CTA are often performed for acute stroke, and MRI is performed for problem-solving in some acute abdominal pain situations such as pregnancy. How does Dr. Smith stay current when technology and medicine have changed so drastically since her formal training?
The answer lies with continuous learning. “As the field’s complexity continues to grow, many radiologists apply skills daily that they learned after their formal residency training,” says Canon. “I’ve been fortunate to work with, and learn from, some of the leading imagers in the world, and I’m always struck when they comment that MRI, ultrasound, or CT were not in clinical practice during their residencies, so they did not have them as part of their training curricula.” With this rapid pace of change, it's entirely possible that your future practice will consist almost entirely of knowledge and skills learned after your formal training program.“That is the value of lifelong learning. It assures the public and our patients that we are truly current in our practice of medicine,” says Canon.
LEARNING IN LATE-CAREER
According to Jackson, the specific focus of learning often changes during the various stages of a radiologist’s career. “Many so-called senior radiologists continue to practice radiology. If they are doing any clinical work, they should be continuing to learn and keep their skills up-to-date,” Jackson says. “However, many fully retired radiologists want to stay abreast of new developments and continue to attend courses, read research articles, and study the online materials that are available from organizations such as ACR, RSNA, the American Roentgen Ray Society, and other subspecialty societies.”
Canon believes that senior radiologists have a wealth of experience and wisdom to share. “Continuing education can help these radiologists stay connected to their peers and the radiology community through mentoring, teaching, and sharing their experiences,” she says.
For Deitte, a fundamental reason for all radiologists to participate in continuing education, no matter their career stage, is to deliver high-quality patient care. “Placing our patients’ health and well-being at the center of all that we do can serve as a powerful motivator to learn. This falls under the larger umbrella of a desire to improve one’s ability to serve society and humanity. This is why staying current matters.”
By Lori A. Burkhart, JD, freelance writer, ACR Press.
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Radiol. 2004:1(3)199–203. Available at bit.ly/Learning_Lifelong.