Recruiting the best and brightest to interventional radiology

From left to right: Alok Bhatt, Geogy Vatakencherry and Nicholson Chadwick
From left to right: Alok Bhatt, Geogy Vatakencherry and Nicholson Chadwick

By Nicholson Chadwick, Alok Bhatt and Geogy Vatakencherry

The relative anonymity of interventional radiology to medical students and the impact this might have on recruiting top notch patient-oriented medical students, especially those considering surgical and other procedural specialties, has resulted in concerted action from interventional radiology societies. Alok Bhatt and Nicholson Chadwick write from the perspective of residents and Geogy Vatakencherry shares his views as an attending physician

Residents’ perspective

We chose interventional radiology because it is a field at the forefront of medicine. Like many other interventional radiologists-to-be, we stumbled upon the field completely by happenstance. It is too common a story and alarming that, despite interventional radiology’s central role in patient care, it suffers from a relative anonymity. This is a critical issue with several major implications. Certainly, if interventional radiology remains this anonymous, it will be difficult to recruit the best and brightest to the field.  Equally important, as these medical students progress from medical school to residency and beyond, their perceptions about interventional radiology will be moulded by other specialists rather than interventional radiologists themselves.

The Medical Student Council (MSC) of the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR), housed under the Resident and Fellow Section (RFS), represents a grassroots effort towards addressing this problem. During its inaugural year, this fledgling organisation, composed primarily of medical students and residents, took concerted steps towards increasing awareness about interventional radiology amongst medical students. Interventional radiology-specific interest groups were successfully established in 75% (8/12) of the council member’s home institutions. These groups, in total, reached greater than 400 medical students. Corresponding increases were seen in SIR student membership and student attendance at SIR’s annual scientific meeting. MSC members have also hosted locoregional symposia at institutions across the country for medical students. We have also been promoting interventional radiology lectures to first and second year medical students as well as dedicated rotations on the interventional radiology wards for third and fourth year medical students (which include outpatient clinic, inpatient consults and follow-up as well as procedure time in the interventional radiology suites).

These efforts, primarily driven by medical students and residents, fundamentally represent an investment by trainees into interventional radiology’s future. With the advent of the dual interventional radiology/diagnostic radiology certificate, student recruitment initiatives are paramount towards sustaining the specialty. Collectively, the goal of the MSC and RFS is to adapt more inclusive strategies so that top notch patient-oriented medical students (especially those considering surgical and other procedural specialties) will have experienced interventional radiology, prior to choosing a specialty. And by targeting medical students that want to become disease experts and practice longitudinal patient care, the MSC and RFS, will work to ensure that interventional radiology recruits those that want to practice in a strong clinical paradigm. This is the best and only way to ensure interventional radiology thrives in the future.

An attending physician’s perspective

I was in the audience at the 2006 SIR Dotter lecture (Veni, Vidi…Vanished) by Andy Adam, and it was an eye-opening presentation. He raised a critical issue with respect to recruiting trainees to interventional radiology; which was, as he put it: “perhaps we are fishing from the wrong pond”.  Interventional radiology is a rapidly evolving specialty performing very complex interventions, which require a much greater clinical foundation. While interventional radiologists have always received excellent technical training, our trainees must mature the clinical skills that complement their technical prowess. This clinical training must start early, as it is near-impossible to master the gamut of interventional techniques along with the inherent clinical competency necessary, to safely and appropriately manage these patients in a year-long fellowship. This is where recruiting becomes critical, as we must target those that want to become disease experts and want to longitudinally manage their patients.

As SIR’s RFS and MSC have worked to reach out to medical students, we have noticed several important trends. First, there has been a tremendous buzz in medical schools as many medical students want to pursue an “interventional radiology residency”. Medical students interested in interventional radiology tend to be passionate about patient care and minimally invasive solutions for the treatment of disease. They often are considering a surgical specialty or procedural medical specialty, rather than diagnostic radiology residency. Many of them want direct patient contact. These are the students who would thrive under interventional radiology’s new training paradigm, the dual certificate passed on 11 September 2012 by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). These are the students who will make vascular and interventional radiology thrive as the 37th primary specialty in medicine.

Currently, the MSC is working to increase medical student attendance at SIR’s annual meeting. We have developed a two-day curriculum dedicated for medical students at the upcoming 2014 SIR meeting in San Diego. We have also introduced a new scholarship that will allow students to attend the annual meeting and made SIR membership free to all medical students. We look to our colleagues in Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiological Society of Europe (CIRSE) as they have had great recent success in having nearly 400 students come to their most recent meeting. I hope that we can collaborate with our international colleagues at CIRSE and share resources to educate and recruit clinically-minded medical students who want to provide minimally invasive options, as we continue to see the rapid evolution of our young specialty. The key to interventional radiology’s current and future success is the recruitment of passionate and highly motivated medical students. I hope that the international interventional radiology community joins us in this task. If you are interested in learning more, or getting involved, please contact me at [email protected].

Alok Bhatt is with the Department of Radiology, University of Southern California, USA. Nicholson Chadwick is with the Department of Radiology, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Geogy Vatakencherry is a Vascular and Interventional Radiology attending at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Centre, Los Angeles, USA